Students lie at the steps of Memorial Church, spilling out into Harvard Yard, wearing masks that said “I Can’t Breathe.” Those students were protesting the lack of indictments in the death of Eric Garner, who died, saying those words, at the hands of the police in 2014. (Memorial Church file photo)
In April, our Pilgrimage Reading Group met over Zoom to discuss Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? Dr. King’s question felt as urgent that evening as it ever had in the fifty-two years since the book was published; it feels even more urgent today.
In the book, Dr. King names three problems that threaten the well-being and survival of our society: poverty, war, and racism. Racism he describes as a “corrosive evil” that wears away at our common life. “If Western civilization does not now respond constructively to the challenge to banish racism,” he writes, “some future historian will have to say that a great civilization died because it lacked the soul and commitment to make justice a reality for all men.”
These words have been much on my mind this week. We are in the midst of a worldwide pandemic in which everyone’s safety depends on a recognition of our shared vulnerability, our ability to cooperate, and our reverence for each and every life. That even in these unprecedented circumstances racism and white supremacy continue to infect us, to inflict violence on communities of color, and to corrode our life together is unbearable. The injustice of Mr. George Floyd’s death at the hands of the police — and the deaths of many other black men and women — is rightly reverberating across our nation.
As we continue living through the coronavirus pandemic, it is urgent that we actively search our hearts, our minds, our souls, and root out anything that diminishes or denies the humanity of others. We must pray and work for the spiritual and moral reawakening that Dr. King called for — in ourselves and in our society — so that as we emerge from the covid crisis, we are determined to change. We cannot continue in this way.
This Sunday, we broadcast a sermon from our archive — “Why We Can’t Wait,” delivered by Professor Jonathan L. Walton on December 7, 2014. If you were in the sanctuary that Sunday, you will no doubt remember this sermon. You’ll also remember that, when we walked out of the church at the end of the service, we found students lying all over the steps, spilling out into Harvard Yard, wearing masks that said “I Can’t Breathe.” Those students were protesting the lack of indictments in the death of Eric Garner, who died, saying those words, at the hands of the police. Those students were insisting, in silence but with crystalline clarity, that black lives matter. It is a tragic testimony to the stranglehold racism and white supremacy still have on our society that Professor Walton’s sermon, and the students’ demonstration, speak as urgently and precisely to us in 2020 as they did in 2014.
We will continue broadcasting from our archive on June 7, with a sermon from late Rev. Peter J. Gomes, Pusey Minister and Plummer Professor from 1974 through 2011, and on June 14, with a program of sacred music, conducted by former Gund University Organist and Choirmaster and Curator of the University organs, Murray Forbes Somerville. And although we will not be preparing new services in the three weeks between terms, we will host a live gathering on Zoom after each service from 12:15 until 1 pm. If you would like to join us on any of these Sundays for discussion about the life of our community and the life of the world and how we can move together with love and commitment into the future, please write to Elizabeth Montgomery at email@example.com, and she will send you the information you need to join in.
God bless you all.
Interim Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church and the Susan Shallcross Swartz Professor of the Practice of Christian Studies in the Harvard Divinity School
Here are some resources to learn more about white supremacy and important anti-racism work happening across the country. #BlackLivesMatter
Include imbedded links in the following:
Black Lives Matter
Anti-racism resources for white people