Open Letter to the Congregation

June 5, 2020

RKL

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” –Micah 6:8 NRSV

Dear Friends:

As you know, on Memorial Day, as many of us were outdoors gardening or enjoying a backyard barbecue, George Floyd, an African-American man, suspected of passing a counterfeit $20 bill, was arrested and killed in the Powderhorn community of Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Many of us have watched with horror the video taken of Floyd at the scene of his arrest, showing us, in appalling detail, how Floyd was handcuffed and later forced to lie face down on a city street, while a Minneapolis police officer kept his knee on the right side of Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds…in spite of Floyd’s multiple cries of not being able to breathe and loud protests from a crowd of onlookers…that ultimately caused Floyd’s death. 

The outcry this past week against the inhumane treatment of Floyd, as well as the frequent mistreatment of our Black and Brown brothers and sisters, has been passionate and incisive…calling out our nation’s racism and confronting our nation’s negligence in finding equitable and just solutions.

Knowing our congregation as I do, I am sure you share my grief, anger, and disappointment.

As a nation, and as communities, we simply need to do better! 

It is in the context of this most recent injustice that I would like to remind us of our First Congregational Church’s history and heritage. As you may remember, in 1847 our church was founded by 48 women and men on the theological principle that ALL people are precious in God’s site, that ALL people are created equal by God and are of equal value, that slavery is an evil institution, and that God’s ideal for ALL people is to enjoy freedom, fullness of life and liberty, impartiality, and wholeness.  

During the pre-Civil War years, as things heated up politically in Ann Arbor, our church’s history book reminds us that the First Congregational Church took a very active role in confronting this social and moral injustice.  In those years, sermons were “preached on the subject of human freedom versus human slavery, and prayers were uttered voicing personal feelings on the matter and asking divine guidance relating to the whole series of problems threatening society at that time.”  

For example, at a meeting held on October 27, 1853, this resolution was adopted by our congregation:

1st. Resolved: That the practice of buying and selling and holding human beings as property involves an utter disregard of the plainest dictates of our humanity and is a gross violation of the Spirit and principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

2nd. That we regard the institution of slavery existing in this country as most heinously sinful, working invidious and widespread mischief to all our religious, social and civil interests, the prolific source of our most threatening dangers, an unmitigated enormity always and earnestly to be opposed by every friend of God and man.

3rd. That as a Christian church bound to have no fellowship with the unfruitful “works of darkness” we declare those ministers to be utterly excluded from our pulpit and those members of churches from our communion who, sustaining the legal status of slaveholders, practically treat humans as property; and in like manner we exclude all others who may be properly regarded as advocates or apologists for such sinners. (From the Clerk’s record)     

As you can see, they were a courageous, focused, and outspoken congregation, trying to do the right thing and live with integrity as Christian persons! 

My friends, the point of my writing this today is to remind us that our church, The First Congregational Church of Ann Arbor, was founded on the values and ideals of freedom, justice, and equality for ALL.  This IS who we are.  This IS the legacy that formed us.  And this IS the heritage we continue to stand upon today. 

So, then, where do we go from here today in our present context, and how should we confront and address these matters as a church and as a people?  Let me offer a few suggestions:

  1. Learn more about these important social and ethical issues that confront us today.
  2. Be appalled by injustice.
  3. Speak out.
  4. Write letters.
  5.  Vote your conscience.
  6. Become an activist in confronting issues of injustice.
  7. Pray daily for peace and justice in our nation and world.
  8. Build relationships with persons different from yourself (racially, religiously, etc.) to learn about their life-context, experiences, and circumstances.
  9. Get involved in the political process.

Here at The First Congregational Church we are planning to develop, primarily through the leadership of our Contemporary Issues Committee, a series of Second Sunday presentations addressing issues of race and justice next fall and early winter, and perhaps even offer an “All Church Read” to our congregation (as one of our members suggested).  We will certainly keep you informed as we move forward with ideas and actions.

In conclusion, I want to thank you for the privilege of serving a church as caring and open as our church is!  Though we may not always agree on the “How,” I know our heart is always toward acting out our faith in loving, just, and positively transformational ways. 

Let me leave you with a quote by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that I find inspiring.  He wrote: “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

Blessings and peace,

Bob Livingston

Senior Minister   

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