Even a cursory examination of American history, from the time Europeans first arrived in this land to the present, reveals a pattern of discriminatory treatment of various groups of people. African Americans experienced especially poor treatment as slaves. After the Civil War, they were free in name only. They were still legally and socially disadvantaged and abused by the dominant white population. Other people of color have also experienced prejudice and oppression in the United States; but, African Americans have faced special challenges that other racial and ethnic minority groups have not been required to confront. It is this unique history of ongoing mistreatment that makes it necessary to specially emphasize the worth of Black lives today.
As a nation, America has always affirmed the equality of all people; but, history shows that people have been treated unequally on the basis of race. Racism is expressed by individuals through prejudiced words or actions. It is also enacted through policies and norms and is embodied in systems and institutions that treat people differently. These include, but are not limited to, the criminal justice, education, economic, and medical systems. If we indeed believe that all lives matter, we need to change how Black lives are treated. Only after these changes are made will the evidence show that all Americans are regarded with equal dignity and respect.
Christians in general have a responsibility to love all their neighbors regardless of who they are. This is part of the Great Commandment proclaimed by Jesus the Christ. We at St. Paul’s United Church of Christ have a special responsibility in this regard because we have also pledged to be an Open and Affirming Congregation. Our covenant, adopted by vote in 2003, states in part: “The people of God at St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, affirm our regard for the worth and dignity of all persons as Beloved Children of God… we commit ourselves to work diligently to end all oppression and discrimination that afflict God’s people [all people] in our society.” St. Paul’s has added the phrase Black Lives Matter to the rainbow doors displayed on our front lawn as an expression of our love for all our neighbors and in keeping with our commitment to be genuinely open and affirming. The sign’s message is a reminder of the work still ahead; and, we are praying for the courage and wisdom to live up to this ideal that we have set for ourselves.