In 2015, after the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, a group of local clergy gathered to be in touch with Chief John Hutto to talk about race, use of force, training, and hiring in Fort Collins Police Services. The group was started by the late Rev. Frank Gibson, whose life we celebrated at Plymouth last November. Frank was a retired Presbyterian minister who had worked extensively on issues of policing, race, and violence during his long and distinguished career. It was Frank’s knowledge of the law that helped our group of clergy frame our ongoing dialogue with former Chief Hutto, Interim Chief Jones, and Chief Swoboda. My own assessment is that Fort Collins Police Services, through its training, policies, practices, and culture, though not perfect, is far ahead of other police departments, as well as the Larimer County Sheriffs Office.
It was Frank who read volumes of legal documents, including President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which provided recommendations and implementation strategies that should have prevented at least some of the killing of African-Americans by police.
But that isn’t where we find ourselves today in the wake of George Floyd’s killing.
Again, we cry, “How long, O Lord? How long?” How long will it be before our nation comes to a great reckoning with our history? How long will it be before we dismantle the systemic racism and injustice that dogs our justice system? How long will it be before European-Americans understand and disassemble the wide-ranging privilege that we and our forebears have enjoyed?
My prayer is that our nation is being given a chance to address what the Rev. Jim Wallis calls “America’s Original Sin,” and a big first step is listening to the voices of our sisters and brothers of color and exploring how we can be a part of the solution. We can use our voices to decry the loss of sacred lives at the hands of police and the inherent inequities in the justice system. A bill in the Colorado legislature addressing police accountability is a good first step. (Many of its recommendations have already been implemented by FC Police Services.) And if you have not seen the film, Just Mercy, (telling the story of Brian Stevenson and the efforts of the Equal Justice Initiative) it is an important that you watch it and talk about it…and it’s showing free on many streaming services right now.
The lives of our sisters and brothers of color are sacred. And for European-Americans to remain silent at this time would not only be a sin of omission, it would mean that we are complicit in perpetuating a system that deprives God’s beloved not just of opportunity, but of life. For those of us who are white, it is especially incumbent upon us to listen, to talk, and to act to dismantle racism. We cannot do everything…but we can do something.
In a sermon a few weeks ago, my colleague, the Rev. David Williams of Abyssinian Christian Church, said that the best thing for non-black allies to do is to talk about confronting racism with your own circle of contacts, friends, and family. So, I am talking to you. And I am praying with and for you, as we stand up and engage the struggle, which is a marathon and not a sprint. We’ll hear more at Plymouth as we move forward, and in the meantime listen, read, watch as we take further steps toward God’s reign of shalom.
Together with you in faith,
P.S. If you missed it, here is a link to Sunday’s Coloradoan and an Op-Ed piece I wrote (before the death of George Floyd) on keeping houses of worship closed during the pandemic
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning has been Plymouth's senior minister since 2002. Before that, he was associate conference minister with the Connecticut Conference of the UCC. A grant from the Lilly Endowment enabled him to study Celtic Christianity in the UK and Ireland. Prior to ordained ministry, Hal had a business in corporate communications. Read more about Hal.