We act to end racism
“You are not only responsible for what you say, but also for what you do not say.”
We, as a synod and national church, act and stand against racism.
A young pastor serving his first congregation in Connecticut accompanied a group of college youth to the voter registration program in Mississippi in 1964. He went as an “adult” to be a possible mature presence among the college youth running the movement (the Southern Nonviolent Coordinating Committee). At the time, that was not an activity expected of a Lutheran pastor. “The issue for many folk back North was that we didn’t mess with other people’s business. I quickly learned not to argue the political morality of it, but to just describe the oppressed condition of the people in Mississippi, and the paralysis of the ‘moderate, well intentioned’ Southerners who meant well, but were unable to act,” he says. Some 54 years later on a Tuesday night in April, that same pastor, Steve Johnson, now age 84 and retired, climbed aboard a bus in Salisbury for an overnight ride with others from across the synod in order to participate in the “A.C.T. to End Racism Rally” that was sponsored by the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA and other partners in Washington, D.C. on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Pastor Sharon Taylor, Sue Woodling, and Gail Smith (all from Holy Trinity, Raleigh) were some of Pastor Johnson’s fellow travelers to the rally and have been involved in justice and advocacy issues for years. Sue Woodling shares, “I attended the rally because I envision a culture of nonviolence that includes connecting the often-separate efforts for change. We need to work in collaboration to build relationships and to work towards a movement that supports a just, peaceful, and sustainable world. As we struggle with the difficult task of working towards ending racism, we need to be blessed with discomfort at easy answers and half-truths…God has blessed me to believe that I can make a difference in the world to help bring about justice and peace.”
It was a cold and windy day for the rally and the program was briefly halted due to weather; however, participants heard prayers, speeches, and stories from a variety of religious and business leaders. Pastor Steve Johnson, Betty Lohr, and Michael Jones (convener of the synod’s social justice and advocacy team) were all impressed with the presentation made by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield (of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream) about their experiences growing up, starting a business, and how their story might have turned out quite differently if they had not been white. Free ice cream from the Ben & Jerry’s truck was also a hit! (Check out the scenes and speeches at the website: Rally to End Racism.)
Sam Mailleue, who is currently serving a seminary internship at Mt. Pisgah, Hickory, also participated and had this to say, “What will forever strike me about our trip and the march is that racism in all its many forms, is universally condemned by the various faiths that make up the human race. Speaking out against the abuses by the powerful to the powerless is a core tenant of those who call themselves Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, etc. It was wonderfully uplifting to be able to join with my sisters in brothers of this world to cry out against the chains of oppression.”
Another seminary intern, Emily Lemoine (from First, Greensboro) and her daughter, also rode the bus and participated in the Rally. Emily shares “It was an amazing trip for me and my 14-year-old daughter. She had never been to any kind of rally and this was a great first one. She went to a middle school that was 65% African American and she has heard many stories of racism and discrimination and has been witness to it as well. It was good for her to see our larger church body being so active and vocal about wanting to help erase racism in her lifetime. She told me she wants to get into activism by using her voice for good. Thanks for providing a way for us to be at this important event.”
Whether you are 14 or 84 or somewhere in-between, and whether you have been an activist for a lifetime or you are new to using your voice for change, we can all remember what Martin Luther wrote, “You are not only responsible for what you say, but also for what you do not say.” And, next time the synod invites you to join us on a bus trip, come with us!
Your mission support dollars support the work of the NC Synod’s Social Justice and Advocacy Ministries Team—organizer of this bus trip—which keeps racism and other issues of justice in front of us as we strive to live out our baptismal promises as people of God.
[Pictured above are NC Synod members and Rally attendees (l to r): Ruth Vogelpohl, Editha Spahn and her mom, Beth Spahn, and the Rev. Gary Vogelpohl.]