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ECC Leaders' Official Statements on Ferguson

A STATEMENT TO THE CHURCH ON FERGUSON, MISSOURI
From the African American Denominational Leadership of the ECC

CHICAGO, IL (August 23, 2014) — We, the undersigned, acknowledge the deep pain and grief that accompanies the unfolding of events in Ferguson, Missouri, over these past two weeks. We are parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles of African American boys and men, who daily confront the harsh racial realities of a society unreconciled, which does not always affirm their human dignity or celebrate the value and worth of their lives.

We further acknowledge that the brokenness which accompanies the harsh treatment and senseless deaths of young men of color transcends the present situation in Ferguson. It is beyond the forensics of this particular case, and is in fact an oft-repeated narrative in communities across the United States. We are without option as it pertains to addressing the collective anger and grief of a people at the crossroads of racial tension in our country, with systems that seemingly do not seek to “serve and protect” in our communities. We are such people.

As Brothers and Sisters in Christ, members of the Covenant family, clergy, and denominational leaders, we are distressed about the broadening racial divide that persists in our society. We are troubled that occurrences of racial stereotyping, profiling, and dehumanization show no signs of abating. We are absolutely heartsick about the casual, recurring loss of human life; a refrain which repeats with increasing intensity and velocity. We are distressedbut we are not without hope.

For we believe in the power of the cross of Christ to tear down the dividing wall of hostility, and to make possible a church and society where reconciliation and justice are indispensable norms. We have this hope!

Therefore, we write collectively to invite the church to a compassionate response; to stand in solidarity with those who suffer; to pray earnestly, acknowledging the discomfort and fear that may arise when addressing tragedies saturated with the pain and history of racial strife. Further, we exhort a focus on a gospel response — a gospel which compels, even propels us to the place of pain and brokenness together, and challenges us not only to catalyze, but to champion change. Finally, we suggest the hopeful possibilities for a prophetic response; one which seeks to build a society where human dignity is firmly at the center of public life, where every life matters and has worth, and where the people of God work tirelessly together to offer compassion, healing, and justice.

Yours for the cause of Christ,

The African American Denominational Leadership of the Evangelical Covenant Church
Jerome Nelson
Debbie Griffith Samuels
Robert Owens
Harold Spooner
Debbie Blue
Cecilia Williams
Randall Jordan
Edward Gilbreath

A RESPONSE BY PRESIDENT GARY WALTER

CHICAGO, IL (August 23, 2014) — The Covenant is immensely blessed in having deeply committed and highly effective individuals serving in leadership positions both at Covenant Offices and our regional conferences. That includes all of those who have written the above pastoral letter. Each of them is a gifted leader, trusted friend, and valued colleague who loves this Church and is unreservedly committed to its mission.

This timely letter is important because it serves us in two valuable ways:

1.   It lays open the pain. We can be lulled into seeing this as a news story with a news cycle. For our African American friends this is an old story within a recurring cycle. We don’t know all of the facts in this case, nor where all of those facts will lead as the legal process unfolds. But we do know this death of an unarmed young man is a piercing reminder that young African American men are disproportionately more likely to be arrested, sentenced, or even killed than their white counterparts.

2.   It underscores the indispensable importance of the gospel itself. Whatever the specifics of this circumstance turn out to be, this much is clear: the racial divide is far from resolved. But the cross of Jesus is where we find common ground, level ground. It is where there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free. The Covenant believes this and so we intentionally seek to be a multi-ethnic mosaic that increasingly reflects the Kingdom of God. Somewhere Christians need to do more than advocate the value of racial righteousness; the reality of oneness in Christ needs to be evident, demonstrated, and embodied. The Covenant wants to be among those who summon the resolve to do just that. Even as we stumble and bumble, we can more and more demonstrate a community the world longs for but is afraid is not possible. We can show that in Christ it actually is. A fallen world will continue to fall. It is the potent strategy of the Enemy to separate. But in the grace and strength of Christ we can press forward against all powers and principalities to a different hope and new reality. In the images of Michael Brown’s lifeless body, it is easy to project a son, a husband, a neighbor, a student from the youth group. Have you ever picked out the cries of a loved one amid the din of the crowd? You turn immediately and scurry to understand what is going on. In the ECC, the grieving but strong voice we recognize as family rouses us to better listen, to more fully understand, and to more deeply mourn. As we grow as a multi-ethnic mosaic, we will see things more clearly and feel things more deeply. It is part of God’s work and mercy among us.

I thank God for gracious, courageous, and persevering friends. The letter is a call to all of us to join God in seeking redemptive purposes out of the pain of Ferguson. We begin with prayer:  for Michael Brown’s family; for police officer Darren Wilson and family; for the witness and intervention of churches in Ferguson; for normalcy in the streets and progress in community reform; for Covenant churches in the region ministering through the complexities. But going forward we will best be God’s agents as our hearts remain pliable to seeing things more clearly, feeling things more deeply, and acting more resolutely. That happens when we continue to call out the best in one another and walk with one another into the harsh realities of a fallen world . Yes, we’re in it together.

Gary Walter
President, The Evangelical Covenant Church

About the Author

  • Terri Cunliffe is president and CEO of Covenant Retirement Communities, the nation’s fifth largest not-for-profit senior services provider. It is a ministry of the Evangelical Covenant Church, and serves more than 5,000 seniors in 15 continuing care retirement communities in 10 states. Visit Covenant Retirement Communities to learn more. Cunliffe writes monthly on seniors and health for the Covenant Companion online.

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