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PC(USA) Stated Clerk speaks out on police killings of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile

July 7, 2016

Louisville

Once again the nation, and the African American community, in particular, is faced with two more high-profile killings of African American males. Alton Sterling of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile of the Twin Cities area of Minnesota are the latest among a long list of publicized and unjustified killings by law enforcement officers in the United States. The questionable nature of African American males and females dying at the hands of police in our streets and in police custody is so pervasive in the United States that the U.S. Justice Department is leading the investigation in the Sterling case and has been asked to investigate the Castile case.

While these police killings are occurring, it is apparent that we remain a denomination that struggles to engage the truth about our own privilege. As church leaders, we find it easy to offer prayers for the families while mentioning a statement in our Sunday morning sermons about the struggles of racism in the U.S. Yet our depth of commitment to resolve the problem of blatant racism within our own communities is often shallow and meaningless. Therefore, police departments charged with the responsibility to protect and serve remain unchecked by common citizens, because we are not calling powers and principalities into accountability as a response to the gospel message. The Bible reminds us that, “You are from God, little children, and have overcome them, because greater is the one who is in you than the one who is in the world” (I John 4:4). Our ability to overcome the world by the God-bestowed power within us requires faith and courage.

The 222nd General Assembly (2016) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) renewed the denomination’s commitment to eradicating the vestiges of racism in every sector of our society, including the Church. Three significant actions were taken.

  1. The adoption of the Confession of Belhar provides a theological basis to call the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) into repentance for its complicity with the ongoing struggle of historic and current racism in the United States.
  2. The Stated Clerk and Presbyterian Mission Agency have been directed to present to the 223rd General Assembly (2018) a detailed six-year plan with explicit procedures for renewed implementation of the church-wide strategies in“Facing Racism: A Vision of the Intercultural Community,” approval by the 222nd General Assembly (2016).
  3. The assembly has called for specific efforts – both financial and through direct action – to address the worsening plight of the African American male.

The time is right to act! However, the time has always been right to act. These assembly actions have no meaning unless we as people of faith act to eradicate racism in our nation. Our efforts must begin in our own communities and require courage. Racism is a cancer that has historically pervaded our society. It blatantly disrupts the flow of building Jesus’ call for the Beloved Community. 

Eugene Carson Blake, a former Stated Clerk of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., spoke at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, better known as “The March on Washington.” He spoke chilling words of indictment related to Protestant mainline denominations. He said, “The white Church is late, but we are here now.” It is my prayer that in these critical times we can exclaim that we made significant decisions to engage the historic vestiges of racism in our time. This will require us being spiritually and physically present now, avoiding another institutional sin of being late on arrival. Our silence on the race issue is not an option anymore, and it really never has been. I invite sessions and mid councils to take concrete actions to address this epidemic in local communities and our nation.

Today I am traveling to Baton Rouge to be in solidarity with local and national leaders. I am hopeful to meet with Presbyterian clergy and lay people who are willing to engage this pertinent issue of our time. Please be in prayer for our deliberations and reliance upon the Spirit.

미국 장로교 정서기가 Alton Sterling과 Philando Castile을 경찰이 살해한 것에 대해 공개 발언을 하다

  1. Thank you for your leadership in addressing this important topic. The Belhar Confession offers to us a practical application of what the Church believes. Continue to speak out for Justice.

    by Dr. Lawrence Willis

    July 15, 2016

  2. I, too, agree with Mark Henley, and David Parke. We all need to take responsibility for our own actions and also not rush to judgment before all the facts are in. "All lives matter", and I do not understand when anyone takes an issue with that. Jesus Christ died to save us all, regardless of color. We should focus on following His way, love each other, respect each other, and try to make this country, and the world, a better place. I find the current state of affairs to be too reminiscent of the Sixties, when there was so much racial strife. I thought we had made great strides, and it is so disappointing to me that it appears that we have not. As a nation, we need to re-evaluate what we have done in the past to "fix" this problem, because it obviously hasn't worked.

