All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove Jesus out of town to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. – Luke 4:28-29
The Lord said to me . . . “I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” I said, “I do not know how to speak . . .” But the Lord said, “You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you.” – Jeremiah 1:4-8
A delegation of the World Council of Churches and the National Council of Churches just completed a 2-week Racial Justice Pilgrimage in the United States. They were troubled by the pervasiveness of racism in our nation and the hostility to immigrants, Islamophobia and racially charged rhetoric in the presidential campaign. Young people they met noted that the church is failing to stand with them against systemic racism that manifests itself in all facets of life. One delegate said that initiatives and dialogues are not enough and that it may be time for us to take positions that will make people want to throw us off the cliff (see Luke 4:29 above) and that we must change our methods to stand more effectively alongside those affected.
In 2012, the Wyoming Association of Churches passed a resolution to stand with the Native Americans in Wyoming, which is why I moved to Riverton in 2013 that has led to the formation and our nurturing of the Wind River Native Advocacy Center. The shootings last summer in Riverton and the social media triggered revealed how deep racism is in Wyoming. Now that the dialogues are done, racism did not just evaporate.
I attended a webinar this past week for continuing legal education credits in which the presenter pointed out that some confuse talking with results. “Talk is cheap,” as the saying goes. But talk is risky that causes people to want to drive us out of town to throw us over the cliff like what Jesus did, like what God directed for Jeramiah and what our churches are called to do. Cheap talk is comfortable, but what are the results? Without risky talk, Jeremiah, Jesus, Gandhi, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Jr., and others would not have accomplished what they did. Someone who taught me much is the community organizer, Saul Alinsky, who said that life is worth living only if there is something worth dying for.
In a class I am taking, we were asked to answer when Jesus was driven to act. I took the question literally and responded with Luke 4:29. That was not what the instructor had meant, and yet out of that error, I realized that Jesus was great for his bold actions, but also that the greatness was vastly increased by the risks he took leading to his suffering on the cross.
An easy fix does not exist for racism. In the United States, racism is rooted in 500 years of history. But I believe we are at a turning point, and with intention and the right tools, we can dismantle it, even if it takes another 500 years to complete the job. But just cheap talk will not do it.
If you or your church wants to get ready to address racism in Wyoming, the Wyoming Association of Churches can assist.
You can do your own Racial Justice Pilgrimage to the Wind River Reservation in cooperation with the Wind River Native Advocacy Center. (Three groups are now scheduled for this summer.)
We can help put together a workshop in your church or community.
You can attend cultural competency training June 7, at Central Wyoming College that the Wyoming Association of Churches is co-sponsoring.
Let me know of your interest in any of these at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Wyoming Association of Churches seeks to end racism in Wyoming and to do other environmental and social justice. Can you help financially? Make a contribution now. Click here. Or mail your contribution to WAC, PO Box 1473, Laramie, WY 82073. Your support makes a difference.
WAC also depends upon congregational giving. Several are giving. If you do not know whether or what your church gives, ask me. Just think what we could do if 200 or more congregations in Wyoming were each giving generously to WAC to bring about justice in Wyoming! This month, my own church is taking a “loose change offering” for WAC. In January, WAC received $4,000 from the First United Methodist Church in Cheyenne from its Advent offering. What can your church give?
Fear not. Be bold. Do justice. God is with us.