Sep. 21, 2018

Rev Traci Blackmon:people of faith must not be silent .

Rev. Traci Blackmon, head of the Justice and Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ and a leader of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Christians have a moral responsibility to speak out and teach people to say no to racism, xenophobia, exclusion and discrimination.

That conviction was at the heart of a Rome conference which brought together representatives of many different churches to find ways of combating the racism and populist nationalism that is on the rise in many countries today. The 18-20 September encounter was jointly organised by the World Council of Churches and the Vatican’s Office for Integral Human Development.

Among the participants speaking out most passionately about the need for a renewed commitment on the part of the churches was Rev. Traci Blackmon, pastor of a parish in St Louis, Missouri. She’s well-known nationally throughout the USA as head of the Justice and Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ and a leader of the Black Lives Matter movement.

She noted that while some people believe the church should not get involved in politics, she believes the birth of the Christ child in Bethlehem was “both a holy and political act”. The entire Jesus story is “one of human terror and divine mercy”, she said, since God “became human in the form of one who was vulnerable, poor and displaced in order to unveil the injustice of tyrannical power”.

Urging the church to be political but not partisan, Blackmon insisted that “Jesus had more in common with the children of refugees born today than we might like to imagine”. Criticising the current US government’s policy of almost halving the number of refugee admissions, she said the church must “recapture its prophetic zeal” and speak out against harmful policies or risk becoming “an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority”.

Blackmon also denounced the ways in which previous US governments oppressed and enslaved indigenous and immigrant people in past centuries, stressing that the church has been “complicit in the promulgation of religious rhetoric that favours some of God’s creation over others”. Immigration policy in the US, she declared, “is not as much about safety as it is about separatist ideology” and people of faith must not be silent.

Speaking after her powerful presentation to the conference, Blackmon insisted that the churches do have the power to combat racism and xenophobia - if they act in a more united way. The church is where people get their theological grounding, she said, and it is there where they must be taught that “any oppression of people that limits their ability to be all that God designed them to be is wrong”.

Rather than confronting people on social media or other hostile environments, Blackmon said, church leaders can connect with them personally at parish level as “people whose children you baptise, whose family members you marry and you bury”.

You’re not going to convince everyone, she concluded with a smile, but through the church we can educate the masses of people who elect our political leadership and have the power in their vote to make changes.