Ministers, in my experience, aren't a particular brave lot. The job seems to attract people who place a high value on harmony, and who are seriously addicted to being liked. But the Metro section of today's Washington Post quoted Rev. G. Randolph Gurley, the pastor of the Tabernacle Church in Laurel, and the man is clearly exceptional.
At the funeral yesterday for Ronnie White, the man who was killed in a police cell in DC last week after being arrested in connection to the death of a police officer. Not surprisingly, White's case has generated great deal of anger towards the police. At the funeral, however, Rev. Gurley was clear that there were more people to blame for White's death than just the person who strangled him.
"When did it all start? Who all has a part in this tragedy?" Gurley asked, gazing intently into the eyes of several people in the pews before him. "We all know someone took his life, but it goes beyond that. We know that Ronnie didn't wake up that day and say, 'Today I'll participate in some activity that will result in someone's life being lost and later lead to the loss of my life.' His family, his friends, the school system, certainly the faith community . . . maybe we all have a part in this."
Now that's preaching. Don't get me wrong--whoever killed White should be prosecuted for murder, and I have no doubt they will be. But in the face of clear and righteous anger, it takes guts to challenge people to not just look for an enemy, but to look within themselves. It might be hard to assert that you can both hold individuals accountable for their actions AND acknowledge the collective responsibility we have for each other. But it's true.
What if we all asked Rev. Gurley's question--not just at the funerals of those who have died premature, violent deaths, but every time we complain about a social or community problem. What if we asked that question before we prayed about war or violence or poverty or ignorance? Who all has a part in this tragedy? We all do, plain and simple. We are all a part of one another, and I'm glad there are churches which keep this truth at the center of their witness.