Today, on the steps of St. John’s Episcopal Church, Charleston, WV, I participated in an interfaith press conference and witness sponsored by the West Virginia Council of Churches concerning the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. The following is the text of what I shared.
Good morning. I am Sandra Steiner Ball, current president of the West Virginia Council of Churches and Bishop of the West Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church.
Thank you for being here, for caring enough to be here. Thank you for multiplying the voices that call for justice and change in the wake of the senseless deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. These deaths call for response and change.
As a Christian and a United Methodist, I believe in the sacred value and worth of all people. I believe all people are created in the image of God – valuable and beloved. I receive and seek to follow Jesus command to love one another unconditionally as God loves us.
My baptismal vows call me to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever form they present themselves. White supremacy, the idea that whiteness reigns above, is better than, is not just. No one person or culture or race is better than another. I am a person of privilege. I have benefited from privilege that has not been extended to my black brothers and sisters just because people see me as white. This is not fair, not right, not just, not equality.
We gather today as people connected to a beautiful variety of faith communities – to say that these deaths were wrong and unjust, to confront the virus of racism that has plagued our communities for generations, to challenge the unjust systems of power and access, and oppose the creation and existence of racial hierarchies in any culture. We have an obligation as people of the human family to redress long-standing, systemic social deprivation of racial and ethnic persons.
This virus of racism has been allowed to run rampant. It continues to infect our policies, procedures, and systems, permeating every facet of life – health care, employment, education, wealth, the criminal justice system, housing, and yes, our churches and faith communities. We see racism’s effects daily in the ways that people of color, people of different cultures, are not valued, not respected, not listened to, or cared for as people but treated as objects or things that can be cast aside, dismissed, ignored, used, or destroyed. These are the devastating effects of racism! Every time we forget that each person is made in the image of God, all are harmed. This has to stop. This is wrong. The world is groaning. The people are in anguish.
There is Loss of hope and peace – not that we really had peace, but rather an illusion of peace – an illusion that has been shattered and challenged once again – and people find themselves protesting and wondering – will our voices be heard – this time? Can you see us? Can you hear us? Do our lives matter?
Yes, black lives matter. God’s heart breaks as our hearts break with these acts of violence – fed and complicated by fear, racism, prejudice, and privilege. Christ calls us to love one another -And so we pray and call for transformation, for the dismantling of racism, for retraining of law enforcement and for accountability for all officers who abuse their positions of power, authority and privilege,
But we must go deeper. Those of us who are privileged must acknowledge our participation in the sin of racism and commit to ongoing conversations about racism, privilege, and oppression. We must commit to listen more deeply, to work to heal the wounds of racism, privilege, and oppression, and lead our world to celebrate and value diversity. We need to pursue justice, repentance, and reconciliation and empower people to move, not just to love peace, but to be peacemakers who work for equality and justice for all races, faiths, cultures, abilities, and kinds of people.