Archive for the ‘racial equality’ Category


Loving Our World-Wide Neighbors

July 29, 2014

by First Church Senior Minister Patricia de Jong

“It was un-American; it was unbiblical; it was inhumane.” Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Roman Catholic archbishop of New York wrote these words in response to the busloads of mothers and children in Murietta that were turned back  toward the border as protesters shouted to them, “Go home!” Cardinal Dolan grasps the sorrow and even shame many people of faith are experiencing these days as we confront the meaning of the Gospel imperative “to love our neighbor as ourselves” on the childrenatborderUS border and in Gaza and in the Middle East. Not only do we have difficulty with the political events of the past few weeks, but many of us have trouble making moral sense out of the way children are being treated in the hot spots around the globe.

In the past two weeks, we have stood silently as a body during worship in order to prayerfully protest the deportation of children who are fleeing violence in their own countries and have arrived at our borders with nothing more than hope for a chance at survival. We’ve prayed for peace in the Israel/Palestine and especially for the bombings to stop in the Gaza Strip. And we have received a free will offering for East Bay Sanctuary Covenant and the important work they are doing in the East Bay with refugees right now. It doesn’t seem like much when we imagine the enormity of human suffering that is occurring; but we also know that a stance of grace and compassion is vital to the process of moving forward to justice and healing.

Each small act of intention and attention is powerful. Through the simple act of prayer or writing a check or emailing our representatives, we are making a difference. We simply must not allow violence or division or ignoring the plight of children to become our new normal; as people of faith we have a calling to honor creation through the honoring of each other as God’s own beloved children.

In the coming days, pray for the children, our own and especially those at risk. If you feel like it and are able, write a check supporting an agency that helps children, here or anywhere in the world, but especially the troubled spots. Send an email to your representative reminding them of the importance of the welfare of children to the future well being of the planet. And pay attention to and be thankful for a child or a young person in your life; they are wise and wonderful and will remind you of our calling to care for all the children of the world.

More about First Church Berkeley…


A Lament for Lynching

July 17, 2012

by Phil Porter, First Church Minister of Art & Communication and member of the Diversity Ministry Team

This piece was originally published in the First Church newsletter The Carillon. It was written in the context of a study the church was doing of Dr. James Cone’s book The Cross and the Lynching Tree.

When I was in high school, I had a teacher with whom I worked quite a bit. More than once, when I apologized to her for something I had done, she would say “Don’t be sorry, just do better next time.” I understood and appreciated the sentiment—paying attention to future actions and not repeating mistakes rather than regretting the past. But it also changed my habits around apology. I think I apologized less to her and to others and I’m not that was a good thing.

In my mind, there are a couple of different ways to apologize.  In the first, I may have done something I regretted. I say “I’m sorry” to the ones who were affected by my actions. In the second, I may recognize that a bad thing has happened to someone. I may say “I’m sorry that that happened to you.” The intention is less about my personal regret or responsibility and more about expressing compassion and solidarity.

Sometimes, I find myself  in between the two. I may feel a need to apologize because I recognize that a wrong has been done, but I may not be sure about my own personal responsibility.

Over a period of forty years from about 1880 to 1940, there were over 3400 reported cases of lynching in the United States. Who knows how many more went unreported? This violence and terrorism was brutal and widespread, and went unchecked by law enforcement, government or civic and religious institutions. Its purpose was not only to punish but to “frighten to death.” It was racism most blatant.

I’m sorry that this happened in this country or anywhere. I’m sorry that the pain of this period reverberates in individuals and in the collective body even today. And I find myself in that territory where I’m not sure of my own responsibility. Those events have seemed distant both in time and location, but the more I learn, the more I open myself to this tragedy, the more I wonder what responsibility I carry. Sometimes my sense of responsibility comes from a collective rather than individual identity. I may be at fault, not as one person but as a member of a group, whether that membership is chosen or not. As a spiritual practice, I try not to shirk my collective responsibility even when an inner voice is saying, “but it wasn’t really me that did this!”

As a white person, I feel a need to make my regret explicit for lynching and all the other practices that have terrorized and demeaned black people throughout the years. Otherwise, how with those who carry that painful legacy know that I stand with them? I’m sorry all of that happened.

