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Genesis 1:27, from The Common English Bible

Galatians 3:25-28, from The Message

Voices of the People – Racial Justice Sunday – Feb 12, 2017

Good morning.   In the verse from Genesis that Ivy just  read the message is that God created all of us.  We are all children of God.

In the society in which Jesus lived on earth, there were all kinds of divisions among people, people and groups who were seen as “other”.  Jesus’ message was love, and his way of living prioritized connection and respectful, caring interaction.  Jesus consistently reached out to the outcast, to the “other” – tax collectors, lepers, Samaritans, people of different socioeconomic class positions, Gentiles generally, and women.

Society of Jesus time was characterized by the interaction of fear and disrespect, that led to separation, and relationships of seeing people as “other”.   Jesus’ life was transformative.  He lived and modeled relationships based on love and care, connection, and saw all people as children of God.

In Jesus’ day skin color was not a major feature of the separations among people.  In our country a major system of separation and mistreatment connected to skin color, called racism, was developed, and is still used to try to divide us, to fracture our human community, to keep us separate from each other, and to manipulate us. The same dynamics that we looked at a minute ago are still in play with regard to race.

In the system of racism today, you can start from any vertex of this triangle [first one shown above] and get to the other two.  Because we have been conditioned to fear, we stay more separate and see some people as “other”.  Because we stay too separate, we remain more fearful and are divided from “the other”.  Because we have difficulty focusing on our commonality as children of God, we are more fearful and separate.

The way to each other, the way of living out God’s love, is the same today as what Jesus taught and modeled.  Again, you could start from any vertex, [of the first triangle shown above] but if we shift our focus to all people sharing the commonality of being children of God, then we have a better chance of turning   from separation to connection.   Getting more personally connected can help reduce the fear and disrespect that we’ve been conditioned to.  Racial justice looks like this. [Second slide above.]

Armed with a commitment to see every human being as a child of God, to increase our connection and interaction with people with skin colors different from our own, and determined to not be stopped by whatever fears we may carry, AND relying on the guidance and strength of the Spirit, we can each take steps to build racial justice.  Those of us who are white are often handicapped in this work by not quite understanding how racism operates today or not recognizing it when it shows up.  The vast majority of racism today is enacted without using the language of race.

People of color tell me that one of the things that is hard about racism, is that so many white people just don’t get it – don’t get how much racism still affects all of us, how present it is both nationally and locally, how systemic it is, how much people try to ignore it.

This morning, we are going to look at four different aspects of contemporary racism.  We will share a few facts about how systemic each of them is, then an example of the pain caused to an individual by each one, then some signs of hope – signs of the spirit of God shining through.

[There were 3 microphones across the front of the chancel – on labeled “Systemic Racism”, one labeled “Pain”, and one labeled “Hope”.  Below we indicate which microphone each speaker used. Simultaneously, photos to accompany each statement were projected at the front of the sanctuary.]

[Max – Systemic Racism]
Since 2010, 22 states have passed laws imposing new restrictions on voting, making it more difficult for people of color, young voters, and the elderly to vote.   These restrictions are usually passed by stoking fears of voter fraud.  However, voter fraud is virtually non-existent in the United States.  One study determined that it was possible that one in every 7 ½ million votes was fraudulent.  At the same time many thousands of people who were entitled to vote were denied the right to cast their vote by these new laws.  Advocates for these new laws have sometimes admitted openly that they want to reduce the number of people of color who are able to vote.

[Xavier  – Pain]
Eddie Holloway, Jr., a 58-year-old African-American man, moved from Illinois to Wisconsin in 2008 and voted without problems, until Wisconsin passed its voter-ID law in 2011. “I never miss voting,” he said. He brought his expired Illinois photo ID, birth certificate, and Social Security card to get a photo ID for voting, but the DMV in Milwaukee rejected his application because the name on his birth certificate read “Eddie Junior Holloway,” instead of “Eddie Holloway, Jr.” the result of a clerical error when it was issued. His persistent efforts to get it corrected were unsuccessful and he never was granted the right to vote.

[Charron – Hope]
In Massachusetts about 700,000 eligible voters are unregistered.  Many of them are low income and many are people of color.  Just in the last few weeks an Automatic Voter Registration bill has been introduced in the State Legislature.  It would register everyone, unless they asked not to be registered.  This reform has been enacted successfully in 6 other states.  State legislators will need to be lobbied, but this could happen in Massachusetts.

In Isaiah 41:10  God says:

Do not fear, for I am with you,”

[Ruthie- Systemic Racism]
Even though most white people say they disagree with negative stereotypes and hateful attitudes toward people of color, a huge body of research has found that over 70 percent of all people in the US hold a preference for white people over black people – an often unconscious bias.  The subtle reminders and reinforcers of negative images of people of color are everywhere in our news media, entertainment, and culture.  One author says they are like “smog in the air”.  We don’t breathe them because we want to, but because that’s the only air there is to breathe.  How do you fight something that’s unconscious?  White people’s fear and disconnection from people of color separates us from each other and from our God.

