Preaching the Installation of Dr. Stephen G. Ray at Chicago Theological Seminary
The American Exorcism
I am never ready to throw people away. I believe deeply in the power of redemption. Until the moment of death, there is always an opportunity for healing and restoration. Yet, this healing and restoration can only come when truth is spoken and the pain that caused the broken relationship is exposed to the light.
It reminds me of the many times that Jesus healed folks by calling out the demons within them; freedom and liberation could only come when the demon (illness, disease, shame, pain, etc…) was called out. It was an exorcism that allowed the person suffering to be set free. The exorcism allowed relationships to be restored and the person who was bound by the demon to be welcomed back into their community.
The moment has come for healing in our nation. Just like in times of old, we must first do an exorcism. I am progressive in my theological understanding that has been filled with the Holy Spirit. My progressive nature might fight with my Pentecostal tendencies on occasion, but right now they are in deep agreement. Our nation is in trouble. Some would say that it is Donald Trump or Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell or it is the Tea Party or the conservatives. Focusing on an individual is not completely sufficient. We have to do deeper; we have to go to the root. In this case, the root may be demonic forces that desire to destroy the soul of our people and of our nation.
The policies that have come from our current administration have never been intended to bless the masses, but to instead curse them. We watched as the latest version of the Congressional Republicans’ health care bill failed but would have resulted in 33 million people losing their healthcare. Passions ran so high that President Trump publicly threatened members of his own party. If Republican Senators did not fall in line and vote in favor of a bill, that would ultimately cause many Americans to fall in bad health or worse to lose their lives, their careers as politicians would be in jeopardy.. A budget has been proposed that will destroy Medicaid by cutting of 11 million people from healthcare including seniors who need nursing home care and sick children. In addition, a cut in Snap benefits will cut food programs that feed poor children. There is a plan to cut social security disability that will cut off disability benefits for those with a severe chronic or terminal illness. There is also a proposal to cut pell grants for our young adults to get a higher education. Inside the budget are increases for defense spending so we can kill more people; increase spending on border protections and prisons that will hold more of our undocumented siblings; and perpetuate the increased militarization of local police forces and increase mass incarceration of communities of color but in particular the African American community. This budgets priority is very clear. PROFITS OVER PEOPLE!!!! This is not the way of God. It is contrary to the will of God.
Daily, I wrestle with the fact that as a Christian I serve a God that gave. This God gave life, gave the earth, gave the water, gave the air, gave freedom, gave liberty and when we as humans messed up gave us His Son so we could be reconciled with God. This Son that God gave us, healed people (free of charge), fed people (free of charge), educated people (free of charge), and delivered people (free of charge). As a child, He spent time as an undocumented immigrant in the land of Egypt when His step-father received a message to leave the land that they were living because it was no longer safe for them. So He went with His parents through a desert to come into land that was not His own. In addition, he would eventually spend time in prison, be beaten, tortured and killed for a crime that he did not commit. Yet, despite the worst treatment by humanity, he gave Himself for us all.
What have we learned?????
We are not following Christ’s example. We claim to be people of faith and guided by faith, but the policies espoused by our leaders reflects a chasm with what God did and what God said. A rally won’t make things right. We need to go to the root of the problem if we want to see lasting change.
I believe we are in a moment we need to perform an exorcism, a calling out of those forces that are destroying our families. To call out the demons by speaking truth about the forces influencing our nation’s leaders. We need truth telling and a willingness to walk in courage. For the sake of our children and all things we hold dear, we have to take action. Jesus came that we might have life and that more abundantly, but far too many will live in scarcity and deepening poverty if our country moves in its current direction.
We must call out:
greed that supports putting profits over people;
white supremacy that manifests itself as hate policies that attack people of color
and work to keep Muslims out of the country,
arrogance that asserts that money is real power,
policies that say the earth is disposable,
fear that somehow the diversity of our communities are destructive instead of healing,
hate that is celebrated instead of repented,
and all the many forces that move people to exclusion not inclusion.
If we are all created in the image and likeness of the Divine then whenever I oppress my sibling I am in fact oppressing the work of the Creator.
We are called to be a Beloved Community where all of God’s creation can live in harmony and appreciate the diversity of creation. I believe we need a strong vision and story of our world where all are welcome but to get there...we have to deal with the evil within.
