Dear Friends and Colleagues,
Today on the front page of The New York Times there were two articles at the top of the page. These articles were about President Trump’s hate-filled words about people in Haiti and Africa and Senator Lindsay Graham’s response to those words.
These were the headlines.
On the back page of The New York Times there was a story about the detaining of the executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City, Ravi Ragbir, the threat of his deportation, and the attempts to secure his release.
It was on the back page.
The front-page stories drive the back-page realities. Each and every week we are faced with offensive, inappropriate, and derogatory comments that are deemed as being unacceptable, racist, and insensitive. And, each and every week, there is someone, somewhere in the world who feels as if those comments from the highest-ranking leader of our country gives them permission to feel the way they do, act the way they choose, and say whatever they want to say.
There is power and influence when persons in leadership speak. When those words are filled with grace and compassion, hearts are touched. When those words are filled with insensitivity and disregard for others, they cause harm. In response to these recent racist comments, Rev. Jesse Jackson put it simply, “A misinformed man with power is a weapon of mass destruction.”
The front-page stories give permission for the back-page actions.
In a statement to the church from the President of the Council of Bishops, Bruce Ough writes, “We call on all United Methodists, all people of faith, and the political leadership of the United States to speak up and speak against such demeaning and racist comments.” On this weekend before Martin Luther King Day, it would do us well to remember the words Dr. King wrote from a Birmingham jail. Dr. King said, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”
Friends, I am writing today to ask you to use the power of your voice to speak out against words that have caused others to be demeaned and devalued. If you stand in a pulpit, speak out. If you work in a factory, speak out. If you walk the streets of your community or eat in a local diner, speak out. There must be a coalition of goodness and justice, informed by the example of Jesus Christ and inspired by the presence of the Holy Spirit, that rises up and settles for absolutely nothing less than that which is good, and right, and holy in the midst of actions that are evil and wrong and misguided.
The response to the front page guides the response to the back page.
I have never met Ravi Ragbir but I know people that have. I trust those people. They tell me that Ravi Ragbir is gentle man, a loving husband, and a passionate advocate for the justice and fair treatment of immigrants, people from Africa and Haiti and beyond. Ravi has been one of our ministry partners in the NYAC Immigration Task Force. But now, Ravi is being treated unfairly. In reflecting on Mr. Ragbir’s detention, Mary Small, the policy director for an immigrant rights group recently said, “It seems really clear to us that this is an escalation of retaliation, not just against individual rights leaders, but against the right of the movement to exist.”
Friends, I am writing to ask you today to use the power of your voice in a way that can impact the stories that only find their way to the back page. Call the NYC ICE Field Office (212-264-4213). Ask them to release Ravi Ragbir. If you are from New York, call Senator Chuck Schumer’s office (212-486-4430) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s office (212-688-6262). If you are from Connecticut, call Senator Chris Murphy (860-549-8463) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (860-258-6940). Ask them to work for the release of Ravi Ragbir from detention and deportation.
The power of our voice cannot be underestimated even when we are frustrated by the lack of accountability for the words spoken by our own President. We are a people of grace. A people of hope. A people of justice. A people of the gospel. These beliefs have impacted people to change the world. It is time for those beliefs to find their way to the front page of human history once again.
It is time for the headlines to change.
Last week, CNN reporter Anderson Cooper, spoke about the people of Haiti. “Haitians slap your hand hard when they shake it. They look you in the eye, they do not blink. They stand tall. They have dignity.”
On behalf of the church I have been blessed to travel to dozens of states, territories, and countries. I have seen the poorest of the poor, witnessed the effects of killer diseases, and observed people who have suffered the effects of political injustice and natural disaster far more than anyone ever should. But in those places, in each and every one of those places, I have also seen the resiliency of the human spirit, the faith of the human soul, and the dignity of the human being. These are good people, people who long for and deserve the same kind of rights and privileges that we take for granted. They are a part of God’s creation, and have been given heartbeat and breath just as we have. They do not deserve to be treated any less than we are and, most certainly, do not deserve to be categorized with harmful, offensive, and racist words.
There is space on the front page for another headline. It is a story about justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God. It is a story that can change the story on the back page. It’s a story that can change the world.
Let’s write that story together.
The Journey Continues, . . .
Peace & Joy,
Thomas J. Bickerton