    by Jean Salzwedel

    July 14, 2016

  3. In the name of our Triune and One God, I am watching live in MSNBC the interfaith memorial service with respect to the five Dallas Police Officers who innocently lost their lives. A Christian Female Reverend from the Methodist Church, an Iman from Islam, an a Rabbi spoke, and addressed the killings of the 5 police officers. At this time, in the name of God in the Risen Christ through the Holy Spirit, as a Presbyterian, I do join said interfaith memorial service to directly thank God for having embraced the souls of the two African Americans: Alton Sterling of Lousiana and Philando Castile of Minessotta, who were, also, innocently killed by police officers. And I also ask God the Healing Shepherd to heal the families and all loved ones who are experiencing pain and suffering due to the present epidemic of these senseless, racist killings! Justice and Peace! God bless you all!

    by Elder William Reyes, candidate, Presb. Church USA)

    July 12, 2016

  4. Thank you, J. Herbert for taking a stand and showing the rest of us that it can be done. I have been to too many Presbyterian churches around the country in the last 10 years where (white) ministers sit on the fence because they don't want to rock the boat. What hope is there for the people in the pews to do the right thing if those in the pulpit can't or won't?

    by Noushin Framke

    July 12, 2016

  5. 2nd Half Thankfully, much more often we meet the rough edges of society with professional control and wear the badge proudly. Our niche is working with adversity and we are drawn to this profession because we know that we do more good than harm. We are the guardians of our communities and know we do the right thing when we are a resource for a person who improves their quality of life. We live in a police culture that accepts our extreme personalities and a degree of impulse is understood. We laugh at each other, our stories get funnier each time, and our culture breeds the funniest comedians. We have millions of satisfied customers relying on us to continue to do the best we can and who resent the current siege of media attention directed against all law enforcement officers. Even as the critics try to shake the confidence of every police officer always remember that you do a remarkable job performing to the highest standards. Human nature accepts easy answers in placing blame for what is not understood. Even though most of your critics are good people they do not know what it is like to serve and protect or wear a badge. Thank you for helping my neighbor in need and thank you for protecting others from aggression. Be assured that your law enforcement predecessors support and deeply admire each one of you who serve and protect while keeping the highest standards of one of the noblest professions. Peter W. Doerfert R-338 Farmington Police Department” With all that said I will be the first person to admit there are bad individual officers and some departments do struggle to be professional. Police realize the implications of how they must balance their authority between prosecuting vigorously with having heart and compassion. Good officers are sickened by bad police behavior. I will also be the first person to say that the percentage of bad officers, bad arrests, and unjustified police homicides are very small and should be prosecuted. Almost all police are conscientious about due process and are actually concerned about people. You would be surprised how many are either involved with the clergy in their communities or ultimately become clergy themselves. All communities need to demand that their departments continue on their courses of better professionalism. Regarding racial homicides, I believe almost all police officers in this country would not put themselves in the position of killing for a racial reason.

    by Peter Doerfert

    July 12, 2016

  6. 1st half It’s difficult to decipher what the general persuasion toward police is in the recent opinions of this thread on the Presbyterian website as they are quite vague. In response to the vagueness I want to make a clear opinion as a Presbyterian and retired police officer. The following letter of support I wrote to my former police department in January of 2016 while it and every other police officer across the nation were under attack by the media. Then, and now, I could do not understand how the new generation of police could withstand the barrage of attack so I wanted to lend them my support as follows. “You are part of the thin blue line crossing municipalities, counties, states, and federal agencies in America to “serve and protect”. Nowhere else on earth does law enforcement require the highest standards of accountability. Nowhere else on earth do police meet the highest levels of proof in court. American law enforcement leads other countries in rules of evidence and rules of police conduct. When a criminal case rises to the level of a conviction in America then it would almost certainly be a conviction in any other country in the world. I am among a huge number of your law enforcement predecessors who know the meaning of to serve and protect. We know that everything has consequences; positive and negative, intended and unintended. We understand the police culture and the feeling when our future hangs in the balance of a one second decision. We serve and protect alone with only our nerves as our guide. We know the feeling of our heartbeat before tunnel vision sets in and seconds slow down. We are experts in “could’ve, would’ve, and should’ve” moments. We know the devastation when we hurt somebody and we punish ourselves worse than anybody else can. We live in a culture of fear and our weaknesses stick out like sore thumbs to us. We are not paid our large salaries to be weak, we are paid to meet aggressive people. We know the addiction of following our gut instincts into the unknown each time tempting fate once more. In our police culture work is done in a harsh altered form of reality with the risk of becoming cynical. Our hearts break for a helpless person in a helpless situation. We strive to make sense of incomprehensible behavior and then regret what we learn. We are familiar with slippery slopes which can lead to unethical behavior. Sometimes we fail to see our own brothers and sisters in blue slide because we are watching for criminals instead of our own.

