“Thus says the Lord…I have called you by name, you are mine.” These words from Isaiah 43 speak of God’s everlasting love and embrace for each human being. The promise of God’s presence – through waters, fire, flame – remind us that every life is precious to God. God names us, claims us, saves us, loves us.
This week, the death toll from COVID-19 in the US surpassed 100,000 – a staggering number by any account. Nearly 7,000 have died in Canada and the worldwide death toll is nearing 360,000, an even more horrific number. The leaders of major ecumenical and interfaith organizations in the US have called for a time to Lament and Mourn this tragic milestone (see attached). Every life lost was precious to the God who was present with each soul at their last breath – even if no family members were physically there. Every life matters. COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted people of color because of underlying health conditions, poor access to health care, and the harsh reality that many people of color are the essential workers who put their own lives at risk to deliver goods to those of us privileged to stay safer at home. Every life matters to God. Every life must matter to us as well.
To some, every life does not seem to matter. In the midst of mourning 100,000 dead, we mourn the death of George Floyd, a black man killed at the knee of a white police officer in Minneapolis. George Floyd’s life mattered to his family, to his children, his loved ones, his friends. George Floyd’s life matters to God. George Floyd’s life must matter to us. “I have called you by name, you are precious in my sight. You are mine.” George Floyd belongs to our human family.
To kneel on the neck of any human being until they can no longer breathe is criminal. To kneel on the neck of any human being because of the color of his skin is racist. To stand by and watch without intervening is complicit. Justice must be served. Individuals must be held accountable for their actions. Too often, we have all stood by and watched, without intervening.
In 2018, the Provincial Synod called “…upon all members to be strengthened by faith in Jesus Christ to overcome fear and become informed about racism and its impact on all human lives; confess the sin of racism; speak and act in love for all people; and work in every aspect of life to eliminate institutional, systemic, and personal racism.” At the same synod, we also affirmed the Unity-wide statement, “In the very core of Moravian understanding of humanity, the God-given equality of all people is fundamental” and “condemn[ed] in the strongest terms racism and discrimination in all its forms.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we are all complicit. God calls us to confess the sin of racism that has ravaged this nation for over 400 years so that healing may begin. Over the past 48 hours, I have received messages from colleagues in the church who live in and near the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. They are physically safe, but they are angry at the killing and afraid for the ongoing violence of the rioting response. The whine of sirens and police helicopters shatter the illusion of sleep at night. The acrid smell of smoke and falling ash from the destruction of property linger in their neighborhoods. The peaceful call to end racism through vigils is appropriate. The destruction and violence in the wake of a killing only begets more violence. The violence must stop. Racism must stop. We must work toward peace and hope and wholeness.
We may not be on the streets of Minneapolis. We may not be listening to sirens in our neighborhoods. But we can do something to protest a senseless death – we can acknowledge our own complicity in the racism that permeates every facet of our culture. We can learn more about the roots of racism in our own lives, in the Moravian Church, and in our society today. And we can start the long, long journey toward the healing that only comes through confession, education, and coming together toward a common goal.
This Sunday, the church celebrates Pentecost – the coming of the Holy Spirit. It is often called the birthday of the church. Let this Pentecost birth a new church – committed to valuing the worth of every life and all life. Let this Pentecost birth a new church – that no longer stands by watching without intervening. Let this Pentecost birth a new church that embraces all of God’s creation and seeks to care for and build up every member of the human race. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul speaks of the Spirit’s gifts – a variety of them, all celebrated, and all given for the common good. Whether we are fighting COVID-19 or racism, we must look not to our own interests, but to the common good. For no life matters if all lives don’t matter.
With prayers for healing and peace,
Elizabeth D. Miller
President, Provincial Elders’ Conference
Moravian Church Northern Province
May 29, 2020