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A Letter to the Congregation of FBC Madison

from Rev. Mark Clinger

As I shared on Sunday, I am personally relieved that Madison’s response to the District Attorney’s decision in the shooting death of Tony Robinson was peaceful. Thankfully, we were spared the rioting and violence which were the experience of other communities across the nation. A great deal of effort went into keeping the peace by the NAACP, who stationed identifiable mediators throughout the community; leadership in the African American Council of Churches of Greater Madison; and Madison’s Young Black Talented and Gifted Coalition.

While we can all breathe a sigh of relief, we must not imagine that the “peaceful” response to the decision suggests Madison itself is “peaceful”. There can be no true peace in the absence of criminal, economic, educational, financial justice. When some people’s lives are not thriving as others and such difference is allowed to be normal, it is simply unjust.

What Madison really experienced last week in the context of peaceful protests—and let us not forget for a moment that there were protests amidst the peace—was a general quietness. Quietude is a dangerous matter both spiritually and morally. Quietude easily slips into complacency and an acceptance of the status quo. We as a community, with the business of Tony Robinson “behind” us, could easily return to business as usual.

We cannot, we dare not, we must not. Peace in the absence of justice is not peace. Peaceful PROTESTS still raise a voice of opposition. Quietude tempts us even when so many children, youth and adults are not thriving.

Consider some of the statements made before and after the District Attorney’s verdict:

To Law Enforcement Agencies of Dane County

“…our churches are directly affected by the innumerable disparity studies that consistently validate systematic repressive policies … 50% of all Black men in Wisconsin in their 30s and 40s (have) been incarcerated at some point. This is mass incarceration! We request a detailed strategy for increased hiring of African American officers … a public posting of your internal policies that address the growing problem of racial profiling.”

                      --African American Council of Churches of Greater Madison

“…we (demand) transparency, accountability, justice, and a response to the letter of the African American Council of Churches. We also stand together as leaders of a broad coalition of faith communities demanding that we, as a community, respond in these moments to the larger issues of racial disparity that plague our community. We have come together to demand justice and we are not going to stand down until these issues have been addressed.”

                                        --Madison and Dane County Coalition of Faith Communities (MUM)

”We believe this to be a defining moment for our community. Coupled with recent studies such as Race to Equity which show a dramatic racial divide in the quality of life experienced by Dane County residents, we call on the community to join us in developing a vision for change, promoting the values of change, serving as a voice for change, and operating as a vehicle for change.”

                            --Urban League of Greater Madison

“We must confess our own complicity and apathy as a church in systems of inequality and racism that lead to the deaths of young black men. We must confess our lack of understanding ... We urge our faith communities to engage in the work of justice and reconciliation…”

       --Published by the Wisconsin Council of Churches

The decision finally comes down to us. Quite different from desire, it’s a matter of intent. Desire is all in our heads as we become a well-informed community alert to disparities. We form our opinions desiring things to be different. Yet it is a liberal mind game.

Intent is quite different. Intent takes all we know, and relying upon the human will, set ablaze by the Holy Spirit, makes a decision and a commitment of personal change, persevering in difference.

So what is our intent as a church? How do we intend to examine the prejudice that infects a segment of our community by the deadly virus of prejudice which blows in the winds of our nation? (See the invitation to “Race to Equity”.) How do we intend to become a “beloved community”, struggling with the ongoing work of reconciliation and understanding? How do we intend to make such difference in our larger community? Who do we intend to join, arm in arm, in the long march ahead?

Of course, we can always choose quietude.

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