    by Peter Doerfert

    July 12, 2016

  7. I pray everyday to God in The Risen Christ that the Holy Spirit be with us all the time, especially when those "wrongful powers and principalities" get into the evil racism of police officers. I know the feeling, I have the unfortunate ill experience of being senseless stopped by corrupt, vicious police officers, white and black. The first thing I do is to lay on my back whether is in Bradley Beach, NJ where I live or in Asbury Park , NJ where I visit nearby. Then after released, I contact 911 and record the illegal injustice of the police officer. Then I mail a certified letter with return receipt, about the illegal injustice, to the Police Chief Officer of the county; to the County Sheriff; to the state prosecutor and State Attorney General; to the state governor; to the US Attorney General, The US Department of Justice; to the US President, and to the Media. Then I procced to sue pro se in the civil court. It works! God bless you all!

    by Elder William Reyes

    July 11, 2016

  8. It i important for us to be present and praying in Baton Rouge and Dallas. It is important or us to hold law enforcement accountable for actions and to commend them in such places as Omaha, which has its history of significant racial issues, where a well-trained police force was present at a rally that stopped traffic at least twice at a major intersection. No violence (the goal of the organizers) and no arrests.

    by Phil Barrett

    July 11, 2016

  9. I am a black woman, a ruling elder, and a career prosecutor by profession. This week I sent an e-letter to my family--my husband, 3 adult sons and one adult daughter--telling them to beware and to be careful. As a result of last week's events, there are many angry and fearful people and I am concerned about reaction and possible retaliation that might occur. There are many American families who do not need to warn their children of these matters, but I do. I would hope that the church, instead of criticizing a very compassionate act on behalf our recently elected Stated Clerk or threatening to leave the denomination, would become the moral compass in this matter. The events of last week are the most recent of a long line of shootings that have occurred in American history. When evidence is presented in a criminal case, there can be many opinions as to what happened. Hence, our jury system. But many people do not trust the jury system to determine the truth, as we have seen in public reaction to recent high profile cases. No matter what the legal outcome of these events, America has a problem. But with this problem we are faced with a great opportunity. Now is the time when the church can take the lead in providing a forum for healing. The church can bring different sides together to work on solutions. The church can support the young people who are on the front line seeking peaceful solutions. The church can also support programs already in place (including our own) that are working toward reconciliation. The church could, and should, be praying for the victims, the perpetrators, their families and impacted communities alike. There is something for each of us to do. The problem that revealed itself last week has a long history and it has been festering for some time. The church is being called-again-to be the balm for this wound, a wound that originates from the sin of racism. Blessings to those who are answering the call.

    by Patricia Petty Morse

    July 10, 2016

  10. It doesn't help when the Stated Clerk decides to make the facts fit the "unjustified killing" narrative even before we know what the facts are. It simply feeds the simmering divisions that fracture the common life of our country. Some reminder of the creation of all human beings in the image of God and the need to take actions that respect that image in all human beings would be a good place to start in speaking to the church. Since the clerk has felt it necessary to travel to Baton Rouge to make his point, I hope he will include Dallas as well.

    by Dr. Michael W. Garrett

    July 9, 2016

  11. I agree with Mark Henley!

    by Eric Eshelman

    July 9, 2016

  12. You carry my fervent prayers with you that all of us and each of us may soon learn to be neighbor to one another.

    by Dale Walker

    July 9, 2016

  13. Praying for you to have safe, productive travels...and being willing to work on setting new directions for our church!

    by Judi Johnson

    July 9, 2016

  14. Thank you as you continue to speak the truth and to act as God continues to lead you.

    by Gladys J.

