written by Alec Peters
One Saturday last month, I found myself looking for the website of a Presbyterian church I had seen used as a filming location in a TV show. It was idle curiosity, but the church’s website made an impression on me. At the top of their homepage was a prominent link to their “Statement on Black Lives Matter,” made in reaction to the murders of George Floyd and too many others—and to the worldwide protests that have followed.
I became curious and started looking at the websites of other churches of a variety of denominations. I found very few that made any mention at all of the issues that our society can no longer avoid facing. A person who checked any of these websites would know at a glance that services were being held virtually due to COVID-19, but there were few signs that these churches were aware of or engaged with what, in many cases, was literally happening right outside their doors. It made me wonder whether a stranger checking out WRPC would have any way to know that we are trying to be aware and engaged.
The next day, I assisted with virtual worship, and after the service was over, I mentioned all of this to Katherine and to Sarah McCracken Cobb, who chairs the Mission, Peace and Justice Committee. I asked them if they thought it was worth considering whether the Session should make a statement. It would not be the first time the Session had done so. In 1964, the Session made clear that no person would ever be turned away from membership at West Raleigh because of race. It also adopted a resolution supporting the Raleigh Merchants Bureau’s recommendation that Raleigh businesses serve all customers, without regard to race.
When the Session met last week, the MPJ Committee brought to it a draft statement, authored by Renee Elder and others, with the recommendation that Session adopt the statement as its own and place the statement prominently on the WRPC website. After much discussion and a little bit of tweaking, the Session adopted this statement:
West Raleigh Presbyterian Church is dedicated to following Jesus’s commandment to love our neighbor, and thus we stand in solidarity with all who affirm that Black lives matter and repudiate discrimination, violence, and mass incarceration against people of color. We commit to resisting and opposing the culture of white supremacy in all ways, including prayer, education, organizing, protesting, and voting. We also pledge to examine our own unconscious prejudices with clear eyes in order to shape a beloved community that embraces and cares equitably for all of God’s people.
The Session adopted this as a statement of the Session, not of the congregation as a whole, though we will of course be glad if others in the congregation are in agreement. We adopted the statement knowing that words alone are not enough, that words must be followed by action, even if we don’t yet fully know what forms that action should take. But we do not believe that we can be silent. We do not believe that others, especially those who don’t know us, should have to assume that we are aware of or engaged with what is happening in the world. We believe that this season, when perhaps there are opportunities that too often in the past have been missed, is “a time to speak.”
At the same time, we’re also called to be silent so that we can listen—so that we can, in the words of the Brief Statement of Faith, “hear the voices of peoples long silenced” and “work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.” To help us, as a community of faith, speak and listen faithfully, the Session also approved the recommendation from the MJP Committee that we form a task force to help guide our efforts. If you’re interested in being part of this task force, please let Katherine or Sarah McCracken Cobb know.
We know that the statement adopted by the Session will not, on its own, change the world. But we believe that this is a time to speak. And we pray that our actions, as individuals and as a community, will give life and truth to the convictions we speak.