October 8, 2020
This past week our Governing Board made a decision to put up a sign that says “Black lives matter” on the east and west sides of Wheaton. I almost resigned in opposition to it. I want to share our reasons, how this fits into our church’s journey, and my own journey in coming to this decision without resigning.
First, let me share how we got here. After the vandalism of signs at a Wheaton church a month ago, we received a request from church members to put up a sign that says, “Black lives matter.” While our leadership certainly affirmed this truth, we were hesitant to put up a sign without context that could be misunderstood by our community as an endorsement of the organization that bears its name. We had listening meetings with members of our church who shared why these three words would be important. We had extensive conversations with those who were opposed to this idea. We considered alternative wording. We prayed and sought the Lord. We discussed at length; one board meeting lasted over four hours. And after much discussion, extensive listening, and much prayer, we reached this decision.
WHY? WE ARE FAMILY
Why put up a sign that might be misconstrued as a political statement? I have already shared why I say “Black lives matter” here; to reiterate, we neither endorse the organization Black Lives Matter nor seek to embrace a political platform or candidate with this statement.
So why do this? For the past few years I have heard the stories of many of our Black brothers and sisters. For years they feel like they bent to accommodate the majority culture in our church without being fully understood on their own terms. I’ve heard their fears for their children, wondering whether they would be safe as they are dropped off at a friend’s house in this area. When news of shootings of unarmed black people rip a bandaid off an infected wound of their own hearts, they long for their own fears, pains, and hurts to be seen and understood with their family at church. When the church struggles to acknowledge or speak of these events and fears, then it feels as if that part of their life and experience does not matter, like they are bleeding to death while we chat about the weather.
So wouldn’t it be easier for our Black brothers and sisters to go to another church where these hurts would be better understood? One longstanding African-American family struggled with this exact question. But they concluded, “No. This is my family..”
We are family. After a disturbing act of violence against an unarmed Black person recently, a Black teenager in our youth group shared his grief and asked our youth pastor, “If somebody hurt me, would you vouch for me?”
Will we vouch for them? Will we say that “Black lives matter”? Wellspring, our resounding answer is, ”Yes.” We are family. We vouch for you. We know you. And we love you. Against words and actions that tell Black people that their lives do not matter, we as the church declare that their lives do matter and are precious in God’s sight. We are family.
Five years ago this past Sunday, Wellspring was formed to reach the diversity of our area together. Our first step was to navigate the diversity in our own midst. We have navigated this diversity by learning to pray in one voice, trying to keep services and meetings on time, to laugh, to celebrate Lunar New Year, to eat, to love one another, and to eat again. One particular challenge we navigated was the grief of members who felt loss through the merger of Living Water and Blanchard, and we have walked with that and moved forward.
Just as we have navigated past questions with sensitivity and grace, so we are now being called to navigate the pain and hurt of our African-American brothers and sisters. And this works out our calling to navigate the diversity within our own church to better reach the diversity of our own area. By saying, these three words, “Black lives matter”, we affirm our love—and God’s love—to our Black brothers and sisters. In this context, then, we felt that this was one way that we could embody our value of loving and honoring one another in our differences.
So why did I almost resign in opposition to this decision? After a number of extended meetings in discussion of this question, the Governing Board seemed ready to take a vote on a sign that said, “Black lives matter.” Personally I knew that these particular words would be misunderstood by our congregation. And I was disturbed that we were preparing to make a decision without considering the wider communication plan around it.
Also, I personally felt concern that the Governing Board was resolving to do something that I, the Senior Pastor, didn’t yet have conviction of. That brought me to a deep place of wrestling with God. I woke up at 4:30 the next morning to pray. In that prayer time, I was ready to resign, if necessary, if I could not lead without a sense of clear conviction.
After about an hour and a half in agonizing prayer, the Lord convicted me—“It’s not about you.” As I continued to wrestle in prayer, the Lord slowly changed my heart. I felt that He was calling me to embrace the hurts and pains of our Black brothers and sisters, to bring them into myself and feel them as my own. I needed to stop analyzing this as a cold leadership decision and start listening and discerning through the lens of love for those who are hurting. And I slowly realized that this was the next step that we needed to take.
WHAT IS NEXT?
So Wellspring, my family whom I love deeply and dearly, the Governing Board and I are asking for your support as we prepare to post a sign in Wheaton that says, “Black lives matter.” Posting this sign is simply the tip of the iceberg of a statement to our community that Black lives, truly, matter.
Please read through the Q&A below; if you have any other questions, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org by Thursday, Oct 15. Those questions will go to all of our Governing Board members, and we will consider each of them as we revise these questions. On Sunday evening, Oct 18. we will have a Family Meeting to share with you in more detail our heart behind this decision. A sign will not be posted until after that gathering.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
- Is this a “political” sign?
If by “political” we mean partisan, the answer is “No.” We are not endorsing a politician or political party but expressing one of our beliefs as Christians. Every one of us is made in God’s image; while this belief may have political implications, it is not a partisan statement but a biblical statement as a church.
- Does this mean that we support the Black Lives Matter organization?
No. We are simply saying that the lives of Black people matter.
- Are we now the sort of church that puts up signs?
No. About a year ago, the deacons realized that our customary expressions of condolences at funerals did not not adequately communicate love to our Asian brothers and sisters. As a result we changed our policy to accommodate culturally appropriate ways of care in times of grief. This did not mean that we did the same thing for everyone; rather, diverse cultures called for diverse expressions and practices to express our love to a particular group.
That is what we are doing here: we are doing something to express our love to a particular group in a particular way. Just as we do not express condolences in the same way to everyone, so we are not intending to put up signs for everyone. We have not become the sort of church that puts up signs; rather, we are trying to be the sort of church that loves every one of our brothers and sisters appropriately and communicates that love effectively.
- If Black lives matter to us, what else are we doing about it?
That is the crucial question. Putting up a sign can be an important way of communicating love and taking a stand, but it cannot be the only way that we do so. In the last section of my earlier statement on “Black lives matter” I enumerate a number of ways that we are working to demonstrate this in word and deed. We are also exploring ways to continue to do this; if you have any suggestions then you can email them to email@example.com.
- What are we going to do if the signs are vandalized?
If the signs are vandalized, we will replace them, and we will also take that as a call to prayer.
- Who made this decision?
This decision has been made by our Governing Board: Mitch Kim (Senior Pastor), Andy Brumbach (Elder, Chair), Benson Chan, Christin Fort, Kevin Hector (Elder, Vice Chair), John Jackson (Elder), Noah Kim (Treasurer), Steve Lobue (Elder), Linda Oury, Dean Renninger (Elder), Sue Roman (Financial Secretary), Allison Showalter (Secretary), Brian Stoffer (Elder), Makoto Suzuki (Elder), Justina Wang.