Let us continue to Change the Damn World until it is a Beloved Community for ALL.
Those that have ears...
“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy* that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matthew 7:12-14 (NRSV)
"Those that have ears. Let them hear what the spirit is saying.." Mark 4:9 (NRSV)
In this moment I am longing to feel despair…
I am longing to feel hopeless…
I am longing to feel something other than numb.
Tonight, it appears that sexism has won.
Tonight, it appears that racism has won.
Tonight, it appears heterosexism has won.
Tonight, it appears that misogyny has won.
Tonight, it appears that xenophobia has won.
Tonight, it appears that environmental injustice has won.
Tonight, it appears that white male privilege has won.
Tonight, it appears that the evangelical church has won.
There are those who are longing for a word from God. I think God has spoken but not in the way you might think. I am reminded from 12 step programs that those who are addicted to drugs/alcohol will often not get help until they have hit rock bottom. America has not hit rock bottom but is clearly on its way.
I was coming home from work this afternoon with my youngest daughter and one of her friends. They had been helping me phone bank to remind people to vote on Monday and Tuesday. As we were walking to the Metro station to catch the train she began to ask me about moving to Canada. She was concerned that if Trump won he would send us back to Africa. I asked her to which country in Africa would he send us since we do not know from which country we came. Her question resonated a deep fear. I told her I would challenge anyone who questioned our citizenship as Americans. Our roots go back many generations, including those that built this country against their will. In that moment, I was angry that my child was scared. My beautiful, 12 year old, who had been taught that she could be anything and do anything that she wanted in this world in that moment felt the crushing limitations of her race and gender. Surely, the people of America would not let this happen to her. Surely, I would not let this happen to her. Surely, the fear she was feeling….is now happening to her... Damn…
Now let me be clear, I am not without hope. God is still God and has seen this world through despots, megalomaniacs and purely evil leaders before. Although, usually there is a great human costs that goes with these times. I do not want to suggest that the Divine allows this to happen but even in the sacred texts of our faith tradition (for me that would be Christianity) evil has arisen and it was used as a tool to call the people back to God. Now I am going to interpret this differently than my evangelical brother and sisters. I believe Donald Trump shows us the worst of what it means to be an American and I beleive the church that supported him shows what happens when human beings make theology in their own image. Deeply faithful people voted for a man that is sexist, racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, homophobic and war mongering. In the end, their vote reflects their faith. Somehow this does not seem to represent the God that I read in the text, especially the Christian texts called the New Testament. I am reminded that Jesus tells us that we must go the narrow way. I have never interpreted the narrow way as the easy way of just following along creating Christian robots in our wake. I believe the narrow way is the way of love. I believe the essence of our faith is about love that embraces all that this election wants us to hate. I believe the narrow way is not about fear and condemnation but about the love of God. I believe the narrow way calls us to truth telling and confession that creates healing and wholeness. I believe the narrow way calls us to care deeply about the other. I believe the narrow way embraces my 12 year old and shows her possibilities not fear. I am more committed now than ever that Love will win. I will not allow an anemic faith, full of fear and hate be the guide for my life or my family’s.
Tonight, I renew the call I offered some months ago to gather those who would be prophets in this generation. Not just those that want to give a word but those that will do a work, put their hands to the plow and not look back. Right now we need Prophets that will speak truth to power unequivocally and will speak truth to the people as well. We also need to be organized. It is evident that we need a major course correction. I am looking for folks that know “Love Wins”. I am not talking about an easy love where we all just feel good being together and everyone is happy. I am talking about a love that strives to go deep with honesty, agitation and truth so that we can build the Beloved Community of God.
In a few hours, I will get up and go to the office and work to “Change the Damn World” who will join me?
Grace and Peace,
+Dwayne D. Royster
Many have been asking me about leaving Living Water UCC and POWER to head to DC. Yes, I am leaving Living Water later this month and POWER shortly thereafter to become the Political Director of the PICO (People Improving Communities through Organizing) National Network in Washington, DC. PICO is the nation’s largest Faith Based Organizing Movement. For those that know me well this is not much of a surprise. I was a Political Science major when I started Boston College almost 20 years ago. Politics and Activism/Advocacy/Organizing have been important to me since my childhood. My faith has been equally important to me longer than politics. Finally, I am able to work deeply at the intersection of two of my passions to bring about healing and hope for a broken world.
