In response to the racist gatherings in Charlottesville, we responded with a communal prayer of lament last night at Trinity Church. Here is what I shared with our congregation, and the prayers of lament and assurance follow. - Jeremy
Our lament tonight is a little bit different, so I want to explain why we do these sorts of laments. Part of our liturgy is the communal confession and lament, where we confess our own sins and cry out against the sins of others and the brokenness of the world—it’s a type of prayer that comes directly from the Psalms.
This past week, as you probably have been following, there was a rally of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia. The rally in itself is a tragedy worth lamenting—thousands of people celebrating the marginalization of other human beings, promoting further racism against people of color. But then, a 20-year old man in support of the rally, drove his car at a high speed directly into a crowd that was opposing the rally. Heather Heyer, a 32-year old local woman who was an advocate for marginalized communities, was killed, and at least 19 others were injured.
Why We Need to Talk About This
We need to be the type of church that stops to talk and pray about these events. As a church with white leadership, we want to make it explicitly clear that we completely reject and condemn white nationalism/supremacy. The so-called “alt-right” is not a political group; it is an evil and demonic position of hatred.
We talked about this in Ephesians 2:11-22 about this a few weeks ago: There is simply no way to be a Christian and look down on people not like you. You cannot be changed by grace, transformed by Christ, and then try to exalt yourself at the expense of others.
I admit I have a hard time talking about these things; it’s tempting to just keep it light-hearted. I can talk about fantasy football for hours, but stumble to find a few words to speak on injustice. But that reflects my own life of privilege, where thinking and talking about injustice and suffering has been optional. But out of love for our black and brown brothers and sisters, we want to talk about these things.
An Inescapable Network of Mutuality
In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. King wrote to a group of mostly white church leaders. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” What was most discouraging to Dr. King was not the white supremacists’ hatred toward him; he was most grieved by white Christians, especially leaders, not clearly rejecting racism.
He continues in the letter, “Over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Council or or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to… the absence of tension [than] to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”
Trinity Church has to be a place where racism simply cannot take root, where we create space for people of all ethnic backgrounds. But that’s not enough: We have to be a people and a place that doesn’t remain silent and hope everything will work out. We have a responsibility, as Christians, to promote justice in every community where we have an influence. That’s not a “social gospel,” it’s a “deep gospel.” If our leadership team is still all white in five years, we will have failed miserably.
Our neighbors of color are suffering in our communities every single day, and we have far more in common with them than we do someone of a similar skin color to us. We were once outsiders, but now we have been invited into the family of God, entirely by grace.
Let's pray together; you may read the italicized portions aloud if you'd like.
Prayer of Lament
This lament is adapted from one by Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky.
Father, we remember the cross of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, as the place where you love, your mercy, and your justice were fulfilled. You came down and transformed us by your mercy, even while we were your enemies. We now ask with faith that your mercy and justice might transform our world.
We specifically mourn the events of Charlottesville, Virginia, where evil has, once again, manifested itself against image-bearers, against your holy Church, against you. We mourn the sinful institutions that have preyed on image-bearers for generation upon generation. We mourn with those who have suffered for decades under prejudiced laws and cheap justice.
O Lord, we confess that we have too often ignored the pain of our brothers and sisters who face constant hate, death, and hopelessness. And even when we have had the eyes to see these injustices, Father, we confess that we have been tempted to turn in hatred against those who have perpetrated such evils.
With sorrow, God, we confess that the Church is often one of the last places where justice is heralded.
Have mercy on us, O God, according to your steadfast love.
Have mercy on us, O God, according to you perfect goodness.
Have mercy on us, O God, according to your unshakeable faithfulness.
Move among your people. Empower us with your Spirit. Give us the passion to love the unloved and to welcome the stranger. May your Gospel unify your Church, that we may see your peace reign in our hearts, in our neighborhoods, in our cities, and in this nation. Amen.
Prayer of Assurance
Now, let's pray this together:
Remember that formerly you were outsiders by birth and called “unclean.”
But now, in Christ Jesus, we, who once were far away, have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
Remember that at one time you were separate from Christ, excluded from family of God.
But now Christ himself has become our peace; he has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility between peoples.
Remember that you were orphans without a father and refugees without a people, without a place.
But now Christ has created, in himself, one new humanity from every nation, making peace through his wounds.
Remember that you were once without hope and without God in the world.
But now Christ has made a way for all peoples to return to God, by way of the cross. Thanks be to God. (Adapted from Ephesians 2:11-16)
The Peace of Christ
Our desire at Trinity Church is to be so full of the peace we have received from God in Christ that we continually show that same grace-saturated peace to one another.
The closing of Dr. King's letter seems an appropriate plea to finish with:
“Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away, and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow, the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.”