[Marylou  – Pain]
Even with all the work I’ve done against racism, I still find my thinking contaminated by the racism in our society, even at the conscious level.  I hired a person of color to work on my house and then found myself unreasonably doubting his competence.  I’m less trusting of a group of young Latino men than I am of a group of young white men.  I also slip into thinking I’ve earned privileges that actually came to me, or were far easier for be to get,  because I’m white.  I don’t like that these things are in my mind.  And I don’t like how often I have an impulse to try to justify or explain these thoughts away.


[Monet – Hope]
Verna Myers, in a TED talk that has been viewed over 100,000 times, says we can overcome our biases by acknowledging them and walking boldly toward them.  For changing our attitudes toward black men she recommends thinking about admirable black men – Martin Luther King, Jr., Colin Powel, Barak Obama, Jackie Robinson, Van Jones and staring at their photos frequently.  Moving toward black men we meet rather than away.
Here in Amherst 2 different groups of over 18 white women and men are meeting monthly to focus on Undoing Our Own Racism:  Challenging White Supremacy in Ourselves and Our Society.  These groups were started by the Coming Together project that was spawned by our church.
Many white people find that praying for the welfare and safety of people of color and focusing on our oneness in Christ, makes a big difference.

And from Romans 15

 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

[Ron – Systemic Racism]
Much of racism today is communicated without ever mentioning race.  White people’s internalized fears and negative images are manipulated by language that evokes racial feelings, but on the surface isn’t racial.  Politicians use words like “gangs”, “drug dealers”, “law and order”, “immigrants”, Muslims, and “take back our country” to trigger white people’s fears of black and brown people, without ever mentioning race.

[Charron – Pain]
One prominent politician called Barak Obama “the food stamp President”.  The inference that many people drew was that as a black president, Obama was helping more black people, who were too lazy to work, to get on food stamps.  The truth was that most food stamp recipients are white.  The food stamp program is designed to automatically serve more people as the unemployment rate rises.  The number of people needing food stamps had gone up because greedy and dishonest people (mostly white) in the financial industry had crashed the economy and there were no jobs for millions of unemployed people who wanted to work.  But the effect of the comment was to stimulate racial resentment and division.

[ Monet – Hope]
People together make a difference.  [ At this point we projected a series of photos of people of all races protesting and marching together.]

From the 5th chapter of Amos
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.


[Russ – Systemic Racism]
In 2015, one year, in just 11 states, more than 1250 incidents of hate violence against lgbtq individuals occurred.  Continuing a multi-year trend, transgender and gender non-conforming people, particularly transgender women of color, made up a majority of the homicides reported to National Coalition studying violence against lgbtq.   Many transgender people face recurring verbal harassment, sexual violence, and physical violence, but for transgender women of color, that violence is too often deadly. This deadly violence directed toward transgender women of color is directly rooted in transmisogyny, a combination of transphobia and anti-feminine beliefs, as well as racist ideologies and attitudes. Similarly, transgender women of color experience high rates of poverty, job insecurity, homelessness, and other factors that make them more vulnerable to experiencing violence.

[ivy – Pain]
Jasmine Collins, 35 years old, a Black Transgender Woman from Kansas City, Missouri –  was killed on June 23rd, 2015.

Why don’t trans black lives matter? Black LGBT people and their allies have made incredible contributions to the black liberation struggle, from Bayard Rustin during the civil rights movement to Audre Lorde, a poet, feminist, and LGBT advocate, as well as the three women who founded the BlackLivesMatter movement: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi,  and some of its most outspoken trans leaders, Elle Hearn, Kei Williams.
All black lives matter, not just the ones you are comfortable with. You do not mean “black lives matter” if you protest when an unarmed straight black man is killed by the police because they are black, but don’t care about the  many transgender black women who have been murdered this year because they were trans.

[Marylou – Hope]
Healer, orator and academic, Lourdes Ashley Hunter is the national director of TWOCC , a grass-roots funded global initiative created to offer opportunities for trans people of color, families and comrades to engage in healing, foster kinship, and build community. Members share skills, knowledge and resources, building towards the liberation of all oppressed people

Closer to home, we have an outspoken voice in our UCC minister Louis Mitchell, a pioneering “intentional man,” elder, and advocate, who serves as the consultant for community engagement for the Transfaith/Interfaith Working Group and as an Assistant Minister for South Congregational Church in Springfield, MA. Louis has been making space for transgender people to worship, advocating for transgender accommodations across the Commonwealth, and is a well-received speaker and workshop leader at conferences and other meetings nationally.

The United Church of Christ, through the work of the Open and Affirming Coalition, passed a resolution to work to bring transgender people into the full life and work of the church, nationally and in its conferences and local churches. Each church or conference that makes an Open and Affirming covenant MUST include trans and gender-non-conforming people in that covenant. We, at First Church, Amherst, renewed our 28-year old covenant at our Annual Meeting in 2015. Our hope is that we will live it.


Let us have a period of silent meditation.  May God grant us the wisdom and the courage to be instruments of God’s love and justice.  Amen.