Dear Brooklyn United Methodist Church,
It has been a long few days for your pastor. I have been listening to our people and praying. Many of our people are hurting and scared, a few are angry with their pastor, a few more are asking God if they should leave this land and go back to a country they hardly know.
Today I spent the day visiting some of our folks who are recovering, in assisted living, home healing, and I got to attend worship with our own Jack Rogers preaching at St. Therese. While running to the next stop I ran into a local fast food restaurant to grab something to eat, and no it was not McDonalds. One of our members was working and she greeted me with a huge smile and a “Hello Pastor Rich” and then introduced her pastor to the others behind the counter. As I stood there waiting for my order the person following me was having trouble with his order. Communication is not always easy. He lost his temper and shouted at our member, “Why don’t you just go back to your ***hole country, we don’t want you here.” Many of you know I’m not often silenced or without words. But for a moment no words could come out of my mouth. The man just stormed out after a few minutes of rough language and shouting back “Make America Great Again” and ended it with a “B” word that should not be used for any reason, especially in reference to any woman.
What would you have done if you were me today? I was so stunned and so scared for our fellow BUMC member, and frankly for my own safety, I said nothing until the man left! Then and only then did I jump behind the counter and hugged her…we prayed, with all her co-workers joining in and then they sat down with me and they talked. The stories they told me of the verbal abuse they face daily shocked me. It brought me to tears. And I must admit I have been shaken all day (it’s now 10pm as I write this). So back to my question—what would you have done if you were me today? I hope you would have been able to speak out. I failed today as a person, as a Christian, as a Pastor, and as an American. As I see it, I was too afraid and too shocked to “preach” the Gospel message, I did not love my neighbor. I sinned!
On Sunday I spoke out. Leading up to Sunday I prayed, I discerned, I asked for the Holy Spirit’s guidance before I walked into that pulpit and then I preached. That is my job, even if it makes us angry or uncomfortable. Thank you to the many, and I do mean many, who sent me a note, a card, some great bread! Thank you to the over 50 members who sent me stories of what you have endured while in public these last few days. I cried over each one and my heart goes out to each one of you who have endured such vile language and abuse, racism in its many forms hurts to our souls and I believe God cries with us. And thank you to the people who have criticized my preaching. Thank you to those who have told me they do not want politics in church, and feel I was being political on Sunday. For their perception all I can say is I am sorry I did not communicate well enough. I can only ask that you do not leave the church, but instead communicate and remain in community with me and with the church. The only way we are going to solve the challenge of racism is to talk it through. The only way we will love our neighbors sometimes is to speak out at injustice.
BUMC, over a third of our congregation is in pain and they are scared because they face injustice and racism like I witnessed today every day, because of the color of their skin. If we do not speak up, if we do not communicate and struggle as a church, then we are not being the church. And what our President said is adding to the racism and thus pain of our neighbors. I am not going to get into the debate of the words he said, or what is false news or who is lying. I spoke out not because of rough language used but because the inference of the words was about a people, not wanting people because of the color of their skin. Debate the words all we want. The sentiment was about the people, and questioning why we are allowing brown people to come to our shores, not white people from “good” countries is the issue. I spoke up Sunday as a Pastor of the Gospel, I failed to speak up today! I stand by my words on Sunday, I am ashamed of my actions today! Silence in the face if injustice, in the face of racism is a sin.
I am sorry my words did not communicate well enough to all. I will strive to do better. I was striving to not be political, but pastoral, and yes prophetic in the face of racism. I have listened to my words on Sunday at least 25 times and again I say if I came across as political I failed to communicate well enough the Gospel message that I felt called to preach. I never once used an adjective to describe our President and I only referred to him as the President. I did invite him to BUMC. I feel it would help him as a person, as a leader, as a Christian, to meet all of you, especially our youth. And if he would ever come, we would be respectful. But as your pastor, many of our pew neighbors are hurting because of the actions and words of too many in our community and yes the words of our President and those who believe that people of color who work with their hands and hearts should go back to their ***hole countries. I spoke on Sunday to the best of my ability to a congregation filled with hurting people. Today I did not speak when one of my people was verbally and racially assaulted and in my book, I not only did not do the right thing today, I did not communicate well enough on Sunday.
For the next two Sundays, at 10am in our Chapel, I will meet with any and all who would like to talk to me about my message last Sunday. I will also talk with any and all about the stories I have read and heard from our members and what they have endured, and how since the President’s words hit the press, how it has increased. I will talk to any and all about the United Methodist Church and our Resolutions to end racism. I will talk to any and all who would like to come and I will open up the Bible with you and learn from the life of Jesus Christ what I as a preacher am called to say and what we are all called to live…love God and love neighbor, heal a broken world (and folks right now we are broken and hurting) and reach new people. Join me in the Chapel at 10am the next two Sundays for a discussion.
I also ask one thing, that you pray and discern, asking the Holy Spirit to guide you. And as you pray please lift up those who are affected by racism ever day, at work, at play, and yes, even in church. And one more thing, pray for your pastors, as they try to lead and preach through these times. Ok, one more, speak up in face of racism. Don’t do what I did today… speak the truth of the Gospel, be the Heart of the Brooklyns.
In Christ’s Service,
Pastor Rich Zeck