Rev. Allen V. Harris

Franklin Circle Christian Church ~ Cleveland, Ohio ~ www.FranklinCircleChurch.org

 

Following the events of this past week, both in the life of this nation and the work and witness of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) at its General Assembly meeting in Orlando, Florida, I felt that an appropriate use of our time of prayer would be to talk about, and then pray for, the strains that pull on our world at key points of social change and conflict.

 

This past week the verdict in the trial following the death of Trayvon Martin over a year ago was announced, with the suspect charged being named “not guilty.”  From the moment the news of Trayvon’s death was made public, the case was a source of tension as it became representative for the deep divisions our nation still has yet today around issues of race and ethnicity.  The announcement was hailed by some as a vindication of an endangered citizen who chose to “stand his ground” when faced with a threatening situation.  For others, myself included, it was a sad indictment on the ease and speed with which we use violence to solve our problems and the frequency with which that violence is aimed at our African American brothers and sisters.

 

Rally For Justice For Trayvon Martin at the Carl Stokes Justice Center, Cleveland, Ohio July 20, 2013

Rally For Justice For Trayvon Martin at the Carl Stokes Justice Center, Cleveland, Ohio July 20, 2013

At the rally yesterday in front of the Carl Stokes Justice Center in downtown Cleveland, I was reminded that far beyond the actual details of this particular case, the death of Trayvon Martin and the verdict announced for the man who killed him, these events represent the  anger and frustration that run deep in the hearts, minds, and souls of African Americans in this nation.  I have now lived through too many of these moments which represent the unsolved problem of racism in America: from the death of Emmit Till to the fiery unrest following the Rodney King verdict; from the riots of Watts and Chicago and Hough to the huge chasms between white and black perspectives that were painfully obvious during the O.J. Simpson trial, the possibilities of racial unity and harmony have yet to be realized and the vision of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Beloved Community has yet to become a reality.

Rally For Justice For Trayvon Martin at the Carl Stokes Justice Center, Cleveland, Ohio July 20, 2013

Rally For Justice For Trayvon Martin at the Carl Stokes Justice Center, Cleveland, Ohio July 20, 2013

 

And it was with a heavy heart that even in the midst of celebrating a most historic moment in the life of my beloved Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), which I have served passionately my entire life, to become a “place of welcome and grace to all,” the gulfs of race were widened.  Even as my lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and questioning sisters and brothers were fully welcomed for the first time to the Table and in the life and leadership of the church, the leaders of many of our Hispanic congregations and constituency groups, among others, named their own feelings of pain and exclusion by the vote.  As threats to leave the denomination were realized following the vote, my heart became heavier and heavier.

 

Debate regarding GA-1327 on the floor of the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Orlando, FL on July 16, 2013

Debate regarding GA-1327 on the floor of the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Orlando, FL on July 16, 2013

As Christians, we must ask ourselves why, and how, does the acceptance and inclusion of another child of God threaten the values of another believer?  How did we get to the place where honoring the rights, dignity, worth, and even life of another human being become offensive or dangerous to others.  In a faith tradition that celebrates freedom of thought and the centrality of the singular acceptance of Christ as savior, it is confusing, at best, and alarming, at its worst, to think we have developed litmus tests for inclusion in Christ’s church.  We must also have a much more candid conversation about how important it is for our church to discuss and even take stands for justice as a natural and necessary outgrowth of our faith in Jesus Christ, and I commit myself to helping this congregation have that conversation.

 

Jackson Cobb at the microphone during the debate regarding GA-1327 on the floor of the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Orlando, FL on July 16, 2013

Jackson Cobb at the microphone during the debate regarding GA-1327 on the floor of the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Orlando, FL on July 16, 2013

So, in keeping with the theme of the Assembly, “Lord, Teach Us To Pray,” we should pray on these things.  But not simply pray, we must pray with a spirit willing to grow and change and learn.  The phrase “teach us to pray,” assumes there is something to learn.  Certainly we need to learn to pray in such a way that our own biases, prejudices, and bad habits are not reinforced through prayer.  We need to pray in such a way that our empathy for the “other,” so palpable in the life and prayers of Jesus, is full, supple, and permeable.  We must pray expectantly, believing with all we are and all we hope to be that change is possible, that the commonwealth of God is a real possibility, and that no human limitation nor failing will ultimately prevent God’s will from being done.

 

Let us, therefore, pray:

 

O God, we ask you once again to pour down your Holy Spirit upon all creation.  Our nation and our church are ever in need of your renewed and renewing presence.  For our sisters and brothers whose fears have been reinforced and whose angers have been stoked by the events of this past week, we pray your Spirit of Hope and Possibility might stay with them and guide them in the coming days, weeks, and years.  For those who celebrate the movement of your Church to welcome those left out and even persecuted by policies and practices we pray your Spirit of Thanksgiving and Humility might stay with them and guide them in the coming days, weeks, and years.  For all of us, O God, we ask that you allow prayer, which was such a powerful force in the life of your beloved child Jesus, to be just such a force in our lives, guiding us, changing us, empowering us to be better people of faith and better citizens, also.  In the name of Christ we pray, Amen.

 

 

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