Condemning Racism and Working for Change

June 4, 2020

President Jeff Carter sent the following letter to Bethany Theological Seminary’s students, faculty, staff, trustees, alumni, and friends.

Dear Bethany Community,

There is a particular privilege in silence.

The issues are too complicated to fully understand, so we stay silent.

We worry what others might think of us if we were to be honest in our fears, cares, attitudes, and opinions, so we stay silent.

It is a challenge to find just the right words at a time when the nation is deeply divided and emotions run high, so we stay silent.

And to be honest, many of us who are white can afford to be silent. There is a particular privilege in silence.

With the recent deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, three names in a long list of black people senselessly killed, sitting in silence feels like a betrayal of the truth. It is a sneaking suspicion that the taking of a black life is more than a life taken, it is a denial that not all are created in God’s image and thus some are allowed to be lost in silence.

And we pray, “God of our weary years, God of our silent tears …”

Words are inadequate, imperfect, and open for misinterpretation, but to stay silent is to allow whatever fear, personal or corporate, to have the last word.

From the premeditated violence of the lynching tree as a method of intimidation and preservation of the status quo, to today’s disproportionate and often arbitrary police violence leveled upon African Americans, silence by the majority allows fear to reign and racism to continue unabated. As Will Smith says, “Racism isn’t getting worse, it’s getting filmed.”

Bethany Theological Seminary denounces racism in all its forms, mourns the senseless loss of life, and is committed to the sacred work of racial justice and peace. Clearly, as an act of faith, where the prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective (James 5:16), thoughts and prayers are needed. As a church born of the Anabaptist – Pietist movement, with thoughts and prayers come faithful witness and non-violent action.

The Seminary is working to deepen our understanding of systemic racism. We seek to educate a generation of leaders able to listen to the needs of the world around them, confront their own biases, embrace God’s prophetic call to let justice roll down like water (Amos 5:24), and confront the evils of systemic racism, in the name of Jesus Christ.

We are committed to the work of anti-racism. In recent years, Bethany teaching faculty audited the curricula and revised course readings and requirements with greater inclusion of authors who are persons of color. A new seminary class explicitly focused on African American biblical interpretation is scheduled for August, in partnership with Columbia Seminary in Atlanta, and team-led by faculty members of both schools. The Seminary community continues facilitated conversations and trainings on racism and implicit bias which have proven to be difficult, challenging, and personally transformative. Finally, student recruitment plans have expanded and hiring practices are continually being adjusted so as to identify and prioritize candidates who are persons of color so that Bethany might more fully represent the world around us. Our work is just beginning.

We acknowledge that privilege has the luxury of silence, and we cannot afford such luxury as African Americans suffer under the weight of systemic racism. With all honest humility, we fall short, but together, we will continue to work for justice so that all might know of God’s Shalom and Christ’s peace. We covet your prayers and we seek your partnership. Together, with God’s help, we will work for change.

Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way, Thou who hast by Thy might, led us into the light, keep us forever in the path, we pray.” Amen.

—Jeff Carter, President

Excerpts from Lift Every Voice and Sing, a hymn, written by James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamond Johnson in 1899.