Between the Capitol Riot, MLK Day, and an Historic Inauguration
January 15, 2021
With many others, I’ve accepted the challenge to read the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, book Why We Can’t Wait. Black leaders in Southern Oregon challenged the community to read this book because of the ways the events of 1963 – both the Black civil rights movement in Birmingham, Alabama, and beyond, and the political instability that climaxed in President Kennedy’s assassination – remain unsettlingly relevant to events of 2020 and now 2021. I was reading parts of it last week when a pro-Trump rally crossed police barriers to invade the U.S. Capitol building in an attempt to disrupt the official certification of electoral college votes confirming the result of November’s presidential election.
In response to Kennedy’s assassination, King wrote:
“We were all involved in the death of John Kennedy. We tolerated hate; we tolerated the sick stimulation of violence in all walks of life; and we tolerated the differential application of the law, which said that a man’s life was sacred only if we agreed with his views. This may explain the cascading grief that flooded the country in late November. We mourned a man who had become the pride of the nation, but we grieved as well for ourselves because we knew we were sick.”
As I heard our prayers in worship on Sunday, Jan. 10, I felt that grief. We know that we as a country are sick. We are sick with white supremacy. We are sick with Christian nationalism. We have tolerated violence and “the differential application of the law” to a degree that repeatedly robs the health and life of Indigenous, Black, migrant, disabled, and poor Americans more often than any others. That violence expressed at the Capitol last week took another five human lives. Threats of further violence continue through next week and beyond.
This pastoral letter is not a partisan letter. We’ve moved far beyond judging one another for which cable news channel someone trusts or distrusts. (The most dangerous misinformation campaigns aren’t even on cable.) We’ve arrived at a place of living in starkly different factual realities as friends, family and neighbors.
We cannot wait to name our sicknesses for what they are. We cannot wait for all of this to “blow over,” as if it will somehow magically get better after the January 20 inauguration of a new presidential administration. We will only get well if we address the root causes in ourselves and our communities. This sickness has been festering long before it reached the fever of 2020.
I’ve watched so many of you try to speak this truth in and with love this past week. I pray for your strength, and I am here to help, if you want or need support.
In 1963, every volunteer who enlisted in the Birmingham Christian Movement for Human Rights signed a pledge that I read as a powerful expression of baptism in word and in deed. That’s why I picked it for the first reading used in worship Sunday, January 17.
If you are White, I urge you to make two continuing commitments, this week and beyond:
- Leverage your position and your power, whatever they are, to name and denounce the unholy entanglement of racism, white supremacy, and Christian nationalism. Use whatever small openings present themselves to you. We usually have the most influence with those who are like us: white women with white women, white men with white men, non-Black people of color with other non-Black people of color, etc. The articles below about Christian nationalism and how to interact with a truly radicalized loved one may be helpful.
- Unequivocally support Black leadership with your body and your resources. Resist the urge to give advice to “better finesse the message” or “be more approachable.” Black folks have understood and navigated the racist structures in this country much longer. They are experts. Listen to and follow the lead of the local Black-led organizations attached below. It is the same for our Jewish friends and neighbors who know better than any how anti-Semitism intertwines with dangerous conspiracy and disinformation networks.
We don’t really know what these coming days will bring. By the power of those baptismal waters, I know we can face it. Your church Council decided to move its regular meeting to Monday so as to leave Inauguration Day on Wednesday open for our prayers and vigils and any community response our faith may require of us.
As I preached on Sunday, our faith matters. It mattered last week when members of the U.S. Congress were forced to evacuate to secure our democratic process and the safety of elected officials. Our faith matters today. It will matter next week, too.
~In Christ’s Love & Power, Rev. Christina Kukuk
What is Christian Nationalism? This article by Christianity Today (a magazine with a large evangelical audience) describes it and its dangers. By Morgan Lee, January 15, 2021. Podcast plus interview highlights.
“If Someone You Care About Has Been Radicalized” this January 14, 2021, article in USA Today by Alia Dastagir may be helpful.
What is QAnon and why are religious people getting radicalized by it? Author Alissa Wilkinson collects a roundup of resources to better understand how this conspiracy sub-culture has crept into the mainstream – showing up in memes you’ve seen, even if you didn’t realize it.
Local black leaders have challenged our Rogue Valley communities to read Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s book Why We Can’t Wait, which King wrote after the Birmingham (Ala.) Movement and the later assassination of President Kennedy in 1963. It will be the basis for Monday’s combined community MLK Day celebration. A live panel discussion will immediately follow the 2 p.m. show, with special guests: Civil Rights Leader Dr. Geneva Craig and Freedom Rider Dr. John L. Dolan.
Local JPR coverage of Aidan Ellison’s murder and reactions of Black community in Southern Oregon. This radio broadcast is important. Please especially listen to Aidan’s mother’s words at the end.
Both BASE (Black Alliance & Social Empowerment) Southern Oregon and SOBLACC (Southern Oregon Black Leaders, Activists and Community Coalition) have gathered community members in the past couple months to build together a Black Agenda for Southern Oregon. They will be sharing that agenda on Wednesday, January 20, 6-7:30 p.m. White and other non-Black supporters are welcome. All must register to get the link here.
BASE and SOBLACC hosted two community forums with Rogue Valley law enforcement late last year, which are still viewable: First Community Forum on policing Oct. 21, 2020. And Second follow up forum on Dec. 9, 2020, which included local law enforcement commitments at 1:24 time mark. Community members took a risk to share their personal experiences. They are powerful, and I honor their witness.