I am haunted by this paragraph from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham City Jail (16 April 1963):
First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”
I am a white moderate.
I was raised by white moderates in a conservative white suburb in the American South.
I now live in a predominantly-white neighborhood in a more progressive—but still predominantly-white—suburb in Maryland.
I serve as clergy in a religious tradition that has been shaped by the culture of the white moderate.
I serve a congregation that is largely white and moderate.
We have progressive ideas, for certain. But our bodies and our actions are still catching up to those ideas, those ideals. We are encultured and habituated to believe that incrementalism is best, that we need to take our time, that we should “wait until a ‘more convenient season’”.
Our bodies want to remain comfortable, secure, conflict-free—the “negative peace” of which Dr. King wrote.
Meanwhile, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Tony McDade and Ahmaud Arbery are dead because of the blight of white supremacy and racism that infects our law enforcement systems and rewards brutality.
They are dead while we white moderates sit comfortably in our air-conditioned homes and reflect about what might be the best process to find common ground and unity.
They. Are. Dead.
And we—we, white moderates; we, UUCC—are being asked to step out of our comfortable spaces and follow leaders of color whose voices are finally, after centuries, being amplified in this recent uprising.
With many of you and thousands of our neighbors, I walked the streets of Columbia’s Town Center on Tuesday evening, shouting “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!” “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” “Racist cops have got to go!”
It was stunning and invigorating and inspiring and challenging. I was proud to be there.
And. It is not about me.
My comfortable marching in our suburban streets and my Black Lives Matter t-shirt and my social media hashtags have their place in raising the visibility of the outcry. And they are all meaningless if I’m doing it merely to ease my conscience.
It’s meaningless if I’m not also evaluating my own assumptions, especially when they’re challenged by persons of color; and educating myself about what it means to be anti-racist; and questioning the ill-informed assertions of members of my family, my friend group, or my faith community.
It’s meaningless if I’m not making informed choices about where I spend my money and who is getting my vote and whose voices I’m amplifying when I share articles on Facebook or choose readings and music for worship services.
And it’s meaningless for us to say we are a progressive religious community if we are going to continue to behave like white moderates.
At its annual meeting this Sunday, the predominantly-white membership of UUCC is being asked to affirm its commitment to aligning its actions with its progressive ideals.
We are being asked not to set a timetable for others’ freedom, but to join the revolution.
I endorse the resolution put forth by your Board of Trustees, and I hope it will get your vote on Sunday.
Yours in community and Love,