Having received responses from congregants both in favor and
voicing displeasure regarding the recent Consistory decision to post signage on
the exterior of the church that reads as follows: “Black Lives Matter, Equal
Justice for All Matters” we would like
to clarify why we believe signage is timely and appropriate:
Don’t all lives matter
to God and to us as
Christian People and as a Church?
As a Christian community we affirm the inherent dignity and worth of each person as created and beloved children of God. This is affirmed in scripture in the early pages of the Bible in the creation account in Genesis 1. And the New Testament affirms, at least in aspiration, that Jesus died and rose again for the sins of every human being and the reconciliation of the entire creation.
However, there are passages in scripture where particular groups of people are lifted up as a matter of concern. For example, scripture constantly calls us to welcome the stranger, to do good to the widow and the orphan. In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul singled out his own people, the Jewish people, because they were not responding to the gospel. The Book of Acts focuses acutely on the Gentiles also included in the covenant community in Acts chapter 10-11. Jesus told a parable about a Good Samaritan because the Samaritans at that time were particularly treated by his own people with derision and hate.
We have particularly entered the stories of our brothers and sisters in Christ who are African Americans as they negotiate our society and try to raise children and grandchildren in our society. We know that on this continent that the enslavement and lack of equal treatment before the law has been an ongoing struggle in our society. And we know that our own congregation still needs to seek a greater awareness and openness to learn from our fellow Christians who are people of color. The signage is an indicator of support and affirmation to those who have sometimes been the “least of Christ’s brothers and sisters.”
Is the sign an
endorsement of the
Black Lives Matter organization?
No. We use the words because it is part of a larger movement in the greater church and the community that seeks to affirm that every person in the community should be treated equally before the law. There are items on blacklivesmatter.com that may have compatibility with the Christian faith, such as de-escalating violence or intergenerational cooperation, but there are other items on the website that have not been endorsed by the consistory. Thus the church signage is not an organizational endorsement but is Third Church’s affirmation that we walk alongside fellow church members who are African American and affirm that all of the citizens of our society are entitled to equal justice before the law.
Why are we
Discussion and discernment about signage have been ongoing for six months with various members of the congregation, the deacons in particular, and the consistory as a whole. The discussions arose out of the racial tensions going on in the United States in the past few years. The signage is a result of learning and listening to minority members of our church that there is still much to be done in the church and our society to be a more inclusive and reconciling community.
How does a sign
relate to the overall
mission of the church?
If one is a part of our worship services on a regular basis,
congregants know that a fundamental focus of our worship is to know God and to
know the scriptures. We are a biblically
literate congregation that continuously seeks to learn more. Our worship does not fundamentally seek to be
a commentary on current events, although we do want to relate the Word of God
to our own lives and our society in which we live. We see the signage flowing out of the
scriptural tradition of the Old Testament prophets interpreted through the
Belhar Confession, “that the church must therefore stand by people in any form
of suffering and need, which implies among other things, that the church must
witness against and strive against any form of injustice, so that justice may
roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
Signage may prompt us to enter more fully into engaging the minority community in Holland as a part of our identity and mission in the heart of the city. It may prompt us to further live into our vision statement that was recently approved by the consistory and the congregation.
Have we crossed
We are aware that there are congregational members who
express unease that the church is making a public stance in the social and
political realm of life. We are a
congregation with a variety of political views that collectively worship at the
one table of our Lord. Yet we
acknowledge that the problem of racism and the need for reconciliation is an
ongoing area of discipleship for us as a Christian Church and basic equality
continues to an ongoing struggle in our society. We should not be partisan as a church, but
there are times when we do need to reaffirm basic values of human respect and
decency for some of the most vulnerable in our society.
We recognize that some in the community beyond the church will feel that we are being partisan politically. We believe that the need to affirm that Black lives matter, and for us to reflect on how we should respond to that fact, is more important than any discomfort that may result. If we are asked about this by our friends and members of our community, let us use that encounter as an opportunity to share our faith and to invite others to join us in service to God’s world and our neighbor.