We at the Institute for Youth Ministry strive to live and work in solidarity with all people who have not ordinarily been centered in our ministry and society. Today, we explicitly name our solidarity with black people, even as we confess our continual need for repentance, learning, correction, and accountability. We join our voices to the great cloud of witnesses who are making the profoundly theological claim—Black Lives Matter. In a society that marginalizes, oppresses, exploits, and targets black people, this insistence on the holy dignity and infinite value of God’s beloved children is the revolution made possible because of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The COVID-19 pandemic has again exposed a society that overwhelmingly identifies as Christian, while it has made a god out of whiteness no matter the consequences of this idolatry for fellow human beings made in the image of God. We reject this false god, and we refuse to perpetuate this heinous theology and the ways it manifests in how we do ministry. Our friends and family are dying, and our children and young people are watching. There’s too much at stake. There always has been.
The murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and so many of our loved oneshave been lost to this evil. At long last, let this be a wake up call to the Church. For our part, we commit to including in our next newsletter a detailed plan on the concrete steps we will take to enact our solidarity with black people and those we have historically marginalized.
With Holy Urgency,
Abigail Visco Rusert, Director
When I spoke with my six-year-old daughter two weeks ago about the murder of George Floyd at the knee of a police officer, she looked at me with a bewildered expression and asked just one, piercing question: “Mommy, why?” My daughter and I are often given space to be bewildered in the face of white supremacy. Which itself is an injustice.
As a Christian, I inherited a missional identity that demands I follow the Holy Spirit into the places where death threatens to have the final word. I inherited a call to stand on the side of a crucified God-of-color for whom justice cost everything.
I am coming to realize that I am complicit in systems of racial injustice. I repent of my silence. I commit to listening to the voices of my siblings of color who are telling the truth about their trauma. I commit to lament alongside my black siblings in Christ. I commit to raising children who know they are white and understand the active anti-racism required of them because of their whiteness. And I commit to the journey of that work in my own life, ministry, and leadership.
My earliest memories of experiences with God are profoundly intertwined with my earliest memories of experiences with whiteness. As a four-year old, I would whisper prayers to God before bed, praying to be transformed overnight into a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl. But each morning, I awoke to the holy disappointment of my brown-haired, brown-eyed, biracial face, second-generation Honduran on my mother’s side and unspecified, freckled white on my dad’s. Even at four-years-old—long before I had read Toni Morrison’s uncanny The Bluest Eye—I had internalized the message that there was something about me that marked me as inferior. To both consciously and unconsciously avoid that pain, I chose to plant myself in my whiteness.
About a decade ago, I faced a reckoning with my biracial identity, as well as my complicity in holding white supremacist beliefs and upholding white supremacist systems. This journey toward both repentance and self-love continues to be strenuous and painful, but it is also the most joyful, faithful, and liberating experience as a wholly beloved child of God.
May we be leaders who insist on celebrating the fullness of the young people in our care. They are already beginning to dance to rhythms of liberation and love. Let’s meet them there.
Rev. Dr. Pamela Lightsey, Vice President of Academic & Student Affairs and Associate Professor of Constructive Theology at Meadville Lombard Theological School.
Carmelle Beaugelin, Program Coordinator
As a Christian Leader, a black woman, and the daughter of immigrants, the events and injustices leading up to George Floyd’s death at the hands of a police officer are all too familiar to me. There are two pandemics affecting the communities I belong to at alarming and disproportionate rates—Covid-19 and Racism based in white supremacy. I think of Gianna Floyd, George Floyd’s daughter, constantly. A viral video shows Gianna demonstrating a familiar form of black pain mixed with black joy when she exclaims out loud, “Daddy changed the world!” I saw this and wondered to myself, ‘Why is it that her daddy had to initiate the world’s change? Why is it that the sudden rise of global consciousness around the value of black lives had to be initiated by watching on repeat her daddy’s murder at the hands of an officer?’
These are just some of the same theological questions that young people as young as six-year-old Gianna Floyd are asking. Our current moment will—and should—change the shape of our ministries for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, what kind of youth ministers will we be to young people in this new reality? What does it look like for us to do faithful youth ministry alongside Gianna Floyd?
As pastors and youth leaders, we are being called into prophetic witness and holy justice on behalf of the lives of our young people. I am committed to making sure that black young people know that they matter and that they deserve the abundant life that Christ promises, which means making sure I advocate for a society in which they are able to remain alive. As our communities and young people look to us for hope and answers, may we find grace as we lead imperfectly, courage as we face our external and internal fears, and love as we offer ourselves as extensions of Christ’s restorative revolution to our communities.