It has generally escaped notice here on the Sun Coast, but a further tragedy has been unfolding around Ferguson, Missouri, as over a recent one-week period, six churches have been burned.
Six churches. In one town. In one week.
Do we still think we don’t have a “race problem” in this country?
The fire-ravaged churches are all traditionally Black congregations, all putting themselves out there on the front lines to one degree or another, all now targets of racial violence and hatred. As I wondered what there is that you and I can do for our neighbors to the north, I ran across an open letter from some of my minister colleagues to the members and friends of those six congregations. I’ll quote the heart of that letter:
We are heartsick and heartbroken at the profound violation of your houses of worship in the past week. We have seen the pictures of your damaged buildings, scarred with the hatred of those who seek to terrorize you. We can only imagine the fear and anger this has brought to your communities. Please accept our sincerest condolences.
We know that for generations Black churches have been targets of such acts of terror. From the burning of Emanuel Methodist Episcopal Church in 1822, the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in 1963, the rash of church fires that followed the mass shooting at Emanuel AME this past June, in addition to hundreds of others throughout the United States, these are intentional acts of racial violence meant to violate, intimidate, diminish and overpower.
But God is good and the House of God cannot be diminished by the cowardice of racism. The Church cannot be broken by the flames of hatred. Instead, our hearts burn with the power of a love beyond imagining that is greater than any act of hatred. Our shared faith and commitment to the power of love will bend the arc of the universe towards justice. When we join hands and hearts and spirits we will enter the promise of a new time, a time of unity and justice, with dignity and worth for all. We yearn for that time and wish to offer our energy, our love, and our heartfelt commitment towards its realization.
We stand with you. We offer you our hearts, hands, and minds. We offer you the moral power of our religious communities, standing on the side of love. Please do not hesitate to come to us if you are in need. You are not alone.
You will surely note that denomination plays no part in this epistle. Indeed, the charred churches are Missionary Baptist, Churches of Christ, and non-denominational Christian, as well as Roman Catholic and Lutheran. And the ministers who signed the letter are Unitarian Universalists, some of whom are Christian but many of whom are not.
More than simply an issue to be politely debated in the comfort of our segregated communities, such racial violence and hatred slashes at the very fabric of our country, whether it happens here on the west coast of Florida or up north in the heartland of America.
In the third chapter of Mark, Jesus is reported to have said, “If a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” If we don’t stand together, we may not stand at all.