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UCC Leaders Issue Pastoral Responses to Zimmerman Verdict

by Eric Anderson

HARTFORD and CLEVELAND (07/15/2013) -- Connecticut Conference Minister the Rev. Kent J. Siladi joined the United Church of Christ's Collegium of Officers today in issuing public statements after a Florida jury found George Zimmerman not guilty of murder or manslaughter in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in February, 2012. After a night of tossing and turning, said Siladi, he found both comfort and challenge in the words of Psalm 25: "To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; my God I put my trust in you."

"Violence permeates our culture," observed Siladi in his letter to leaders of the Conference's churches. "We live in a culture of sharp divides where economic injustice, racism, disparate political views, and our reckless treatment of God's Creation daily reminds us of our brokenness."

Siladi echoed the words of the UCC's Collegium of Officers, who issued their statement on Sunday, saying: "Now we must act -- as local congregations, as individuals, and as a denomination -- to engage fervently in our own sacred conversations on race and racism to expand solidarity with our sisters and brothers who, out of sheer necessity, must teach their children how to walk, how to talk, and how to behave so that they don't become targets of violence and racial hatred. Now is the time to act. We must challenge our lawmakers and court systems that continue to make racially biased decisions."

"We must talk with one another," Siladi said. "We must work for justice. We must engage this mission in ways that do not cause further division. We must not approach this work with a self-righteous attitude but with humility and openness that we are the ones who need to be transformed."

The verdict follows by just weeks a Supreme Court ruling that undermined important sections of the Voting Rights Act, leaving advocates for racial justice profoundly troubled. Demonstrations erupted around the country after Martin's death, including in Hartford, and rallies have been held in many cities in the wake of the verdict this weekend.

The Collegium offered their prayers for the family of Trayvon Martin, the people of Sanford, Florida, and for George Zimmerman as well. "We hope and work for the Beloved Community where all of God's children thrive and live abundant lives, free from violence and hatred."

Click here for the statement of the Collegium. Rev. Siladi's letter follows in full:

Pastoral Letter: July 15, 2013

I greet you in the name of Jesus Christ who makes us one.

This morning after a night of tossing and turning I turned to the Scriptures to find direction. I have been attempting to develop a daily prayer discipline that includes reading the scriptures of the “Daily Office” to help me stay grounded in these turbulent times.

The morning Psalm for today is Psalm 25.

I began this day reading these words, “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; my God I put my trust in you; let me not be humiliated, nor let my enemies triumph over me. Let none who look to you be put to shame; let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes. Show me your ways, O Lord, and teach me your paths.”

Now that is one wake up call! Putting our trust in God is our first allegiance. How I needed that reminder today as I continue to wrestle with a mixture of emotions following the Supreme Court decision around the Voting Rights Act and Saturday night’s not guilty decision in the George Zimmerman case. I know that many of our preachers felt compelled to rewrite their Sunday morning sermons and to struggle to find the right words to say in the midst of the wide variety of reactions to this news.

My office in Florida was 12 miles from Sanford. As the news broke and the Trayvon Martin shooting became a national story it became painfully evident to many that the “stand your ground” laws of the state needed to be changed. The scourge of racism that permeates our planet was sharpened as tempers flared and the tragic unfolding of this case has reminded us one more time of the divisions that continue to pull us apart. Many of us join with the members of the UCC Collegium who began their statement following the verdict with the words, “How long O Lord, how long?” Those who have worked for racial justice their whole lives have lived with that question for a long time. Some among us might be moved to put this all behind us. I believe to do so would be a serious mistake.

What is the path that we are called to walk down in these days in which we live? I think the path that we are invited to walk down is the path of love. We do not walk this path alone. We are led by the trailblazer Jesus who has shown us that this path is illuminated with the mission he outlined as one of his first public statements:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

Is the Spirit of the Lord upon us now? In walking down this path of love which is a most difficult way we must recognize how we far we have fallen short in loving one another. Violence permeates our culture. We live in a culture of sharp divides where economic injustice, racism, disparate political views, and our reckless treatment of God’s Creation daily reminds us of our brokenness. Surely we must confess that these divides exist in Connecticut and in our churches.

Wendell Berry has called racism, “the hidden wound.” It is the unspoken reality that drives much of our fear and anxiety about one another. We do not yet reflect a multicultural church that many among us desire and we have before us a new opportunity to fully engage in Sacred Conversations on Race to begin the process of honest dialogue and transformation.

I stand with the Collegium in their letter to use the most recent events as a call to action:

Now we must act -- as local congregations, as individuals, and as a denomination -- to engage fervently in our own sacred conversations on race and racism to expand solidarity with our sisters and brothers who, out of sheer necessity, must teach their children how to walk, how to talk, and how to behave so that they don’t become targets of violence and racial hatred. Now is the time to act. We must challenge our lawmakers and court systems that continue to make racially biased decisions.

We must talk with one another. We must work for justice. We must engage this mission in ways that do not cause further division. We must not approach this work with a self-righteous attitude but with humility and openness that we are the ones who need to be transformed.

“To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; my God, I put my trust in you.” May it be so as we walk this path together.

The Rev. Kent J. Siladi is Conference Minister for the Connecticut Conference UCC. The Rev. Eric S. Anderson is Minister of Communications and Technology for the Connecticut Conference UCC.

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The Connecticut Conference United Church of Christ
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