By Dr. Rob Collins
I do not have a funny story or an interesting metaphor to introduce the topic of racial inequality in our world. But to be honest, if I used a metaphor it might only cheapen the importance of the topic. I know that talking about racial justice feels difficult. It can create controversy, and it makes a lot of people feel uneasy. But I also know why that is. It is difficult. It is controversial. It is uneasy. It is also the right thing to do and, I believe, the very calling of God. The work of racial justice has long been a part of the legacy of American Baptists. Here’s a word from our denominational leader, the President of American Baptist Churches USA, Karen Podsiadly.
The first step in solving any problem is admitting that there is one. Racial injustice, racial inequality, racism and prejudice are plagues on our society, our communities, and on our faith.
I recall the story of the Ethiopian, a person of faith, who had traveled across the vast world to worship God in the temple in Jerusalem. Of course, he wasn’t allowed in the temple;, he was a eunuch and by religious law declared perpetually in sin for his sexuality. He was also very likely a person of color quite foreign to that part of the world. In Acts chapter eight, Phillip is sent by God to welcome this person into the fold of God’s church. This person was not only welcomed into the community of Christ, he was baptized and celebrated.
But the only way we can accomplish this goal is through the disciplines of self reflection and self improvement. We must, each of us, look within ourselves for what is not Christ and then take steps to grow toward the grace and love of Christ.
Over the next several months we will be featuring reviews of books, films and other sources that you can use, and our church can use, to self reflect and self improve. Obviously, this is not the final solution, but it is a place to start. Each month in our newsletter (and collected here on our website) you will find recommendations for resources that can help educate us on racial injustice. These are recommendations that are meant to provide you with quality resources for anyone who is interested in improving, not just as a human being but also as a follower of Christ.
As the days go on, especially as the Covid restrictions slowly dissipate, we will do more. There are African-American leaders, young activists, scholars and pastors in our community who can teach us so much. We will work on including them and learning from them.
Let us remember the grace of God and the love that is found in Christ as we travel this difficult path. Let us pray for the many people in our communities who are still living with persecution and threat. Let us pray for the upright police officers working to reform the systems they work in. And let us hold ourselves accountable because this is our world, this is our community, and God has placed this responsibility upon us.
By Wayne Nowlan
Several predominantly-white faith communities and individual members from other churches met recently to develop a statement of proposals for hiring a new police chief to replace recently retired Loren Marion. Among several other things, our statement says the new chief should commit to:
We have forwarded our statement to City Council members and City Manager Patrick Urich. On January 27 our Racial Justice Group met virtually with the city manager. He said an advertisement has been sent to a national search agency seeking resumes from interested candidates. The hope is to have a new police chief by mid-summer. We have also met with NAACP President Marvin Hightower and Pastor Martin Johnson, chairman of the Mayor-Black Pastors Group. Other members of that group include State’s Attorney Jodi Hoos, Sheriff Brian Asbell, Federal Prosecutor Darilynn Knauss and several black pastors. When it seems safe to do so, I intend to hold a Contemporary Issues Class to present and discuss this critical issue of Racial Justice in Peoria with our members.
This book tells of Lewis’ early aspirations to be a minister and his time at the theological seminary but mostly focuses on the 1960s, taking the reader from Lewis’ time in a notorious Mississippi prison to his work with the Freedom Riders and his successes in winning passage of laws forbidding discrimination in public accommodations and voting. Unfortunately, the book ends in 1968 with the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, whose presidential campaign Lewis was working on. “Walking with the Wind,” Lewis’ memoir, published in 1998, covers much of the same ground. A full biography is being written by historian David Greenberg but is yet to be published.
Seeking racial justice requires educating ourselves – and that can begin with watching a video.
This is another in a series of newsletter articles recommending videos that will help us do that. – Barb Drake
This documentary was released just last year and is available on various streaming networks. The title stems from the civil rights leader’s advocacy of what he called “good trouble.” As Lewis ex-plained when he spoke in 2014 at Bradley University, “The teaching of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. inspired me to get in good trouble, necessary trouble. If you see something that is not right, that is wrong, that is not fair, that is not just … you must speak out.” He says you must do this even when those in trouble would prefer you to stay silent. The film traces Lewis’ story from his rural Alabama roots to his role in civil rights protests and his Con-gressional career. It’s fun seeing him practice his preaching skills to a flock of chickens. As one reviewer put it, “Even then he had what it took to hold an audience.”
By Pierre Paul
First Baptist has given me so much love and guidance over the years, so when I had this opportunity to give some of my knowledge and love back I could not resist. As followers of Christ, our dedication to our fellow brothers and sisters doesn’t stop when we cross street lines, city lines, state lines, or even a nation’s borders. As I have been traveling around the USA advocating for justice, I have learned so many lessons that I want to share, but here are just a few to start with:
—Proverbs 29:7. This does not mean that the righteous ONLY care about justice for the poor, it means that while the right- eous care for all, they are ensuring that the group who receives the least amount of justice—in this verse, these people are the poor—begin to acquire it.
If you like dense readings: Spruill, L. (2016). “Slave Patrols,” “Packs of Negro Dogs” and “Policing Black Communities.” Phylon
(1960-), 53(1), 42-66. Retrieved September 21, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/phylon1922.214.171.124.
If you like simplified readings: “Why are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” by Beverly Daniel Tatum.
If you like videos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O5FBJyqfoLM (There is a clip of a comedian within the first 12 seconds that uses profanity, but aside from that the video is clean and very informative)
A Review by Chris Heine
Filmaker Ava DuVernay expores the history of racial inequality in the United States. If you’ve ever wondered why, after the 13th Amendment freed the slaves, African-Americans have not made greater progress, then this movie will open your eyes to the multiple ways in which African-Americans’ rights were curtailed.
It turns out that the 13th Amendment freeing the slaves had a loop-hole clause, which states that slavery and involuntary servitude are illegal “except as a punishment for crime.” The brief clause in the 13th Amendment allowed the South to rebuild its economy through prison labor. African-Americans were arrested in large numbers — often for minor crimes. “It was our nation’s first prison boom,” Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow,” explains in “13th.”
But it didn’t stop with that. The story of the years that follow will enlighten you and help you see how the fact that in 2020 1 out of every 3 African-American men can expect to be incarcerated is not accidental, nor is it without financial beneficiaries.
This is not a partisan film. There are many contributions to the status quo from both parties. This movie will help you see how you and I currently may be complicit in the new Jim Crow. How keeping 2 million black men in jail has in effect extended slavery into 2020.
A Review by Chris Heine
Based on a novel by James Baldwin, this movie is the story of a love so sweet, so tangible, that you feel you can reach through the screen and touch it. This 2018 romantic drama is the story of Tish and Fonny, who have been friends since childhood and fall in love when they are older. They are doing the things young lovers do when Fonny is falsely accused of rape – framed by an officer who has it in for him – even though Fonny has witnesses that put him miles from the scene.
Fonny is in jail when Tish visits him to tell him that she is going to have his baby. Each of their families does everything within their ability to raise money to pay for a lawyer. But the victim disappears, and in the end Fonny takes a plea deal for something he didn’t do.
While you watch this, be aware of the impact race, family wealth and police-community relations have on this story. How would this story play out if it happened to your family? How was it different for this family?
The movie is available on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Vudu and YouTube.