Conference Ministers - Past and Present - Issue Pastoral Letter

Conference Ministers - Past and Present - Issue Pastoral Letter

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The following letter was signed by 10 current and previous Conference Ministers of the United Church of Christ in Southern New England. Their names are at the bottom.

To the Associations, Churches and members of the Southern New England Conference of the  United Church of Christ
 
Siblings in Christ,
 
It has been a little over 6 months since Ahmaud Arbery was gunned down by racist vigilantes in Glynn County, Georgia and so much has taken place since that day last February.  Two more names were added to the lips of Black Lives Matter protesters in cities and towns throughout our nation.  Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, killed by police, were only the latest names added to a list that just keeps growing: Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile, Matiana Jefferson, Alton Sterling, Freddy Gray, Michael Brown, Walter Scott and so many others. And now, yet another name, Jacob Blake, is being chanted by protesters grown weary with police whose first instinct is to shoot.  
 
Mr. Floyd’s slow 8 minute and 46 second murder captured on video and shared with a nation already in the grips of a COVID-19 pandemic seemed to be a last straw for America.  Thousands took to the streets in mostly peaceful protest.  BLACK LIVES MATTER was painted on streets and walls, tee shirts and masks across the nation including on 16th Street in Washington, D.C.,  right outside the White House.  These protests and the outrage that motivated them caused many white Americans to examine racist symbols that were once sacrosanct more closely, to finally understand the racist intimidation underlying their existence.  The Mississippi legislature finally decided, 155 years after the end of the Civil War, to remove the Confederate battle flag from its state flag.  Statues of Confederate leaders were recognized as memorializing men who had committed treason against the America Union and were pulled down in countless cities, including those on the iconic Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia where four of six statues have been removed.  NASCAR, that bastion of whiteness in the American sporting world, made the unimaginable decision to ban the Confederate flag from its events. 
 
It seemed as if we had turned a corner as a nation.  It buoyed the spirits of so many African American men and women and their white allies.  Everyone was reading How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, hoping to find a way to finally move the American experiment toward the more perfect union that the founders wrote about in the nation’s founding documents.  It seemed as if the time had come.
 
There is only one problem.  To really make that move toward a more perfect union, real structural change has to happen in our national and local structures where racism still exists even while flags and monuments are being removed.
 
There is racism in our housing patterns in America and it is a racism that was intentionally created by federal, state and local laws and by local housing covenants and even homeowners’ deeds.  Whole communities of Black people were corralled in the inner cities.  As neighborhoods became blacker and blacker, more and more opportunities left for the white suburbs.  Grocery stores left. Factories left. Jobs left. President Eisenhower initiated an interstate highway system that successfully provided a way for suburbanites to live in the suburbs and work in the city.  That same highway system served as the first wall to separate brown and Black people from opportunities on the other side.
 
There is racism in our criminal justice system. Once redlined neighborhoods were walled off from opportunities and unemployment was forced upon a people who would like to work.  Policing of those neighborhoods became radically different from the policing done in small towns and suburbs. The forces in place to protect and serve in the suburbs became the forces to control and imprison in our inner cities.  Fear of the police is justifiable when a Black citizen who calls for help is just as likely to be arrested as the person who is posing a threat.  And that fear is rational when viewed through a lens of the brutal treatment and outright murder that we’ve seen all too often on the nightly news.  
 
There is racism in our educational system.  The achievement gap that exists in our southern New England schools is not so much an achievement gap as it is a resources gap.  Education funded by property tax works just fine in well-heeled suburban towns but in an inner city where most of the population lives below the poverty line, it is woefully inadequate. The impact of COVID-19 on education has shone a bright light on the disparities between well-funded suburban schools where Chromebooks and wifi make virtual learning effective while paper packets sent home for inner city learners to work on independently widens that gap every day. 
 
There is racism in our healthcare system.  We’ve all heard that Black Americans are being impacted by the coronavirus at significantly higher rates than are other Americans.  The reasons being put forth:  other underlying health conditions, ones that are created by poor nutrition (food deserts), disparate treatment by health care professionals (implicit bias) and stress caused by living in a racist system.
 
This is certainly not the totality of systemic racism that African Americans must deal with daily, but it provides a place to start.  We followers of Jesus who find racism contrary to the Gospel must lead in making the systemic changes needed to make a difference in the lives of our siblings of color.  Those changes will not be easy and cannot occur overnight.  There is no quick fix and the  structures that will need to be dismantled and rebuilt are ones that many people will not wish to relinquish.   
 
Beginning, but not ending with our own institutions and all those where we have the privilege of access, we call on the people of the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ to lead the vanguard to unmask and dismantle racist structures and eradicate racism in our land.  As disciples of Jesus, we can do no less. 
 
To begin working on dismantling racist structures and and eradicating racism in our churches and communities, go to www.sneucc.org/racialjustice for resources. 
 
 
The Rev. Marilyn B. Kendrix, current Bridge Conference Minister, Southern New England Conference UCC for Discipleship and Finance
 
The Rev. Donald Remick, current Bridge Conference Minister, Southern New England Conference UCC for Innovation and Justice
 
The Rev. Kent J. Siladi,  Director of  Philanthropy of the United Church of Christ, Bridge Conference Minister, Southern New England Conference UCC for Justice and Finance, 2020; Conference Minister, Connecticut Conference UCC, 2013 – 2019
 
The Rev. Dr. Jim Antal, Special Advisor on Climate Justice to UCC General Minister and President; Conference Minister and President, Massachusetts Conference UCC, 2006-2018
 
The Rev. Barbara J. Libby, Interim Conference Minister, Rhode Island Conference UCC, 2014-2018
 
The Rev. Chuck Wildman, Interim Conference Minister, Connecticut UCC, 2010 – 2013

The Rev. Beverley Edwards, Interim Conference Minister, Rhode Island Conference UCC, 2012 – 2013
 
The Rev. Dr. Davida Foy Crabtree, Retired Conference Minister, Connecticut Conference UCC, 1996 – 2010
 
The Rev. Dr. Nancy S. Taylor, Conference Minister and President, Massachusetts Conference UCC, 2001 – 2005,  Senior Minister, Old South Church in Boston, UCC 2005 – present
 
The Rev. Bennie E. Whiten, Jr, Retired Conference Minister, Massachusetts Conference UCC, 1991-2000
 
The Rev. Dr. David Hirano, Minister of the Conference, Connecticut Conference UCC, 1990 – 1994

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