It's too hot, I said to a colleague two weeks ago.
They thought I meant the weather, but I was actually referring to the social climate. In June, we saw brutal attacks on black teenage girls at swimming pools in McKinney, Texas. Then came the horrific shootings of adult Bible students at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, that left nine people dead, including Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a pastor, state legislator and activist. I went online to look up "Charleston shooting," and what popped up first was the previous murderous attack when Walter Scott, a black man, was shot in the back fleeing from white police officer Michael Slager. That was in April.
Very hot indeed. At the time of the Emanuel massacre, it wasn't even officially summer yet.
How much hotter could it get?
We are finding out. Since the massacre, several black churches have been set on fire -- history and heritage and lives at risk. Investigations into those cases are underway, though it is hard not to see the invisible hand of the killers that North Carolina NAACP President Rev. William Barber identified -- "racialized political rhetoric and racialized policies". Thankfully, the perpetrators in Charleston have been arrested or put on administrative leave. But as long as the killer goes unchecked, black lives will continue to be endangered in ways we wish not to even imagine.
We look to each other, to our congregations, to nonreligious allies and organizations and ask, What can we do? How can we turn the heat down before more lives and legacies are consumed by the flames of hatred?
Here are some starting points, compiled by a team of us on your UUA staff.
Weave acknowledgment of the massacre and the church burnings into your worship services starting this Sunday. The AME Church Council of Bishops and Church Leadership have issued a Call to Action for All People of Faith beginning this weekend in response to the massacre and the church burnings. Multi-faith coalitions, of which our UUA is a part, are answering the call by asking all our congregations and individuals to address these tragedies this Sunday, July 5th. We encourage you to read UUA President Rev. Peter Morales's statement as part of your worship service. Other worship resources are available through our UUA WorshipWeb Black Lives Matter collection, which always welcomes new submissions.
Affirm and/or cultivate relationships with black congregations in your area. The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Charlotte, NC, and its minister, the Rev. Jay Leach, had previously worked with Briar Creek Road Baptist Church, one of the first set on fire. Last Sunday they took up an offering to directly support their neighbors. Let us follow their example and reach out to AME and other local historically African American congregations with offers of support and solidarity. No matter our ethnic or religious identity, sincere expressions of goodwill build community.
Show up for actions of resistance and solidarity. Our partners at the Forward Together Moral Movement, the PICO Network and others have organized a Week of Religious Resistance #WORR to start July 12th through July 18th. It includes gathering in Winston-Salem on July 13 for the Mass Moral Voting Rights March. On July 18th they will be in Charleston, SC, to counter the KKK March on the Capitol to protest the removal of the Confederate Flag.
Put your dollars to work for justice and restoration. Our James Reeb Fund, first established during the days after Rev. Reeb's death, continues to support the work of racial justice in our congregations and our Association. The fund gives us the power to respond agilely to the needs of our time. With what we collect this month, we will be able to supply immediate material needs of congregations terrorized by arson and other acts of violence. Previous and ongoing donations to the fund also promote continual congregational and associational work on racial justice, voting rights, ministries to UU religious professionals of color, and interfaith organizing, especially around #BlackLivesMatter. Please take up a collection for the Reeb Fund to provide urgent support for congregations affected by the current rash of hate crimes, as well as faithful support of our longer-term work. Some of the money raised will go to the Rebuild the Churches Fund, and we will also look to local congregations for direction on where financial assistance is most needed.
The summer is hot, and may get hotter still. Let the fire of commitment burn in our hearts, so that we can be a force for reconciliation that counters the flames of hatred. May all that remains at the end of this season be the embers of compassion and the warmth of community that bind us closer to our neighbors, such that no person and no place is consumed by contempt and injustice.
Rev. Carlton Elliott Smith
[based in Holly Springs, Mississippi]
Congregational Life Staff, Southern Region
-- in collaboration with our UUA's Multicultural Growth and Public Witness Teams
People gather in mourning
Reach out directly to the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church(es) in your community. Offer a message of grief, sympathy, we're here for you. Let us know if we can be helpful.
Support the National Convening of the Movement for Black Lives, July 24-26 in Cleveland, Ohio.
This Sunday dedicate your worship or offer a prayer to the memory of the slain.
White people take action for Charleston call with Showing up for Racial Justice, 8pm ET
- The Terrorism section of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network's website offers multiple fact sheets for processing a shooting tragedy with children (PDF), youth, and adults.
- Together in Faith (PDF): Finding Home in Times of Trauma or Disaster by Tracey L. Hurd, posted by the UUA Resource Development Office
- Supporting Children in the Face of Disaster or Trauma by Tracey L. Hurd, posted by the UUA Resource Development Office
- Helping Students Navigate a Violent World by Sean McCollum, posted by Teaching Tolerance, A Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center
- Discussing Hate and Violence with Your Children, from the Anti-Defamation League
- Talking with Kids about News, on the PBS Parents website
- Mental Health and People of Faith—Responding in a Time of Crisis—Rev. Barbara F. Meyers, a UU Community Minister with a mental health ministry, January 6, 2013
- A Song of Sorrow by Nick Page