Reflections in this National Moment

By: Rev. Angela D. Sims, Ph.D. President, Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School

Note: This guest essay was featured in the Democrat and Chronicle’s Sunday Newspaper Edition, on January 17th, 2021. 

Given the history of policing in the United States, when Black bodies are perceived as lethal who determines what constitutes “peaceful” resistance? Afterall, respectability politics – “a set of beliefs holding that conformity to prescribed mainstream standards of appearance and behavior will protect a person who is part of a marginalized group, especially a Black person, from prejudices and systemic injustice” – respectability politics does not prevent Blacks from being victims of police profiling and violence. When there is a history of non-violent protest being met with legally authorized excessive lethal use of force, how many live streamed and police camera videos are needed to convince some people that Black lives do matter? At the same time, to whom are police accountable and responsible when one of their own can kill with impunity? When increased calls to defund policing through a reallocation of resources to communities as a means by which to address issues of inequity and injustice is met with denial about systemic problems in policing, what is required to deal with a gross level of miseducation about life in these dis-united states of America that is sustained by an unquestioned alliance to a white supremacist worldview that some seek to maintain by any means necessary?

I am reminded that in this moment in which we find ourselves there is a need to acknowledge that for many COVID-19 functions as a painful reminder of income and wealth disparities, human invisibility and disposability of the working poor, neo forms of school segregation, increased isolation, inadequate health care, and perceived entitlement and gross self-centeredness that has the potential to jeopardize the lives of many. In this COVID-19 moment, we need to be mindful of the manner in which language may be deployed intentionally to inhibit one’s ability to name injustice in unambiguous terms. Persons committed to justice cannot afford to ignore the fact that the “evils of racism, poverty, and militarism” were pre COVID-19 societal realities.

As I watched an insurrection broadcast live from the United States Capitol on Wednesday, January 6th, it was a chilling reminder that white domestic terrorism is etched into the DNA of this oligarchic republic – at risk of becoming a kleptocracy – that markets itself as a bastion of democracy. We are at a crossroads in the United States where we do not have the luxury to ignore cultural and political realities. People of faith have a moral responsibility to examine how our theological positions can and should inform policy at local, state, regional, and national levels. In an era characterized increasingly by white domestic terrorism that leaves in its wake a new “path of the slaughtered” for which there appears to be no immediate end, religious leaders are called to speak truth to power and to the communities with which they are affiliated. Our faith should and must inform our politics!