Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Earlier this month, my Faith and Values column appeared in the Billings Gazette. Because it’s Black History Month, and I had met the Rev. Dr. Gerald Durley at Billings’ MLK celebration, I wrote about the civil rights volunteers in the fifties and sixties. I am inspired by the tenacity of so many people who worked so hard amid such uncertainty. They did such ordinary things: running mimeograph machines, making phone calls, taking minutes, walking, lending their cars to strangers. It was a tedious, repetitive, and sometimes thankless. And yet, the volunteers persevered and saw the end of segregation and Jim Crow laws.

At a presbytery meeting, I met a pastor with buckshot in his behind from Freedom Summer, when he helped black sharecroppers organize so they could sell their produce. At a grocery store, I met a descendant of Alexander Clark, the doctor/businessman/US ambassador who sued the Iowa Board of Education in 1868 so his daughter Susan could go to the white school next door. Clark v Board of Directors was the case cited in Brown v. Board of Education, 1954, that integrated America’s public schools. Here in Montana, I met a white geologist who told me of his family’s commitment to higher education for African Americans in the south. As a child, he lived on a black college campus—all his friends were black.  He said he felt that experience was a gift from his father, who was a professor there. Seventy years later, he still struggles with the evils of racism.

I do too. I also struggle with homophobia. I have two gay brothers-in-law. Last year, I talked with a minister friend who directs a Christian ministry to help LGBTQI people. I was telling him how unhappy my previous church had been with me for not preaching against gays. I was angrily accused of being ‘political in the pulpit’ when I prayed for my brother-in-law and his new husband. My friend said, in surprise, “I guess homophobia affects people who aren’t gay, too.”

Prejudice affects more than just the targets of prejudice. We are all affected by evil. It can rub off on us, hurting us and infecting us. In Matthew 5:39, Jesus says, “Don’t mirror evil.”

It’s easy to let the prejudice around us influence the way we behave; it’s easy to respond to hate and anger with hate and anger. So I treasure that I have found a church where we can talk candidly about prejudice. Some people have shared how powerless they feel to speak up when their friends make racist remarks. Others have shared success stories when they’ve spoken up and it made someone think. It’s good to have a community that can support us as we work to follow Jesus’ teaching to love your neighbor as yourself, and try to obey God’s call to “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.”

I make watercolor quilts, and I gave Dr. Durley a piece of fabric to sign. He wrote, “Stay in the struggle-- Gerald and Muriel Durley.” I’m going to put that piece in a civil rights quilt. When I am frustrated by how little difference I make, by how slow our progress is, I will wrap that quilt around me and feel comforted by the knowledge that I am surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.   

Pastor Susan