    July 9, 2016

  15. As the pastor of a multiracial congregation, during Prayers of the People, we often hear prayers spoken by members who fear for their children and grandchildren. The targeting of people of color, primarily black men, must stop. Thank you for your prophetic leadership "for such a time as this." You're welcome any time to see what we're doing in Oakland.

    by Rev. Debra Avery

    July 9, 2016

  16. Thank you J. Herbert for speaking quickly to the real problems that many face. We are in crisis, therefore must collectively pray, speak, and act.

    by Carrie Sinkler-Parker

    July 9, 2016

  17. Thank you Rev Nelson for speaking quickly and efficiently concerning the racism in both our society and within our own denomination. Our prayers go with you as you seek to promote justice and peacemaking in Baton Rouge, Dallas and the Twin Cities Area.

    by Anthony Patrick

    July 9, 2016

  18. Thank you

    by Laurie Newman

    July 9, 2016

  19. Sorry to be a minority voice, but I expect more from the highest officer of the Church. You're racing to one fire, when there is a theological worldview left un addressed--ought not Presbyterians be putting words to this O People of the Book... If we don't speak of the heart of God toward all people, all creation who will? You faltered here...so get up...and start again.

    by Kathleen Weller

    July 9, 2016

  20. Thankyou, Dr. Nelson for going to Baton Rouge as a rep. for the denomination. We are responsible for changing the direction of our troubled society, no matter our faith, race, sexual orientation, etc. We have worldly peace conferences, in far away places where the common folks have little to no input or impact. No we must start peace conferences in our homes, our places of faith, our coffee shops, our store windows, our town governments, our interactions with all people, feel free to add your own place. There is no place where these conversations can't occur. Talk the initiative, start your own peace conferance, name your action and begin. Don't stop, don't give up, don't back down, respect others feelings, listen to others ideas..... put them into action. Decide that any idea is not too small or insignificant.

    by Mary Mulcrone

    July 8, 2016

  21. Thank you Rev. Nelson. Some of the comments reflect , what I believe is most dangerous--an inability to hear, feel or see beyond our own relatively limited experiences. Sit a while and experience something which may be felt by others. I guarantee growth.

    by Margaret Washnitzer

    July 8, 2016

  22. Thank you for your words and especially for your graceful leadership in this difficult time. As you travel to Baton Rouge, please know you go with the prayers and support of so many of us.

    by Rob Elder

    July 8, 2016

  23. Thank you, Rev. Nelson, for your prophetic voice. Our country desperately needs to focus on racism and how to seek change in our institutions. My heart is heavy with all the killing.

    by Barb McRae

    July 8, 2016

  24. When a police officer commits murder and it's captured on video, he needs to be arrested and not put on desk duty while the police investigate. Anyone else is arrested. Cops are put on desk duty while the prosecutor figures out how to arrange things so the the cop can go home and not face a trial. These killings of Black people by White cops WILL NOT STOP until cops are vigorously prosecuted. That's not going to happen in America during my lifetime.

    by Lloyd Johnson

    July 8, 2016

  25. There are two sides to every coin. Once again, the PCUSA leadership demonstrates its ability to see only "heads" without recognizing "tails." Can a people of God provide a prophetic voice without a clear vision of the problem? The world wonders and waits.

    by John McMillan

    July 8, 2016

  26. I appreciate J. Herbert's leadership in calling the church to faithful engagement of this issue. Perhaps one alternative to rhetoric that paints all 17,000+ law enforcement agencies with a broad brush would be to identify some communities that are already making substantial revisions in their use of force policies and to affirm their good work. We need to follow these examples of progress and hold accountable those agencies that are neglecting this critical work. Here in Greenville, SC, I have met with the relatively new Chief of Police, who instituted a review of all policies upon his arrival. The next step for us is to get involved with the local commission on law enforcement. Local, contextual involvement on racial injustice is the calling of all congregations and presbyteries.

    by Rev. Mike Hoyt

    July 8, 2016

  27. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    by Emily

    July 8, 2016

  28. Thank you...

    by Raymond Bagnuolo

    July 8, 2016

  29. Will Dr. Nelson now also go to Dallas to show support for law enforcement in that community?? George miler Commissioner to 2016 General Assembly

    by George miller

    July 8, 2016

  30. Can a police officer be trained not to overreact in a situation perceived to be hostile? There are dozens of options available before the use of deadly force.

    by Rev. Rod Frohman

    July 8, 2016

  31. Thank you for the immediate response and the call to act. The events in Dallas last night further highlight the need for prayer coupled with action. May God continue to bless us all.

    by Noel Ellison

    July 8, 2016

  32. This is evidence of your continued strong leadership. Congrats on taking a stand, calling for real action and for setting the example.

