By Rev. Aleisha A. Langhorne
In June 2020, while serving as an interim pastor in Washington, D.C., I sent the following email (edited for clarity/brevity) to my congregation. This resulted in a series of Fall workshops and conversations entitled “Seeing Differences Differently” facilitated by Grace and Race Ministries, Inc. I believe that this letter reflects the lived experienced of Dr. King’s powerful sermon “A Time to Break Silence,” delivered April 4, 1967 at Riverside Church in New York City.
Subject: Systemic Racism, Justice, and Faith in Action
Good morning Church Family,
Last night I woke up from a dream that I was choking. Nothing out of the ordinary happened in the dream. Yet, I woke up literally choking on my own saliva. In fact, I remember being surrounded by people I knew and loved. People who I knew or at least I thought loved me, yet every time I got ready to speak, I would choke. As I leaned in deeper to the dream, I realized that the choking only occurred when I wanted to speak the truth about what I was feeling. As long as I kept my conversation light and fun, I could speak but when I got to the space where I wanted to speak freely about how I felt, I choked. Again, I share with all of you that I woke up literally choking in my own saliva.
I do not believe my dream was accident. Over the past week, I have thought long and hard about how to address all that is happening in the world [re: murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Amhaud Arbrey, Atatiana Jefferson]. There are no simple or easy answers. Truthfully, every time some injustice occurs, I think long and hard about what to say and how to say it. As your pastor, albeit interim, I feel the weight of my responsibility as the pastor, the weight of the pandemic and heavy weight of the injustices that continually occur across this country. Our area [Washington, DC metropolitan] with all of its diversity is no exception to systemic racism in all its forms. In many ways it more subtle yet just as pervasive. Due to the diversity of our area, it shows up in ways that still catch me by off guard.
As a Black Woman pastoring a historically, white evangelical Baptist Church with a large immigrant population, I feel especially torn in my struggle not to offend and to speak truth to the injustices people of color live out every single day. Just speaking up is offensive to many. Often times and probably erroneously, I use silence as my defense against things I do not agree with or things I do not like and even against things that hurt me. At times my silence echoes loudly but the pain I feel in my heart and soul shouts even louder urging me to speak out. God’s people deserve more. You deserve for me not to choke in a time like this. All of you deserve truth, transparency and accountability. My efforts to stop choking begin today.
Being saddened and touched by the images we see and the articles we read is just the beginning. I echo one member’s hope and prayer that “we all get along.” The place where we all get along is the place where equity, harmony, and justice rule. The journey to this place is not a sprint but a marathon. It is hard, it is grueling and it will take work yet this is the kind of work WILL result in change. It is the work that took Jesus to Calvary’s cross and is the assignment left for those of us who believe.
Changing how we look at and speak about the issues around us is one-step. Changing how look at, think about, speak about and speak to the people around us is another step. What we say and how we say it even when no one is around or when it is just us is another way. Now is the time for us to decide what types of actions each of us will take individually and as a community. Reading this email and deciding there is nothing you can do is a conscious step in the wrong direction. Please join me as I seek to stop choking and remaining quiet when I see and hear about injustice. Remember the words of the prophet Micah (6:8) “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
Rev. Aleisha A. Langhorne, MPH, MHDSA, Mdiv, serves as pastor of Luther Rice Memorial Baptist Church in Silver Spring, Md. She is a bivocational pastor who is passionate about education, preaching, public health and the people of God!