And because these sorts of things are still going on, I will also try to follow advice of my high school teacher to do better this time and the next.


The Tragic Death of Trayvon Martin

March 29, 2012

by Phil Porter
Minister of Art & Communication

Trayvon MartinLast Sunday, a photograph of Trayvon Martin and a “hoodie” were placed on the communion tables at both services at First Church. Trayvon was a 17-year-old African American who was shot by a neighborhood watch captain in Florida. The man who shot Trayvon was not arrested based on his claim that he fired in self-defense. Public attention and outrage has grown steadily in the month since the shooting.

This case has touched a nerve for many, inviting us to look not only at instances, but at patterns. This situation is not just about the tragic death of one young man. It is about perceptions of young African American men. Though some may see the murder as out of the ordinary, many are seeing it as something that could easily happen to them or someone they love. Thousands upon thousands of parents are now even more concerned and apprehensive about the safety of their sons.

Philadelphia AP writer Jesse Washington talks about having to give his 12-year-old son the talk about the “black male code.” He gave his son this advice:

“Always pay close attention to your surroundings, son, especially if you are in an affluent neighborhood where black folks are few. Understand that even though you are not a criminal, some people might assume you are, especially if you are wearing certain clothes.

Never argue with police, but protect your dignity and take pride in humility. When confronted by someone with a badge or a gun, do not flee, fight, or put your hands anywhere other than up.

Please don’t assume, son, that all white people view you as a threat. America is better than that. Suspicion and bitterness can imprison you. But as a black male, you must go above and beyond to show strangers what type of person you really are.”

(Read Jesse Washington’s full article “Trayvon Martin, my son, and the Black Male Code”.)

Trayvon is both a victim and a symbol. The tragedy of his death stands alone, but as we mourn him, we are also mourning many lives lost. We have an opportunity to stop and call ourselves and our culture to account for the ways that young lives are cut short or derailed because of race or class.

One of the things that church can offer is a place where the family is extended. In so many ways, teenagers and their parents need the support of the wider community. We can help hold the lives of our young people during a period that is often fraught with challenge. Perhaps Trayvon’s death can spur us to take even more seriously our opportunity to spread our collective wings over our young ones—those right next to us, those we pass on the street and those we only hear about through the news.


Justice & Injustice

January 26, 2012

Seminary Intern Andrew Greenhaw reflects on justice and injustice, following a weekend celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Having the opportunity to preach this last Sunday as our community celebrated the life and ministry of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a privilege. As I worked to prepare the sermon, I read and reflected on King’s incredible response to God’s call to justice. King had a gift for hearing God’s word for our society and had the courage to respond to that word.

During my time here at First Church, I have noticed time and again this congregation’s concern for justice, whether it be the Occupy movement, the UCC’s Mission 1 Food Justice Campaign or the unlawful imprisonment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Last week as I was reading and reflecting on King’s life in preparation for my sermon, I heard another call to justice.

On the local news was a story about a man named Marcel Johnson who had been arrested at the Occupy Oakland camp. After being taken to jail, Johnson, who also goes by Khali, did not receive his psychiatric medication and had an altercation with a corrections officer. Because of Khali’s prior arrests, under California’s three strike law he may now face life in prison on charges stemming from the altercation.

I do not know Marcel Johnson, but I know that this is injustice. We live in a country that locks more people in prison than any other. And it is widely known that a horrendously disproportionate number of those locked away are, like Marcel Johnson, African American. It may not be as widely known, but is no less true, that a shocking number of those imprisoned for life under California’s three strikes law are black men convicted of non-violent crimes. This is not justice. This cannot stand.

If we are concerned for victims of torture, if we are concerned for prisoners at Guantanamo, let us also be concerned for Marcel Johnson and prisoners here in California. If we want to honor the work of Martin Luther King Jr., let us speak out against the mass imprisonment of black persons in this country. I know how much this congregation cares about justice and how much it does to bring about justice.

So when I heard the call to justice in Marcel’s story, I felt I needed to share it with you.

