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Op-Ed: How religious leaders are preaching about racism and police brutality amid unrest

Pastor J. Edgar Boyd records a message for members of First A.M.E. church in L.A. last month during the coronavirus shutdown.
Pastor J. Edgar Boyd records a message for members of First A.M.E. church in Los Angeles last month during the coronavirus shutdown.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

As demonstrators have taken to the streets to protest the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, local religious leaders have tried to help congregants understand the unfolding crisis. What follows are edited excerpts from some of their sermons and speeches.

Bishop Charles E. Blake, West Angeles Church, in a message to congregants:

For the past three months, this country has put forth cautionary restrictions to stop the spread of a deadly virus and save lives. But in recent months, three black lives, those of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd have all been snuffed out by a plague even more vicious than COVID-19.

This plague of racism, unlike COVID-19, is not invisible, and we are seeing it far too much. It is time for every legislator, leader of a city, state department and government agency to put forth the same efforts and urgency that has been put into the cure for COVID-19.

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First responders of the law enforcement community of this country must do better. We as black people deserve better.

We are human beings, created in the image and likeness of God, just like all people. No one has the right to crush the very life out of us. Our black and brown young men and women of color, were not created to be executed in the streets, especially by those who have taken an oath to protect life. Our lives are worth protecting!

We must stand and fight — not by looting and burning buildings, but by standing together in love and unity, while we seek the Lord for strategy, which will eradicate this awful blight of racism from amongst and within us.

Pastor J. Edgar Boyd, First African Methodist Episcopal Church Los Angeles, from his Sunday sermon

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We are seeing now in the cities of America the kind of violence that comes after justice is denied, and after oppression has lived in a land and amongst a people for far too long.

What you see on American streets now is a cry from the oppressed. It’s a cry from those who have been left out and looked over far too long. They are exercising their 1st Amendment rights. We don’t condone rioting. We don’t condone burning. We don’t condone looting. And we don’t condone irresponsible lawlessness. But neither can we condone racism and injustice, which has been in this American community for over 400 years, starting even before our nation became a nation in 1776.

America’s national sin is injustice. America’s national sin is systemic racism. America’s national sin is the denial to give opportunity to those who have been oppressed, left out, locked out, and given almost nothing to survive on for over 400 years in this nation.

What we’re seeing in America, is a new brand of activism. Young blacks, young whites, young browns, college students who are out of school now because of COVID-19. They are now fed up and tired, and they’re standing tall. They’re standing toe-to-toe with authorities asking for denied justice.

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Dr. Martin Luther King said that protest is simply the voice of the unheard. We have been unheard too long. We’re standing now to demand justice. What you’re seeing now is simply America being called upon to pay the taxes for the racism and injustice that’s gone on far too long. If we want to stop paying the taxes for the wrong, then we need to sit down and hammer out a new agenda where everybody’s included.

Rabbi Naomi Levy, Nashuva, from a live virtual vigil on Friday

On Shavuot, we are taught that all people are one in God’s light; that we are all reflections of the One — all people, all races, all faiths.

We are heartbroken over the senseless murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police. We are heartbroken over the racism, prejudice and injustice toward the black community in our society.

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We are here to stand together to protest injustice and racism, and we hope you will light a candle with us. Remember there is no light until we can all share in that light!

Light a candle with us as we pray for an end to racism, as we pray for justice together.

We light three yahrzeit candles tonight because we can’t rest until we remember:

“We light the first candle in memory of Ahmaud Arbery.

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We light the second candle in memory of Breonna Taylor.

We light the third candle in memory of George Floyd.”

Bishop Kenneth C. Ulmer, Faithful Central Bible Church, in his Sunday sermon

Here we are again with not only a demonstration of the lack of unity and humanity, but the lack of justice, the lack of fairness, the lack of equality. Here we are again.

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This one got me, and it got me because it’s in such a sequence, another, and another and another one. When will it stop?

This is Pentecost day, when the church celebrates the unity and power of the Holy Ghost. I’m listening for that unity, but I don’t hear it yet. I’m listening for my white evangelical friends, who were ready to demonstrate and oppose the law to meet in churches today with or without permission.

Now I want my white evangelical friends to shout out on this. My pain is enhanced by those of my white evangelical brethren who won’t say anything.

It gets old that some of you will call for us to stand with you and pray with you, but when it’s our turn, you don’t say anything. You go back into the woodwork and you let us go out there by ourselves, because you don’t fully understand our pain.

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But if we’re supposed to be one in the Holy Ghost, which you say we are, then how can I hurt this bad, and you not care? And if you care, how can you not say anything? You call me for your prayer gatherings, and you say you have an ear in Washington. Well then, use your access to say something about this. You say you have an inside track; so, let me hear you on this one. You say you urged and you pushed for churches to be open. OK, go right back up in there and raise some hell on this one.

You wrote your letters and you called me for my signature, which I didn’t sign. You wanted me to protest church closures and meet with or without permission.

Who gave that police officer permission to kill that man, to put his knee down on that man’s neck the other night? And what do you say about it? What sound are you going to make now? How many letters are you going to write now.

If we are one in the spirit, then when you hurt, I hurt; when I hurt, you hurt. But I don’t hear you say ouch.

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My evangelical white brethren, sometimes it would at least help if you could cry with us. But in order to cry, you have to care.

Archbishop José H. Gomez, Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angeles, from his Sunday homily

In the events of this week and this weekend, we can see that there are millions of our brothers and sisters who are still forced to suffer humiliation, indignity, and unequal opportunity just because of their race or the color of their skin.

That is not right. It should not be this way in America. Racism is a sin and it denies what God wants for the human person. We know that.

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But the way forward for us is love, not hate and not violence. Nothing is gained by violence and so much is lost. Jesus says today in the Gospel, “Peace be with you.”

