Ruthie Buck, Chair, Peace, Justice, & Inclusion Division
Almost 30 years ago, I was searching for a church home in Charlottesville. I had attended a few different churches, and Westminster was next on my list. I had actually never been to a Presbyterian Church before, having being born and raised a Southern Baptist. But Westminster was where I happened to find myself on one Sunday morning. What I heard from the pulpit was unlike anything I had heard before – it happened to be Bill Smith’s last sermon as pastor of Westminster – and he spoke urgently and passionately, and to be honest, he pulled no punches.
Now, given my Southern Baptist roots, it’s not that I hadn’t heard urgent, passionate, and chastising sermons before! But, rather than this sermon being about personal salvation – with heaven and hell figuring prominently – it was about our calling as Christians to work for social justice. What? I had never heard social justice preached before. It’s certainly not that I hadn’t thought about social justice issues – after all, I considered myself a liberal open-minded individual who was concerned about such things. It’s just that I had never connected social justice with the church.
“What?” you are probably thinking – how could you not associate social justice with the church?! Well, thanks to Westminster, I do now, and I knew on that Sunday that Westminster was the place for me.
And Westminster has a long history of social justice activism that continues to this day: activism around racial inequality, homelessness, harsh immigration policies, the environment, hunger, the inequities inherent in our criminal justice system, gender discrimination, including that associated with sexual orientation and gender identity, gun violence – we have 13 different committees in the Peace, Justice, and Inclusion Division that focus on the above– and more. Westminster’s commitment to social justice has recently been reaffirmed with our call to Dorothy Piatt, our new Associate Pastor for University Mission and Social Justice.
But, it has taken me awhile to really understand that our work in social justice has deep theological roots and is an important part of the work of the PCUSA. A statement issued by the PCUSA – a statement I became aware of through attending our recent Sunday School series on dismantling racism – made me think on a deeper level about the theological basis of social justice activism.
It states in part:
“White supremacy and racism stand in stark, irreconcilable contradiction to God’s intention for humanity. They reject part of the human family and are utterly contrary to God’s Word made incarnate in Jesus. They are idolatries that elevate human-created hierarchies over God’s freely given grace and love.”
“They are idolatries that elevate human-created hierarchies over God’s freely given grace and love.”
Although this statement was specifically directed toward racism, it surely extends to all kinds of injustice that so many in our society face.
The list of those too often excluded from having a place at the table is indeed a long one. As Christians, we are called to work to ensure everyone has a place at the table, that everyone feels included. We are called to address issues of injustice, inequity, exclusion, in whatever forms they are made manifest.
“For everyone born, a place at the table” – this is what your involvement and your pledges make possible!