Editor’s note: This article is part of a week-long series examining race relations in Grant County through the lenses of history, the judicial system, religion, activism and law enforcement.
Hundreds of community members gathered in protest on the Grant County Courthouse Square following the death of George Floyd and many other unarmed Black people at the hands of the police last month.
Some local religious leaders have responded to the protests, sharing what they believe should be the church’s role amid current events.
“God loves the whole person. He loves the mind, the body, the soul and the spirit, so the reality is that bodies are being affected by injustice,” said Andrew Morrell, the pastor of REAL Community Covenant Church in Marion. “God is calling the church to do this work. This is not the place to turn our heads.”
Morrell said his church has always been intentional about being a multi-ethnic and multi-class church that addresses racism and white supremacy.
“This is nothing new for us,” Morrell said. “We’ve named white supremacy for what it is. It is the sin of America, and it’s the sin of the American Church.”
He and many of his church members have participated in the recent protests in Marion.
“I am grateful for the protests,” Morrell said. “I am grateful for people coming together to stand for justice and to stand for what is right. I am grateful to see the many women leading this movement, leading this effort. I am grateful to see blacks and whites and browns coming together.”
Many churches have stepped up, Morrell said, but many have remained silent.
“I went to several churches’ broadcasts online to see if they would address the issues around George Floyd,” Morrell said. “There were several churches, pastor friends of mine, that didn’t say anything about it. They were silent about it.”
Although Morrell supports the peaceful local protests, he said he does not condone the looting and stealing, which he believes is taking away from the movement.
“Do I condone it? No, but I understand it because I understand pain. Pain causes us to do things that can be destructive when we are not being heard,” he said. “I’m not here to condone or condemn them as persons.”
Rev. Allen McClendon, a pastor at Allen Temple AME Church, said he also understands but does not approve of rioting and looting.
“Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said rioting is the result of not being heard,” he said. “And as I am sure you have heard people say, no one would listen when we were kneeling, but now that we are not kneeling, we finally have your attention.”
As parents of Black children, McClendon said he and his wife have had to have “the talk” with their children, which parents do not have to give white children.
“The talk is telling your kids that their ‘A’ has to be an ‘A+’ or about not riding four deep in a car, meaning four young Black boys cannot ride together in one car. Or they cannot have a hoodie on or wear your hat turned backwards,” McClendon said. “We had to tell our kids that their job was to make it home alive.”
McClendon said he is hopeful because many white people realize that being silent about racism is not an option.
“I am hopeful because when I went to the sit-in at the state capitol on (June 6) and looked around, the protest was being led by young 30- and 40-somethings across all racial lines,” he said. “In fact, they say that 40 percent of the protesters are not of color.”
McClendon remembered that U.S. Rep. Andre Carson (D-Seventh District) ended his speech at the sit-in by saying, “Together we stand, divided we fall, it’s not about us, but it’s about us all.”
Rev. Mindy Hancock, the priest of Gethsemane Episcopal Church in Marion, said her church has had a strong commitment to social justice and social activism for a long time.
“Our formal statement is that Black lives matter,” she said. “The church’s role, in my opinion, is total solidarity at all times with any person or group that is being oppressed. That, to me, is the biblical mandate, biblical trajectory from the beginning.”
In the past, Gethsemane has hosted seminars addressing racial inequality, participated in Black Lives Matter protests and engaged in “anti-racism” actions, she said.
“In anti-racism circles, you’ll hear a lot about white people doing their own work, rather than relying on people of color to constantly tell white people about their experiences or their difficult experiences and try to convince them that racism is real,” Hancock said. “It’s like a cut to the chase, you kind of either get it or you don’t. It’s very action-motivated, and it’s a strong call to especially white people to be very active in fighting white supremacy.”
Even before the death of George Floyd, Gethsemane was planning to host a 10-session intensive course on race for people in the community that will take place in September.
“Gethsemane is not one to shy away from tough conversations,” Hancock said. “Culturally, if you’ve lived in a very isolated white space, then you don’t even know how to start conversations or ask questions or who to ask. This is a safe space for conversations and questions.”
As a white person and “a person of privilege,” Hancock said she feels it is her responsibility to look for leadership among people of color and to get on board.
“We’re not the white saviors. We’re just allies, we’re people who stand in solidarity, and we want to take our lead from leaders who are people of color,” she said.
Chris Williams, pastor of Lakeview Wesleyan Church, and Ben Watkins, pastor of Calvary Assembly of God, both said their churches are focused on praying for peace and healing.
“I think the scripture is pretty clear. In my perspective, when God created human beings in Genesis in the biblical narrative, he created people in his image, and after he created them, he said this is very good,” Williams said. “So we know that every single person in God’s eyes has value, and that value is equal.”
When Williams looks at the world today, he said he does not see a world that matches what God intended or designed.
“As God’s people in this day in age, we have to be people who are fighting for what God intended and desired,” Williams said. “We have to be willing to say when a particular group of people have not been valued, have faced injustice, have faced oppression, we have to be willing to say this group matters. That’s kind of where the rubber meets the road in reconciliation.”
Watkins said he is approaching the situation at hand as someone approaching a person who is grieving.
“To listen more than speak. To provide more presence than to preach. To seek to help rather than hurt,” he said. “Jesus would be on the side of healing. That’s what he did. He knew how to heal people in all different situations.”
Evan Guse, the lead pastor at Pierce Church in Upland, said his church believes all men and women are created equally in the image of God.
“We lament and repent of our own brokenness, committing to root out, dismantle and fight the sin of racism wherever we find it,” he said. “We hope the body of Christ will lead the way in pursuing peace and reconciliation in our community and world and that our local church will be found faithful in that mission.”
While many churches engage in prayer during this time, Morrell said confession, repentance and waiting for peace is not enough.
“There’s work to do. We are not putting it off for later. God is calling us to do this now,” he said. “This is not some kind of temporary movement. This is the future. We haven’t seen anything yet. We’re just getting warmed up.”