I sent this email on Thursday to my co- workers as well as our leadership team. I figured I might share it with you as you also might be feeling an even more pronounced sense to work and witness for a more just society after the death of George Floyd and so many before him. If you follow me on Twitter (@racelessgospel), then you know that I have been protesting every day in Washington, D.C. at Lafayette Square, in front of the White House (Well, behind a new gate) and from the steps of St. John’s Episcopal Church after Trump gassed protesters for a photo opportunity with “a Bible.” I had been there just hours before.
And hours before I drive to D.C., I read a selection from Howard Thurman’s Meditations of the Heart and then I meditate. Afterwards, I protest with my copy of Jesus and the Disinherited in my book bag. Thurman asks in the preface of this book, “Why is it that Christianity seems impotent to deal racially, and therefore effectively with the issues of discrimination and injustice on the basis of race, religion and national origin?” His question is my question. I demand more from Christians but first, I will start with me.
And when it does, when a truth takes hold of me, it impacts every area of my life. Thurman has named my experience and given me words by which to communicate the rationale for a raceless gospel. He knows how this revelation came to be, that it was due to an encounter between God and me. Thurman says that it is meant to be shared in community and so I do this with you as often as I can. But, I also share it with those I work with. Consider yourself a colleague too. The message is below.
Good morning colleagues and co- laborers,
I pray that you are well. As alluded to in the subject heading, I have been doing extra work. Along with many other clergy across the country, I have been protesting the death of our dear brother, Mister George Floyd. The day after Trump used the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church as his background and the Bible as a prop, walking over to the church after ordering that peaceful protesters be teargassed and beaten, I was sitting on the steps. These are additional office hours where my out of office message (in my head) says, “Out protesting; please hold.” Any one who knows me, knows that I work at odd hours on any number of projects.
These are odd hours, strange times.
But this is a body statement. I have attached a picture from an area photoblogger, Diane; I won’t share mine because I am sure the you will chime in with my parents and relatives with “Be safe” or perhaps, a cautionary tale. The fact is, George Floyd wasn’t safe and neither am I or any of you. I wanted to put my body on the line ahead of time.
This is what I told Ted Mann, a reporter at the Wall Street Journal. I am quoted all the way at the bottom of the article as a staff member of the D.C. Baptist Convention. Here’s the link. My words were used twice. Here’s the link to a second article.
In addition to making a statement on the record, I have led the protesters in song, encouraged the frightened first time protesters whose hands trembled as they held their homemade signs. I have comforted the grieving, who feel like giving up, who saw too much violence the night before and wonder if its worth it. I have shared with protesters, police officers and soldiers alike that they are all made in the image of God. This has been a deeply religious experience for me.
Most times standing between protester and police officer, I feel like my whole being is fully present and that I am in the presence of God. Howard Thurman talks about this in The Creative Encounter, namely the inwardness and the outwardness of religion. I am whole here.
I am sharing this as an addendum to my weekly telework report, not to compete with your own work and witness in this regard or to suggest that mine has more meaning. I have always and only competed against myself. In fact, I live to outdo myself. And I am a writer so this is what I do quite naturally. I just wanted to capture this moment in time. Because it means so much to me specifically but to the entire world evidently, given the number of protests that are occurring in all 50 states and around the world.
George Floyd was murdered, choked to death by a police officer, who vowed to “serve and protect.” Eight minutes and 46 seconds, three minutes of which Floyd was unconscious, Derek Chauvin’s knee was on his neck. These facts keep me up at night. He couldn’t breathe and I can’t sleep. But please don’t worry about me; when I can’t, I get up and “pray with my feet” like Abraham Joshua Heschel.
Kept by Faith,
Rev. Starlette Thomas
Minister to Empower Congregations
D.C. Baptist Convention
1628 16th Street NW
Washington DC 20009
(202) 265-1526, ext. 205