More about First Church…


Adding our Voice to the 99 Percent

October 10, 2011

by Sam Rennebohm

“Justice is not an ancient custom, a human convention, a value, but a transcendent demand, freighted with divine concern” —Abraham J. Heschel

We are the 99%We stand at a point in history when the onerous weight of inequity has become so burdensome that it calls forth the forces of resistance. We are witnessing one of the most pronounced divides between rich and poor in the history of this country. That divide has manifest  itself in the most palpable ways: months of unemployment, foreclosed homes, mounting debt and precipitous loans, and cutbacks in social services. We would be remiss to ignore that those who have been most adversely affected are disproportionately people of color, further cementing our history of racial disparity.

The circumstances we now face are similar to those described by the prophets of the Old Testament. Amos decried those who “trample on the poor” and “push aside the needy at the gate,”  Jeremiah spoke out against those who “have become great and rich” with “deeds of wickedness,” and Isaiah railed against those “who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is room for no one.” In the New Testament, we read of Jesus overturning the money changing tables and calling on the wealthy to give their possessions to the poor,  These are the voices of our tradition, crying out from the pages of our most sacred text.

Those same words of righteous indignation now echo through the streets of our nation. They can be read on the signs of people camping out on Wall Street. They can be heard on the lips of seasoned protestors and disillusioned young people, returning war veterans and longtime union members. The spirit of principled resistance, so epitomized in scripture, is now spreading through our country.

As Progressive Christians, we speak of God’s call to work for justice and righteousness in the world. We speak of the good news promised by Jesus—that the last shall become first, the hungry shall be fed, the naked shall be clothed. We speak of an age of hope and possibilities, of new beginnings that draw ever closer to God’s kin-dom. This nascent movement is an opportunity for progressive Christians to add voices and our vision to the plurality of people calling for change. The occupation of Wall Street and the subsequent protests that have sprung up across the country call us forward to live into our faith, to lend what resources we have, to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters, to articulate our expectations and our dreams.

People of faith will gather for a meeting on Thursday, October 13 led by Sam Rennebohm. Read more…


Tampering With Dreams

August 30, 2011

In her sermon “Tampering with Dreams”, Senior Minister Patricia de Jong weaves together the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the March on Washington with the story of Moses and the burning bush. Below are some excerpts from her sermon.

Watch a video of the whole sermon.

Watch Phil Porter’s telling of the story of Moses and the burning bush.

Rev. Patricia de JongWe need, this morning to be awed and yet cautious, just as Moses was when he saw the burning bush. We stand in awe; so much has been pursued in the cause for justice since that day. Following the March on Washington, people got to work and began to carve a way out of no way for American Blacks in the South. The Southern Leadership Conference got busy and so did all the people around Dr King. Racial injustice was challenged at every turn and broken open through the courageous acts of hundreds and thousands of people who refused to tolerate hatred and violence.

Dr. King’ lasting legacy and dream is not only for Americans, but for all people who have had to fight their way out of fear, violence and inequality.  We see his image today in the eyes of those freedom fighters in Egypt, Libya and Syria and in the hearts of people everywhere who understand what it means for the human heart and spirit to be trampled upon and held down because of repressive regimes, hostile dictators, and those who promote hatred instead of love and war instead of peace. And we see him in those who have dedicated their lives to creating justice, compassion and freedom throughout the world.


We as Progressive Christians are called to continue to press for love, justice and compassion in a culture that is threatened at its most vulnerable points. In our times, the burning bush is the call of an awesome and holy God who demands active and lively partners in the quest for a better and more just nation.


Many Americans are out of work and unemployment stands in the double digits. While the weathier are getting wealthier, the poor staying poor, those we are in between are disappearing.  Our prisons are filled with young men who cannot find their way in this society, who end up making a way to prison. Our universities are training people for jobs that may not exist upon graduation for some men and women. We have an African American president, but that does not mean that we have achieved racial equality or that he is free from attacks which have occasionally been about his race rather than his record. We are living in a time when some Americans are less tolerant of the differences between us rather than more tolerant, caring and forgiving.  Someone has been tampering with the dream that all of us in this nation have the chance for a just and equal existence.

Watch a video of the whole sermon.

Watch Phil Porter’s telling of the story of Moses and the burning bush.