Pastoral Letter on Antiracism in Strafford July 4, 2020

Dear neighbors,

Our on line service this week focuses on antiracism, curating many deeply moving videos of word and music, almost entirely from people of color.  Unlike our usual hour-long services, this one includes many hours of material, including the three and a half hour national Poor People’s Campaign event from two weeks ago.  The start of the service is an 1852 speech by Frederick Douglass and the end of the service is the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s voice preaching the conclusion of his last sermon before his assassination in 1968.  You can find the entire service on our website at https://unitedchurchofstrafford.com/2020/07/03/on-line-worship-service-july-5-2020/

Strafford has a history of contributing to the antiracist cause that dates back long before that term existed.  Frederick Douglass wrote to thank Senator Justin Morrill on January 4, 1880 for Morrill’s efforts to increase funding for historically black colleges.  Morrill had been elected to congress in the 1850s as an antislavery candidate.  Dozens of Strafford men fought in the Civil War, which their Congressman Morrill made clear to them was about ending slavery.
I do not know how many people from Strafford were involved in the Civil Rights Movement, but many of us were.  Susan Cloke organized our Black Lives Matter bell ringing and silent demonstration last month, and she was part of the Selma campaign in 1965, as was our close neighbor, Professor Bruce Nelson.
Antiracism has often found its voice in the church.  (Of course somehow, sickeningly, racism has found a home for itself in some churches, too.)  Frederick Douglass was a licensed preacher.  The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II and Episcopal Archbishop Michael Curry and countless other leaders have been clergy, and by far not just Christians–the Rabbi Abraham Heschel was literally at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement marching alongside King.  Strafford’s clergy have been part of that lineage, too, most notably the Rev. William Sloane Coffin who was a Freedom Rider, but also the Revs. Howard Boardman and Dana Douglas and Regine Harding and I expect others.
Dr. King said that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  We would be right to engage with this issue even if it were distant from us, but we are learning that racism is here, too, and that the whites among us are part of a system of white privilege and white supremacy that is a constant exercise in injustice on our behalf.  It is not enough to say we are not racist, we need to be antiracist, contributing actively to restructure our society, or else we are actually actively supporting the continuation of racism.
If this does not make sense to you, many new convincing voices are helping white people expand their hearts and minds to understand this.  A new townwide Strafford group is recommending that we watch three videos and come together virtually to discuss them.  The date and time of the on line gathering will be announced shortly by the group, but you can find a link to the three videos on our website under “Anti-racism Events” at https://unitedchurchofstrafford.com/ and start watching now.
Thank you for doing your part to make Strafford and our nation fulfill the highest human values and ideals.  We can no longer afford to ignore the wisdom of the ages.  We need to live it and work hard to overcome all that goes against it.
Thank you.
Pastor Tom Kinder

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