A good-sized crowd came to the Old Whaling Church to hear a discussion about Christianity, race, and white supremacy a couple of weeks ago on a warm afternoon. The event was sponsored by Auburn Seminary in New York, and seminary board member and Chilmark resident Ellen Wingard invited me to attend. The discussion is still running around in my head, not unlike a painful memory.
The seminary’s president, the Rev. Dr. Katharine Rhodes Henderson, introduced the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, and one of the questions that he brought up stayed with me: “Can you be white and be a Christian?” If there are black brothers and sisters and neighbors who are still treated as if they are not fully human, can I call myself a Christian today if I’m not doing anything to fix that situation? What exactly would Jesus do? That whole idea stopped me in my white Christian tracks.
Pastor Moss brought up some very simple but profound concepts. Why are there still no black depictions of Jesus in the majority of Christian churches? If Jesus loves everybody, why are most all depictions of him as a white man? It’s like idolatry of a white Jesus, he noted.
Right now we have a president whose calling card is “Let’s make America great again.” Pastor Moss asked, “What are you talking about? You’re romanticizing those moments and idolizing the time when women, LGBT brothers and sisters, and blacks were in their place.”
The Rev. Dr. Moss is senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, succeeding the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, the Chicago pastor of the church then-Senator Barack Obama attended. His father, also a pastor, was an associate of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Andrew Young, and Congressman John Lewis.
In his Chicago congregation, Pastor Moss works with those formerly incarcerated, not referring to them as ex-convicts or someone with a record but as “returning citizens.” When you are incarcerated, he said, your citizenship is taken away.
He also said, “Bond is punishment if you are poor.” He gave an example of one man who languished in jail for six months because he didn’t have the $400 bond required for his release. “He lost his job, couldn’t pay child support,” Pastor Moss said. The justice system that is in place punishes the poorest of the poor, he said.
As I listened, so many of his comments made sense, common sense.
A jazz enthusiast, Pastor Moss explained that one of the reasons why he likes jazz is because it brings together different instruments that don’t usually come together. He used the music to make a point. “The piano never tells the drum, ‘You need to sound like me.’”
At Trinity Church, the faith community is working to transform the neighborhood surrounding the church, Pastor Moss explained. They are building one-on-one relationships with the neighbors, and sharing with them the redemption stories, not of Christ, he said, but of others who have had the same experiences they have had and can relate to, support, and walk with someone who is going through that experience now.
As I write this, news reports of the violence in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend are being told and retold and told again on CNN. What happened there is despicable to me, but I know that’s not the way everyone feels, even people in my own family. There’s a disconnect someplace. I can’t think of a way, in a small community like Martha’s Vineyard, I can’t think of a way to stop the hate and division and fear that keeps everyone apart. It’s not like we’re dealing with children and as a mother I can say, “Stop using those words that hurt, stop making your sister cry.” In my ineptitude, that’s exactly what I want to do, that’s how easy I wish it was. The only thing I can think of to do right now is pray. If everybody prayed to whatever God looks like in whatever form of prayer they have, maybe that would help.
On Sunday, August 27, from 8:30 to 10:30 am, the Missions Committee of Federated Church in Edgartown will sponsor its 12th annual Blueberry Pancake Breakfast to benefit the Martha’s Vineyard Cancer Support Group. The breakfast will be in the Federated Church Parish House, 45 South Summer St., Edgartown, and includes blueberry pancakes, bacon or sausage, syrup, and a beverage. Cost is $10 for adults; $5 for children; and $25 for families with children.
Author, professor of philosophy at Boston College, and longtime Campground resident Peter Kreeft presents a talk, “Love Is Stronger than Death,” at 10 am, Friday, August 18, at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs.
“Essential Points in Buddhism and Meditation: Support for a Happy Life” is the teaching from Lama Yeshe Drolma at the Bodhi Path Buddhist Center, 21 Laurand Dr., West Tisbury, at 10 am on Sunday, August 27.
Lama Yeshe Drolma returns for her 17th summer of teaching on the Vineyard this year. Every Sunday morning through Sept. 10, she’ll teach the key points in Buddhism and meditation, and how Buddhist practice can support people in finding a happy and peaceful life. For more information, call 508-696-5929.
If you get an opportunity, check out the new website for the West Tisbury Congregational Church, wtcongregationalchurch.org. I think it’s really terrific.
If you have news to share from your faith community, please email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 508-693-6100, ext. 30.