June 12, 2020
In my May 30 letter to you, I wrote that we believe it is our Christian responsibility to raise our voices and to say stop to the myriad ways in which our culture does not value Black lives in the same way as White lives.
That belief is why several Fourth Church members and staff participated in “The Faith Community Cannot Be Silent” march earlier this month. And it is why, as you will read below, your Session has voted to give public voice to the statement that Black lives matter to God and to us. As of Friday afternoon, June 12 you will now see that statement expressed in a banner hanging above our Sanctuary entrance. It affirms for this community what we believe, and it also reminds us of the work we have to do.
It is work we have begun—through, among other things, the Academy classes on “Beloved Community” and “Black History: Impact on Our Faith Traditions” earlier this year (which you can view online); the anti-racism training in which all new church officers participate; and the efforts to ensure the art throughout our campus represents all of God’s children, as we see in the striking painting “The Ascension” by Gerald Griffin.
But we have a lot more work to do. It is work we are committed to doing together, as we live out in actions and give voice to what it means that Black lives matter to God and to us.
Shannon J. Kersher, Pastor
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A June 12 letter from the Fourth Church Session to the congregation:
One of the five strategic directions adopted by Fourth Presbyterian Church in 2019 is
Embrace Racial Equity: Fourth Church will purposely include all people, striving for radical hospitality and modeling an antiracist approach in all areas.
This strategic direction calls on us to both act and speak in ways that publicly demonstrate in a tangible way our commitment to anti-racism. Thus, as an expression of this commitment, on Sunday, June 7, 2020, the Session of Fourth Church voted to display a banner stating “Black Lives Matter to God and to Us” above our sanctuary entrance.
Black Lives Matter
As a community of faith we affirm the inherent dignity and worth of each person, regardless of background, as created and beloved children of God.
However, the society in which we live does not accord equal worth to each person. Racism, anti-Blackness, and its violent and discriminatory fruit in our society have been well documented.
Throughout its history the church has been called upon to specifically affirm the dignity of particular persons whose lives are threatened by adversity and societal sin. When systemic racism, implicit bias, and notable incidents of violence put into question whether our society truly values Black lives, our congregation believes it is important to affirm the particular dignity, beauty, gifts, and worth of Black people. Thus we publicly name that Black lives matter.
Our statement that “Black Lives Matter to God and to Us” is not an endorsement of the national Black Lives Matter organization. That organization—and its local affiliates—do express core values that resonate with Christian values, including empathy, the necessity of family-friendly spaces, and intergenerational cooperation. But it also advocates for a range of policies on contentious issues about which Session has not taken a position. Thus our banner is not an organizational endorsement but is Fourth Church’s affirmation that the lives of Black people matter to God and to us.
We proclaim with this banner the theological truth that Black lives matter to God. Through it we also prayerfully point to the work that we must do as a church, as individuals, and as a society so that, according to God’s vision, a day will come when every life—already valued and beloved by God—will be equally valued by all of God’s children.
And to Us
This all-embracing love of God is what we seek to proclaim in our world. It is indeed the very first thing we say in our congregational mission statement, which begins, “We are a light in the city reflecting the inclusive love of God.”
We want those who see us but do not know our community—who have never set foot in our building, joined us in worship, or participated in our programing—to know who we are and what we believe and value. We want them to know without a doubt that Black lives matter to us.
Our banner signals solidarity with victims of racism, particularly African Americans, much as other banners that we have hung above our entrance have expressed solidarity with the LGBTQ community and, during the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, essential workers.
It signals that we recognize the systemic race prejudice and institutionalized White supremacy still afflicting our body politic. It acknowledges the validity of the pain and anger that have been expressed in the demonstrations resulting from yet another killing of an unarmed African American by a police officer.
Naming that Black lives matter to us is also our public commitment to intensify our congregational work of anti-racism, to recommit ourselves to—as our mission statement says—“ministries of healing, reconciliation, and justice” so that all of God’s children might flourish.
Click here to read the original proposal made to Session, the motion that was made and approved, and the FAQ.
Click here to read Shannon Kershner’s June 14, 2020, sermon “Connections,” which includes reflection on Session’s decision to hang on the Sanctuary the “Black Lives Matter to God and to Us” banner.