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To: Clergy in the Hoover and Birmingham Metro Area

Pastors Need to Preach and Teach About Systemic Racism and Implicit Bias

Preach and teach on the topics of systemic racism, implicit bias, and white fragility. Help your congregation understand the negative impact systemic racism has on people of color, and on all faith leaders' ministry to the world.

Why is this important?

Dear Clergy Colleagues,

Especially during times of injustice and conflict, we celebrate every sign of God’s grace among us. The killing of Emantic Fitzgerald Bradford, Jr. at the hands of police has rocked Hoover and the surrounding area, so we were glad that an interracial group of clergy met on December 5 to worship and affirm their common faith.

But we are also aware how often well-meaning Christians have turned to acts of charity to avoid acts of justice, or even used charity as a screen for supporting the status quo. Charity soothes the conscience, while prophetic proclamation pricks it. Collecting money to care for employees affected by the protest is an action that draws attention to the effects of protest, but not the effects of systemic racism that gave rise to protest; perhaps you could also collect money to pay for bail for protesters?

We need to speak plainly, because lives are on the line: We know that many people who are making derogatory, inflammatory statements about the protests, who talk about running over protesters with their cars or turning fire hoses on them, are members of Christian congregations. We know that the kind of counterprotest violence that took Heather Heyer’s life in Charlottesville, Virginia is possible here. We have a series of questions that beg for a pastoral and prophetic response.

First, how are you helping your congregations understand the perspective of the protesters? How are you de-escalating violent and racist rhetoric? Are you reminding your congregations that nonviolent protest stands at the heart of our faith traditions? That even Jesus turned over tables in a sacred space? Are you helping them empathize with those who constantly feel the effects of systemic racism?

Second, how are you helping them to understand the history of the place in which they live? What public decisions and policies that shaped Hoover were driven by racism? You are probably familiar with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” written as a response to clergy who blamed protesters for being “divisive.” In the years since his letter, Jefferson County has divided into over thirty different municipalities, a fracturing driven by redlining, white flight, and other forms of systemic racism. The first attempt to incorporate Hoover happened in 1964, the same year the Civil Rights Act was passed, in order to fight the integration of schools. While many lament “divisiveness” and “polarization” (which are often code words for protest), are you preaching about the divisiveness and polarization of systemic racism?

And third, how are you helping them understand the times? Alabama Appleseed recently released a report showing that although white and black people use and sell drugs at about the same rate, black people are four times more likely to be arrested for it in Alabama. Nearly every family in your congregation has been affected by drugs. Are you preaching about the huge racial disparities in the ways our black siblings are affected by policing and the criminal justice system? Have you said the names of victims and preached against the rise of white nationalist violence against people of color?

You may already be doing these things. If so, we thank you. We ask these questions because the people we pastor are directly affected by them. Some of us clergy have our own necks on the line, too. If you are not already bringing people together in your congregation in worship or small groups to address the sin of systemic racism and white people’s role in eliminating it, those of us in Faith in Action Alabama stand ready to help you do it.

Faithfully Yours,

Rev. Dr. David L. Barnhart, Jr.
Pastor, Saint Junia United Methodist Church
Co-chair of Birmingham Hub, Faith in Action Alabama

Rev. Dr. Sondra Coleman
Presiding Elder, Birmingham District, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church

Rev. Cat Goodrich
Pastor, First Presbyterian Church

Bishop Teresa Jefferson-Snorton
Presiding Bishop, Fifth District, Central Methodist Episcopal Church

Rev. Dr. Matthew Johnson
Pastor, Mount Moriah Baptist Church

Rev. Adam Mixon
Pastor, Zion Spring Baptist Church

Rev. Dr. A.B. Sutton
Pastor, Living Stones Temple

Rev. R.G. Wilson-Lyons
Associate Pastor, First United Methodist Church

Hoover, AL, USA

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2018-12-18 09:37:21 -0500

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