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The Black Faculty of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary’s Response to a Theological Crisis

December 11, 2014

A Statement to the Christian Church

The recent killings of unarmed Black men by several police officers during the past few months, as well as the character assassination which followed, remind us of how little Black lives can be valued by the very authorities who have sworn to protect them and their communities. This crisis concerns us because, as African Americans, we know that it is related to the devaluation of the well-being and personhood of Black people seen throughout this nation’s history. Moreover, as theological educators, we know that such devaluation has more often than not been legitimated by Christian practices that are in some way grounded in white supremacy. While not the only root of this current problem, the long complicity of the Church with the devaluation of Black bodies and Black life is undeniable.

We, the Black faculty of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary now write to deplore the legal and political systems that render the lives of Black people expendable in the eyes of the law, as well as the escalating culture of actively debasing Black people in which these systems operate. Moreover, we specifically call attention to the ways in which a general sentiment of anti-Blackness permeates much of our public lives.  That anti-black sentiment is expressed even against those black persons who are at the highest levels of our political system, and it has entered our national discourses in ways not seen in several decades. It is our conviction that all of this negativity has, among other things, created a climate in which unarmed black victims can be demonized and basically blamed for their own deaths.  As a result, there is a cultural callousness that allows the residents and authorities of many towns and localities to believe that there should be no consequence for the killing of unarmed Black persons.  The devaluation of Black people is seen also in public pronouncements about these current events made by some churches explicitly, and in the deafening silence of an even larger number of churches implicitly.

By these sins of commission and omission, the Church creates the impression that whether black lives matter is an open question. Therefore, we call on the Church to repent and begin the work of separating itself from the idolatrous bondage to white supremacy. The Church should do this work by publicly standing with the families of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and others, as a material demonstration that the Church is convinced that Black life matters. Furthermore, we call on the Church to announce this change through its proclamations and the ordering of its communal life. The Church should support those who protest against these injustices, and recognize their protests as clear evidence that the Holy Spirit is moving in our midst at this moment in history (Acts 5:38-39). We call upon the Church to do this work within its walls and in the world.

We make this statement in the strong conviction that this is indeed a moment of theological crisis for the Christian Church. The gods of white supremacy are inconsistent with the God of Life who brought all things into being, who values Black life, and who desires that all people of goodwill do the same.

Signed Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl B. Anderson The Rev. Dr. Larry G. Murphy
The Rev. Dr. Reginald Blount The Rev. Dr. Stephen G. Ray, Jr.
The Rev. Dr. Gennifer Brooks The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Wilson
The Rev. Dr. Angela Cowser The Rev. Dr. Linda Lee (Retired Bishop,
The United Methodist Church)