    by steve jarrett

    July 8, 2016

  33. Racism and violence are insidious evils, entrenched to the point that many see them everywhere and others fail to see them at all. I applaud your leadership in standing in solidarity and raising the public voice of the church. Do not be quick to add fuel to flames however. To call these or any actions unjustified before knowing all the facts is unwise and perpetuates the system--the videos have horrific actions on tem but not the sum total of them all. We must speak for justice and unity, not simply villifying some to show the oppression of others. Let us stand hand in hand and protst the wider issues, but let us not lump every action into this lest we diminish our calls and stand to entrench the system. We are all sinners. Jesus Christ is the savior. Be bold and continue to speak, but speak truth and love, resolve and prophetic plumb lines.

    by Rev. Tim Harmon

    July 8, 2016

  34. Thank you for your quick response . Thank you for your leadership. I'm proud to be Presbyterian!

    by Shelia B. Petty

    July 8, 2016

  35. Thank you for this strong, clear call to act now--meaningfully. I am personally grateful that you will represent us in Baton Rouge, and pray I will have the courage and the wisdom to act in my own community of Baltimore.

    by Madeleine Mysko

    July 8, 2016

  36. We be blessed to host you in the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area as soon as you're possibly able to make it.

    by Rev. Zach Wilson

    July 8, 2016

  37. Right on.

    by Rev. Zach Wilson

    July 8, 2016

  38. As a white parent of an adult bi-racial adoptee I fear for the safety of my son and his daughter every time they are in public...it appears that the racial fires are being reignited...all of us need to get to know those whom we may not understand becaupse they are far more like us than different from us...we are all part of the human race...pull together not apart, please...💚💜❤️💙💛

    by Wendy Williams

    July 8, 2016

  39. Don't dismiss prayers. That is all some of us have time and treasure to give. And surely weak prayers are of no use, but the prayers described in Scripture do as long as we do not treat the Scriptures with arroagnce and as a museum piece. It is the original witnesses.

    by Rev Dr Chuck Yopst

    July 8, 2016

  40. When you lead your message with a statement indicating the police are at fault in spite of no investigation being complete the rest of your message loses meaning. Most of the high profile police shootings have ultimately been shown to be legal and justified. I find your stance highly offensive. Tonight this view of police culpability has resulted in numerous officers shot. I do not doubt the fact there is racism. But when most blacks are killed by other blacks but the blame is placed on police, the blame is misplaced. This writing has probably ended my long standing as a member of this denomination. I will look elsewhere for my spiritual guidance.

    by Mark Henley

    July 8, 2016

  41. Thank you for your leadership Herbert Nelson!

    by Grant Lowe

    July 8, 2016

  42. Amen! I believe we have an obligation to follow through with this. We, as Presbyterians must continue to fight for change within our Kirk, and the public square alike.

    by Matthew Ray

    July 7, 2016

  43. PRAY--plus.

    by william huggins

    July 7, 2016

  44. Thank you for your accompaniment and solidarity with those in distress and as our PCUSA witness.

    by Robert Foltz-Morrison

    July 7, 2016

  45. What happened is undoubtedly tragic. The circumstances of the shooting still aren’t completely clear, and nobody deserves to die just for having a criminal record. However, it would be just as dishonest to portray this story as just another man living his life who was gunned down by the police for no reason, which is what many will do.

    by David Parke

    July 7, 2016

  46. Black Lives Matter. Godspeed, brother.

    by Julie Lehman

    July 7, 2016

  47. Dr. Nelson, thank you for helping those of us in the PCUSA to face the continuing problem of racism in our local communities. Appreciatively Bryce Little

    by Bryce Little

    July 7, 2016

  48. Thank you for speaking out on this issue. And thank you for going to Baton Rouge as a representative of our denomination. Please add my heartfelt prayers to those being lifted at this painful time.

    by Carla White

    July 7, 2016

  49. Thank you so much, Dr Nelson, for this kick in the pants that we need - the white church. Thank you for hanging in there with us and guiding us through these rapids of racist sin. I am so grateful you are our Stated Clerk. (Rev.) Lynda S. Clements, HR. Hudson River Presbytery

    by Lynda Clements

    July 7, 2016

  50. Thanks, my friend, for your eloquence, your presence, and your passion!

    by Patti Winter

    July 7, 2016

  51. Thank you for going to Baton Rouge. We need a Presbyterian presence and a call to action amidst all of the heartache.

    by Cynthia Rose Parr

    July 7, 2016

  52. Thank you. You make me proud to be a Presbyterian!

    by Vicky Watkins

    July 7, 2016

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