Some have asked about what church I will be pastoring. I am not. In my new role I will be serving as a Public Theologian in the midst of our Nation’s Capital. In addition, later this year, I will be installed as the Presiding Bishop of Higher Ground Christian Fellowship International. My mentor Bishop Kermit L. Newkirk, Jr. will be retiring from the role as Presiding Bishop. I look forward to serving the church in that new capacity. As a matter of faith practice, I am working with a collaborative of faith leaders from around the country on the creation of an Ecumenical Religious Order committed to a charism of Social Justice as Spiritual Discipline and Spiritual Practice. The early conversations have been exciting and I look forward to helping establish this new body. Please keep this effort in your prayers. If you are interested in learning more about the order, please email me at email@example.com. I would be glad to share with you the plans in more detail. My family and I will be looking for a UCC church in the MD/DC area to call home. Pray for us as a seek a place where we can finally sit together during worship and delight in the Lord.
It has been a hard decision to leave both of these organizations and head to DC. Yet, I am feeling called to our nation’s capital for such a time as this. There is much going on in the world that requires faith voices to speak truth to power and demand justice in the land. For that reason, I feel called in this moment…this Kairos moment. I am not one who believes that faith should not be engaged in the political realm. I am not sure how anyone could read the sacred texts of the Christian tradition and not see that faith has always engaged the empire in one way or another. For many communities all across this nation there is great pain. As the Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman asked in his book Jesus and the Disinherited, “What does our faith have to say to people with their backs up against the wall?” For far too long the church has been a sleeping giant. It is time to “Wake Up!” God has always had a remnant that has lifted a witness for Justice but now we need the whole of the many faith traditions and communities across our nation to become engaged. Good people who do nothing in the face of injustice are not good people! We must work to challenge the narratives and stories that have anesthetized our faith traditions into a dreamless slumber that does not even produce rest. We do not need a sleeping giant but instead a massive army of faith people in a cacophony of voices that calls this nation to its better self. A massive army that draws our faith communities out of the walls of their institutions and to care for the greater community that surrounds them. A call to care for all of God’s creation!
So I head to Washington to be Faith Warrior. To fight for a Moral Economy! To Fight for Racial Justice! To fight for an end to Mass Incarceration! To Fight for a Pathway to Citizenship! To Fight for Climate and Environmental Justice! To fight for issues yet to be named!
Please join me I continue my efforts to Change the Damn World!
Grace and Peace,
Day of Service vs. Day of Action
There's no doubt in my mind that this particular blog post will get me in trouble with a lot of people. Every year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, there continues to be an ongoing debate about a Day of Service versus a Day of Action. In my mind this should never be a debate. Not once do we ever see Dr. King wielding a paintbrush, sweeping the street nor do we see Dr. King doing service projects. What we do see is Dr. King in Action. He is marching, protesting, praying, preaching, being arrested, writing and meeting with the powers that be. The idea that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr day would become a day of service is in itself a nod to the systemic racism and the deep paralysis that this country has around conversations of race and systemic change. Service does not change racist systems but Action does!
Over the course of this weekend, I once again (as a part of a spiritual practice) read Dr. King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail . I'm reminded of the deep necessity for us especially in this age, to be about Action and not just about service. Don't get me wrong service projects are critically important to the ongoing work of our communities. Many of these service projects exist because of the failure of those in political and business leadership to fulfill their responsibilities to local communities; in particular communities of color. I'm deeply troubled that in this age of income inequality; deep racial divisions; the privatization and profiteering off the bodies of black and brown folk that results in mass incarceration and mass deportation; to the violent ways in which we are tearing apart our environment; and treating so many classes of people who are marginalized (think Flint, Michigan) in such in such deeply oppressive ways that we think of honoring Dr. King with a Day of Service is well....insulting. All the service in the world does not change the issues that I mention in a systemic way. Why have we chosen to sanitize the memory of Dr. King into a happy go lucky you feel good, I feel good idea. He was radical. He pushed boundaries. He fought with love. If we really honored him we would do the very same things he did. Put our bodies on the line to change the damn world.
