Dear Candler community,
By now you will have received another letter from me today, sent to the entire Emory community as part of my role as interim provost of the university. I also wanted to write to you specifically, members of my own “home community.” The content of both letters is equally authentic, but at Candler, we share a history, a vision, and theological commitments that frame the conversation slightly differently.
I write to you in grief and anger over the murders of Ahmaud Arbery near Brunswick, Georgia, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, and George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. They are but the most recent—and publicized—of our Black sisters and brothers to be killed by those who hold, or think they should hold, power. As dean of Candler, I want to say to our Black students, alumni, staff, and faculty: I see you. I mourn with you. I stand with you for the protection of Black lives and share in your righteous rage at the brutal, systemic racism that terrorizes people of color. I give thanks for all the gifts you bring to our community.
Surely this is a time for lament and outrage. It is also a time for recommitment. Even though I have actively advocated for racial equality and justice for much of my life, as a white woman in leadership, I acknowledge that I am part of a larger system of oppression in ways I do not fully grasp. In this moment, I and other white people must renew our commitment to invest the time and effort to listen, learn, and take action to dismantle white supremacy. To work daily to counter hatred, reject intolerance, and confront systemic racism with courage, conviction, and creativity.
Candler School of Theology has been at the forefront of social justice and change for a long time—the 1957 “Ministers’ Manifesto” signed by white Atlanta clergy including many Candler alumni, the student-organized die-in protest in response to the police killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner in 2014, the student-led protest of Emory Hospital to advocate for a kidney transplant for Baby AJ in 2017, and ongoing conversations about justice in our community that have led to a more diverse faculty and internal structural changes. We have not always gotten it right, and we are still far from where we want to be. The sin of white supremacy is subtle and insidious. Yet we think it is better to have open conversation and make mistakes than to remain silent and act as though nothing is gravely wrong in our country and our institutions. I give thanks for the many brave voices raised across the years in Candler classrooms, worship, Con Ed sites, and beyond that have pushed us forward, challenging us to take on difficult issues with deeper comprehension, courage, and compassion.
I also give thanks for Candler alumni who are leading parishes and ministries to be the hands and feet of Christ throughout our broken world. In Minneapolis during this gut-wrenching past week, alumni have been instruments of peace, healing, and prophetic witness in their own ways and in their own contexts. One of these is Ingrid Rasmussen 10T, pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, which sits near the center of the protests spurred by the police murder of George Floyd. Holy Trinity has partnered with other organizations to serve as a medic station during the protests and a site for residents and neighbors to donate and receive supplies. Other alums are Tyler Sit 14T, pastor of New City Church, located just a few blocks from Holy Trinity, and Laquaan Malachi 19T, pastor of North United Methodist Church. They organized and spoke at an online prayer and protest vigil for Mr. Floyd that was attended by 400 in real time and viewed by thousands more since then. New City also launched a fundraising campaign to help those in their neighborhood rebuild and to support additional anti-racism programming. The work is continuing and changing every day. And we know there are many more alumni in many more places working in this moment to bring hope and healing, challenge and change.
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, we are still connected, and must remain so to fight the pandemic of racism that has plagued our nation for 400 years. I want to make you aware of two opportunities for us to grieve together:
- Friday, June 5 at 4:00 p.m. EDT: Emory’s Office of Spiritual and Religious Life will host an online vigil of solidarity in remembrance of victims of racist violence.
- Sunday, June 7 at 4:30 p.m. EDT: Candler’s Black Student Caucus will host a worship service of lament. The Zoom link can be found in the email sent to the Candler community.
I pray that in grieving together, we will be transformed and reinvigorated to work alongside God and each other for the transformation of the world.
Grace and peace,
Interim Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, Emory University
Mary Lee Hardin Willard Dean and Professor of Christianity and World Politics, Candler School of Theology