Matthew 25: When did we see you in Prison? Dismantling Structural Racism

The lectionary passage for this Sunday, Feb. 16, is Matthew 5:21 21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder,[a] and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’  Judgement today often equates to being imprisoned especially for a crime such as murder.

From the Prison Fellowship website:  Millions of men and women are caught in a destructive cycle of crime and incarceration. Without knowing God’s hope or experiencing Christ’s love, the story repeats over and over, shattering families and harming communities. But the cycle can be broken.

How can we be a part of breaking the cycle?  From the Presbyterian Mission Agencies website for Matthew 25, there is a 21 day Racial Justice Challenge  (see below)  If you would like to participate in the 21 day challenge as a group, contact Carie Morgan at [email protected] and we can create an on-line or email group.

Prayer: 

Ever merciful God, what does judgment mean to you?  And how should we interpret this word in today’s world?  Is judgement the same as our current system of incarceration?  As a people, we need consequences when our behavior harms another.  But what should these consequences be?  Have we become so focused on the consequences that we stop asking what is the root cause that brought a person to this particular place in their life’s journey?  Is your grace big enough to redeem even the most fallen?  Open our eyes and our hearts to the forms of judgement in our world and empower us to be people willing to understand a person’s whole story seeing them not as a prisoner but as a child of God.  Like preventative medicine, let us advocate for ways that can prevent others from continuing a cycle of incarceration such as stronger education and greater employment opportunities.  Amen. 

What can we do to help dismantle structural racism?

Confronting deeply ingrained racist systems and structures in our communities and country takes sensitivity and stamina. Before congregations and worshiping communities can confront the harsh realities of racism, it is helpful to have a good foundation.

One good place to start is by taking the 21-Day Racial Justice Challenge,.  The challenge invites us to do something every day to raise awareness about the perniciousness of racism and encourage action in response to that awareness. The PC(USA) has joined several nonprofits, organizations and school systems in adapting the challenge for our use. Here is an example of how the challenge works:

Day 1. Read the PC(USA) churchwide anti-racism policy, “Facing Racism: A Vision of the Intercultural Community,” at facingracism.org.

Day 2. Study the Week One lesson from the Facing Racism Study Guide.

Day 3. Watch an updated version of the Clark doll experiment, which explores how early-in-life ideas of racial inferiority and superiority are internalized.

Day 4. Study the Week Two lesson from the Facing Racism Study Guide.

Day 5. Read the resolution of the 223rd General Assembly of the PC(USA) on environmental racism.

Day 6. Watch the Presbyterian Hunger Program’s webinar, “Impact of Environmental Injustice on Low Income and Communities of Color.”

Day 7. Read what youth at the 2016 Triennium learned about environmental racism.

Day 8. Study the Week Three lesson from the Facing Racism Study Guide.

Day 9. Choose a resource on the Doctrine of Discovery to read from facingracism.org.

Day 10. Watch the PBS documentary “Unspoken: America’s Native American Boarding Schools.”

Day 11. Take the awareness test. Go out and change what you notice.

Day 12. Study the Week Four lesson from the Facing Racism Study Guide.

Day 13. Read the Confession of Belhar. Reflect on how your church is using and living into it.

Day 14. Visit the Presbyterian Intercultural Network’s website. Connect with a chapter near you or inquire about creating one.

Day 15. Study the Week Five lesson from the Facing Racism Study Guide.

Day 16. Watch the TED Talk “How to overcome our biases? Walk boldly toward them” by Verna Myers.

Day 17. Read “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh.

Day 18. Study the Week Six lesson from the Facing Racism Study Guide.

Day 19. Notice the structures and practices in your church. Raise questions about how they help or hinder racial equity.

Day 20. Engage: Suggest studying the Facing Racism Study Guide as a church or mid council to your leaders.

Day 21. Act: Commit to doing the challenge again. Invite someone to join you.