August 14, 2017

On Saturday, August 12, 2017, Heather Heyer was killed by James Fields after he drove a car into a crowd of people protesting a gathering of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia.  Our national leaders and church leaders quickly denounced the intent of a rally which undermined our community health, increased fear, and sought to divide us on racial issues.  Virginia State Troopers, Berkeley Bates and Jay Cullen, who had committed their lives to protect and serve, also died in a helicopter crash at the event.  As a result, the Virginia State Governor declared a state of emergency.

As clergy and lay leaders of our United Methodist Church we are preparing to meet with our congregations this coming Sunday in the urgency of the moment.  Yes, we will worship, grieve, and pray for God's Presence at this moment.  As moral leaders we are placed once more in a position where we must denounce the spirit of hostility and violence that is expressed too commonly as a response to our differences and fears.  We must make clear how important it is to dismantle racism.  Hopefully, this will be a time where our congregations begin to reflect on the importance of having people of faith acknowledge the place where the church intersects with the critical needs of our communities.  What is our moral grounding?  When does the church speak to the issues of our time?  Where does our Christian voice intersect with community?  We cannot allow silence and the lost opportunity to speak at this critical time to be interpreted as indifference on our part.  

Our first response is to pray, and prayer for God's divine presence is essential.  We must also act!  We are driven not only by the urgency of the moment, but also as people who see the importance of the sacrament of the moment.  As church leaders we can gather people together and begin to teach tolerance.  We can speak up within our churches and communities to denounce hatred.  We must work for a truly integrated society.  We can offer healthy choices to replace the gatherings and rallies of hatred by offering alternative places of meeting to celebrate our uniqueness, diversity, and acceptance of others.  In addition, like Jesus speaking to the Woman at the well or the Roman ruler, we form relationships of hope with people who come from different backgrounds and cultures.  This is our true heritage.  This is our true nature, saved from sin and transformed into the image of Christ.  "For Christ is our peace...and has broken the dividing wall of hostility" Ephesians 2:14.  

Paul L. Leeland

PO Box 18005
Charlotte NC 28218
Phone: 704.535.2260