Preacher: Rev. Kristin Stoneking
Message: "End the War on Black People: Say Her Name"
Movement for Black Lives Series
Scripture: Luke 23:44-46, 50-56
End the War on Black People: Say Her Name
Movement for Black Lives Series
Good morning. It’s great to be back in the virtual pulpit. We’ve had a wonderful array of preachers in the last few weeks from our seminary interns to our district superintendent, Brian Adkins’ farewell sermon and the powerful witness of Rev. David Ourisman and Epworth member Michael Martin. I’m grateful to beginning my fourth year of appointment at Epworth.
This is my 28th year in ministry and so I want to begin this morning with a story from my early ministry. As I was preparing to go to seminary, I was given the opportunity to work in a large church in Kansas City. I had a title, but really the job duties were open. I was given the freedom to get to know people, care for them, see things that needed to be done, and respond with the Good News and love of the gospel.
Well what I saw were many wonderful ministries, but also a power structure that was all male, the predominant use of “He” when referring to God, and a lot of praise for the contributions of men, while the work of women was largely taken for granted. I wanted to do something that lifted up the women who were doing heavy lifting themselves. I gathered a planning committee, we planned a wonderful day of speakers, panels, table conversation, beginning by remembering our baptisms and ending with communion. We sent out invitations across the city. I was 23 and didn’t know that sometimes you plan something like that and no one comes.
To my amazement, women didn’t just come, they filled the hall to overflow. I opened the day naming the many places in the Bible that women are never named. Noah’s sons are named, but Noah’s wives and daughters—never named. The male disciples were named, but few of the females who followed Jesus. Often they were just referred to as women. The woman at the well, never named. And on and on.
The urgency of intersectionality
The joyful and grateful response from women all over the Kansas City metro area overwhelmed me but as I look back at that event, I see now there were still voices missing, still unnamed women among the panelists and speakers. There were no Black women or other women of color among those who spoke. I confess it didn’t even occur to me. In putting together the event, I just pulled from the people I knew.
And, I didn’t see that all of the women I was lifting up as “unnamed” in my opening address were also women of color. I was well aware how members of a dominant group weren’t naming people like me, but I couldn’t see how I as a member of a dominant group was doing the same thing.
This is how implicit bias and systemic racism is perpetuated. White folks don’t know our biases, our limited perspectives, our lack of relationship and networks with persons of color. On the other hand, persons of color have wide knowledge of the white world. It’s necessary especially in this country to be able to navigate white relationships, white spaces to survive.
An intersectional consciousness was what I lacked—one that understood multiple forms of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, gender, physical ability, age, class, culture, sexuality, religion, national origin, class, education, documented status and language. Intersectionality is not just the consciousness of these different identities and the bias they elicit, but the awareness that these discriminations are complex and cumulative.
BLM is intersectional
Among the most remarkable, transformative and essential aspects of the movement for Black lives is that has been a movement with an intersectional consciousness from the beginning. The platform put out to communicate the goals of the movement for Black Lives has six pieces; the most recently added is this: End the war on Black people. Then, as this is an intersectional movement, the platform goes on to delineate: End the war on Black communities, Black youth, Black women, Black queer, trans, gender-nonconforming and intersex people, end the war on Black Health and disabled people, on Black migrants, end to prisons and detention, end the war of surveillance on Black people. Everyone is included in this vision of liberation, centered from Black identity.
This current movement was started by three Black women, each with her own intersectional identity. They have called us to proclaim the names of Sandra Bland, a Black woman in Texas who was killed in police custody, of Tony Dade a Black Trans Man murdered by police in Florida, of Marcus David Peters, a Black man dying at the hands of police while experiencing mental illness. They have called us to say their names, AND understand their intersectional identities, the way multiple discriminations put them in double and triple danger. They have called us to take into account the totality of their lives—not just their identities that triggered oppression but their other identities too—that of brother, sister, daughter, son, professional, student, volunteer, nurse, musician. They call us to say the names of all Black persons who have lost their lives due to the war on Black people, but especially those killed by the hands of the state. George Floyd, Michael Brown, Breonna Taylor, they are martyrs whose lives have gained new life in death.
And while we lift the names of those who have died unjustly, we need to also lift the names of those whose names should be known to us now and throughout history. Do you know the names of the women who founded Black Lives Matter? They are Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi. Alicia Garza and Patrisse Cullors are both Californians, Garza from the Bay Area and Cullors from LA. Garza and Tometi identify as queer, Tometi also is the daughter of Nigerian immigrants. They are young. Their names are becoming more well known, but not yet household names. When the history gets written about the Black led movement that transformed the lives not only of Black persons but of all who experience oppression, they need to be named, we need to know their names, too. Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, Patrisse Cullors.
BLM in biblical and theological context
In our scripture for today, we meet the women at the foot of the cross. Last week David Ourisman preached on the scripture that relates Jesus’ triumphal entrance into Jerusalem, the leader of a revolution of liberation, and this week, we find him murdered at the hands of the state. And who is around him? A group of brown women, three of them named in other places, Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Mary, the mother of James. Most of them, though, unnamed. Like the three Marys at the crucifixion, the three names we know from the movement for Black Lives, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, stand with a host of others who have led, sacrificed, struggled, and moved us forward as a community. Let’s lift the names of these persons, too. In our prayer time today, I hope you’ll name them. Let us know who they are and how they helped set you free.
They women at the crucifixion were persons occupied by a foreign power, controlled by agents of the state with an ethnicity different from theirs. As women, the society of that time gave them little power. They followed this zealous, brown, short man—archeology records tell us that Jesus was probably somewhere between 5’1” and 5’5”--not because he himself held every identity they did—he wasn’t a woman, he was physically able bodied—but because he was WITH them in a radical way. In his solidarity with them, in his honoring of their multiple identities, their suffering as well as their power and potential, their identities and experience manifested and transformed to embody what it truly meant to have God with us, God AS us, Emmanuel.
The truth is, it is impossible to fully comprehend the experience of someone else, and when we are members of dominant groups, it’s even harder. But, as a young Black woman said to me and other white folks in a nonviolence training we were all doing together a few years ago as part of the movement, “You can never understand what it’s like to live in Black skin, but you can try, and your attempts are noted.”
When I think back to that time 28 years ago, it would be tempting to feel embarrassed about my error. But this is what is so exciting about the movement for Black lives: in the way that persons from the most marginalized groups are centered and their voices amplified, we are all invited to learn and to be better. As Patrisse Cullors has said, “Black Lives Matter is a tool to reimagine a world where Black people are free to exist, free to live. It is a tool for our allies to show up differently for us.”
Jesus was both a human with particular identities—male, Palestinian, able bodied—though I still maintain we can’t be conclusive about his sexuality. AND Jesus was a divine being, our God, who contained all identities. This is the path to transformation and liberation that he offers to us, this is what it means to be a member of the Body of Christ. I am one person, with particular identities. You are one person with particular identities. But as members of the body of Christ, ideally, we hold all identities. To the extent that is not true, that is the extent to which we do not fully reflect the Body of Christ.
We’ve all made mistakes, and as persons who live with the blessing of Christ’s grace and mercy, we can keep learning and growing. We do this best when we are part of a community that helps white folks see what we cannot see alone. We do this best when we struggle together to end the war on Black people. We do this best when we keep striving to truly be the body of Christ on earth. Amen.
Special thanks to... Preacher: Rev. Kristin Stonkeing
Video producer: Jacob Wilbur
Podcast producer: Ethan Lindsey
Livestream producer: Merrie Bunt
All those who participated by watching from home!