One of those stories was about my grandfather.
My grandfather was also a Scottish immigrant who came to this country to escape grinding poverty. He was one of eleven children and he started work in the coal mines of the Lowlands of Scotland when he was ten in order to help support his family. At fourteen, he was buried alive during a collapse of part of the mine. Several days later, he was one of only three who made it out alive, but not without both a deep physical scar that ran the length of his back and a profound mental one.
As my grammie told it, my grandfather immigrated shortly thereafter to escape both the poverty and the absolute disregard for his life and the lives of all the other poor coal-mining families in his small village. When he came to this country, he brought with him a deep conviction that his life was to be lived so that no one should be faced with dehumanizing disregard.
Both of my grandparents were also staunch Scottish Presbyterians. And part of their legacy to my mother and to me has been the lesson that one’s faith and one’s religious practice should be about making life more just, more equitable and closer to what God would want for all of creation.
It is precisely this kind of faith that brought me to the Mall of America last December to join with several dozen of my clergy colleagues to stand in prayer and solidarity as Black Lives Matter Minneapolis and about 3000 people of many religious traditions, many family configurations, many racial backgrounds and many political affiliations rallied to affirm that Black lives, Black bodies, Black families, Black communities matter.
I was part of that peaceful protest and witness because in our country today, Black lives are treated with the same disregard that my grandfather experienced. Too many are killed by police brutality, too many are incarcerated and terrorized, too many are caught in economic systems that oppress. My being at the Mall of America was part of my Advent practice because I understand my call as a Christian pastor to witness to the sacredness of ALL of God’s children and to speak truth to power when power abuses any of God’s children.
And then Bloomington City Attorney Sandra Johnson chose to use her great power as an officer of the Court to prop up the powerful by pressing bogus charges against the Mall of America protest organizers and the City of Bloomington and Mall of America officials infiltrated meetings and surveilled social media to determine who the organizers of the protest were. And I knew I needed to do something. But I didn’t know exactly what.
Then I was contacted by several religious colleagues—Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and Wiccans from around the country who also believe in the sacredness of Black Lives—asking that I start a petition so that people of faith could stand in solidarity with the Mall of America protest organizers. And I did. And over 3100 people of faith from around the country signed the petition.
In addition to these faith leaders, another petition was circulated by someone else who was at the Mall of America and couldn’t sit idly by as our justice system was used to persecute the less powerful in deference to those who hoard power. Their petition garnered over 42,000 signatures.
And so we are here today, holding in our hands both the names of those who stand with us and candles each representing 1000 people who are with us in solidarity. They know that that this is the day and this is the hour we are delivering them and they are holding us in their prayers as we speak. We are going to take just a moment of silence to join our energy and prayers with theirs that the power of the court is used as it ought to be and that the charges are completely dropped.
Amen. Ashe. Blessed Be.