The peace that Jesus gives us is not the false peace of those who accept injustice out of fear or in order to avoid trouble or confrontation. The peace that Jesus gives is something we have to build, something we have to “make.”

It means working to help people see another point of view, the other side of the argument. It means always working to build trust, to promote understanding, and to encourage forgiveness and friendship.

It is hard work, challenging work. And we know that we cannot do it without God’s help. Peace is one of the “fruits” of the Holy Spirit, so on this great feast of the Holy Spirit, we pray today for the gifts of his spirit, the fruits of his spirit.

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Associate Rector Sally Howard, All Saints Episcopal Church, in her Sunday sermon

America is on fire again.

Like Los Angeles 28 years ago and Ferguson and now Minneapolis. Life is returning to some sort of normal in the United States, and it appears that it includes police officers murdering unarmed black men in their custody.

Coronavirus has given us all an incredible opportunity to experience something of the vulnerability that so many of our brothers and sisters and gender fluid siblings have lived with always.

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With newly opened eyes, we should be meeting each other with compassion and empathy and accountability. And yet, hate and polarization dig in, and we squander the life-giving wisdom we could gain!

We are threatened by infection on the rise from not only one pandemic but two.

There is COVID-19 and there is the deadly virus of white supremacy. Each have their super spreaders.

Science has guided us in flattening the curve of one. Let us pray that Holy Spirit, She who dwells in all people and creates unity across diversity, will offer the vaccine and cure for the other.

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Pastor Rick Warren, Saddleback Church, recorded on Friday and played at the start of Sunday services

Once again, an unarmed black American man has died needlessly in the streets as a police officer knelt on the neck of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

With each new incident, all of us are more outraged, and ashamed, and discouraged, and depressed that this kind of injustice is still happening to our own brothers and sisters in America in the 21st century. It’s so, so very wrong! It is shocking, and appalling and outrageous and disgraceful to witness how deeply rooted racism still is in our culture. We know it makes God angry and it makes us angry too.

People have taken to the streets to protest and demand an end to this kind of inexcusable behavior. If one of us is denied justice, none of us can ignore it. If one of us isn’t safe, none of us is safe. And if one of us can be abused, all of us will lose.

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As Jesus and Dr. Martin Luther King, and many others have taught us — using violence to end violence will never work! It’s irrational and illogical. We don’t fight fire with fire. We drown it with water.

No matter how angry and upset we are about injustice and an unfair system, we can only defeat evil by doing what God tells us to do in Romans 12:21: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good!” Racism and prejudice and bigotry are extremely strong forces because they are based on human fears. But there is a stronger force. And that force is the love of God through us.

Now, in these tense days, I’d like to pray a prayer for you, for our nation, and for everyone who has been hurt by prejudice or racism.

Ahmed Gabalawy, a khateeb at the Islamic Center of Southern California, in a sermon on Friday

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This last Monday, May 25, is a day that will not be forgotten and should not be forgotten.

George Floyd, 46 years old, an African American and a security guard in a restaurant, was handcuffed by the police. The white officer, who had 18 complaints against him, decided to put his knee on the neck of George Floyd while three other officers are watching and other bystanders are begging the officer to let him go. George screamed “I can’t breathe!” and the officer would not let go until George Floyd closed his eyes and passed away. He was known as the gentle giant.

Enough is enough.

This is the time to start this dialogue, this conversation about race in America, in our community. The community everywhere has the right to get angry, has the right to demand answers. But no right to loot or burn anybody’s property. And if you think you and I are immune from this, each one of us, myself included, have these micro-biases, micro-inequities. We have these unconscious biases and I have seen it.

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This has to stop. This has to start with you and me. Look in the mirror. Starting today, have this conversation with yourself. Am I following the truth or not? Do I have these micro-biases in me or not? And take corrective action starting today.

The Rev. Lissa Anne Gundlach, Neighborhood Unitarian Universalist Church, from her Sunday sermon

This Sunday marks the annual meeting of the Neighborhood Unitarian Universalist Church of Pasadena. We lift up the names of members who have died this year and offer a memorial prayer, reflecting with gratitude on the legacy of love we the living carry on.

This year, there are four more names to add to our memorial tribute. As we lament their senseless deaths, we remember the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Tony McDade. We bear witness to the pain, the grief and the righteous anger that we the living carry on in their names.

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We recommit to the spiritual work of ending racism and white supremacy in all of its forms, knowing that until all of us are free, none of us are free. Their lives and their deaths matter. Black lives matter. We remember them.

Msgr. Lloyd Torgerson, St. Monica Catholic Community, from his homily June 1

Brothers and sisters, what’s required of us? We must double down. We must triple down on the greatest gift of all, the gift of love.

Let’s read Romans [8:38-39] today: “Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor any powers, nor height nor depths, nor anything else in all creation will ever separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

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What is desperately needed most of all is simply love. That we love each other, that we try to listen to each other, that we do our best to care for each other. To realize our mistakes. To do our best to heal those wounds, to understand the pain, the suffering, the difficulty.

“Nothing can separate us.” We must hold onto that message. Keep that message, live that message. People are dying today because their lives are being taken from them. That must stop. It cannot continue, we cannot live in that discord.

I spent a couple of hours this morning riding and walking through our city. I met a lot of our parishioners and lots of other people out there, cleaning the rubble that was left in the wake of yesterday’s great struggle. So many people from our community are so good, doing so much to restore this city of Santa Monica. They’re doing it how? They’re doing by a response of love.

This community of St. Monica must listen, must heal, must be the forefront of those difficult issues that need somehow to be resolved. I pray for the leadership of our city today. I pray for all of us to respond today clearly, without hesitation in one singular voice, the voice of love.


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