This week the denomination to which I belong, the United Church of Christ, released a video about my friend and colleague in the fight for justice,The Rev. Traci Blackmon. I have placed that video at the end of this blog. Rev. Blackmon is the new Executive Minister for Justice and Witness Ministries in the United Church of Christ. She is also one of the key clergy and organizers that supported the Ferguson community after Mike Brown was killed in August 2014. This video is a reminder to us about why we need to protest in this hour. The radical revolutionary faith, in which I belong, calls me to action. At the head of my faith is the revolutionary Savior by the name of Jesus. This Jesus was a disruptive presence and power in Palestine, some two millennia ago. Jesus reminds me over and over again that the call for people of faith is to never be satisfied with oppression and inequity in any form. We must protest using our voices, our feet, are hands, our minds, our words and our actions to stand up for righteousness and justice in this land. I implore you to join me as I follow the Rev. Traci Blackmon and many others who are putting not only their voices but their bodies on the line every single day to change the damn world. Join me in this hour as we seek to build the beloved community where All thrive not just a few.
Moving into 2016-Disruption
Yesterday, I was browsing through the Facebook posts of my friends and was struck by two posts from colleagues/friends that disrupted my spirit. The first post was from my colleague and friend Jude-Laure Denis, Executive Director of POWER Northeast, the faith-based organizing movement in the Lehigh Valley, PA area. Jude challenged us to wrestle with what we were really going to do about the non-indictments around Sandra Bland and Tamir Rice.as well as all of the other people of color who have been killed at the hands of police. Are we just going to use Facebook to show our outraged and say a few things to our friends and never really do anything to change the situation? Or are we prepared to put our bodies on the line to do something that's going to be powerful, transformative and perhaps even dangerous to change the circumstances of what's happening to dark skinned bodies/lives in our country. It continues to appear that black lives/black bodies do not matter. The status quo has not changed for police departments across the country. Despite the protests, the die-ins and other forms of action that have occurred the police are actively killing people of color with no fear of reprisal from the criminal justice system. This is deeply disturbing! It is wearing on our souls. What are we going to do?
The other post that was speaking to me was from my friend, fraternity brother and former professor, Dr. Stephen Ray. Dr. Ray was reaching out primarily to academics on his Facebook post asking them what they were going to do about transformation considering the racialized moment we live in. Many of his colleagues who responded were of multiple racial identities and nationalities as well as across the spectrum of theological understandings and denominational perspectives. However, one a particular response stuck out was that of Dr. Dirk Lange, my former worship professor at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Dr. Lange talked about his Intro. to Liturgical Theology class. He was trying to figure out how to address this issue and spoke about my class some many years ago in Philadelphia. What I remember from Dr. Lange's class has actually helped me to think about where I'm going in 2016. In class, Dr. Lange, talked about worship as "Disruption." That worship was disruption in the distance between humanity and divinity. It was a disruption between everyday life and sacred moments in our lives. Worship was a disruption of the norm. It occurs to me that in this moment of time, in which we People of Color and our Allies find ourselves, that the role of the Faith Community is to disrupt until real changes comes. If "All of God's Children cannot find Peace then none of us do!"
Moving in the 2016, I believe the only way the transformation actually will occur is when Faith Communities stand up, use their Moral Authority and power to disrupt the Status Quo until "All" are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve as children of the Most High God. In my theological beliefs that includes "Everyone" but especially those that have been oppressed, marginalized, dispossessed, discriminated against, dehumanized, etc. It has appeared that backroom negotiations and meetings are failing. Traditional actions and protests are failing. The only way real transformation take place is when we will disrupt and do so over and over again. It's not just about blocking streets. It's not just about protesting City Council meetings. It will not be just about Die -Ins. What the last year has taught us is if you want real transformation we must disrupt the economic forces in this country. Oligarchy only responds when it finances are being attacked and people will put their bodies on the line to make that point.
In my conversation with Jude, as well as reflecting on the conversation Dr. Ray was having with his colleagues on Facebook, I'm reminded that the purpose of our faith traditions is to disrupt. That we should not to be so close to Empire (chaplains of the empire that provide an opiate to the people so the empire can lord over them) that we become we become the barrier to real transformation and change in this country and world. What we need right now is a militant church. I'm not talking about a violent church. What we need is a transformative church. We need a church that's willing to put its body on the line in the same way that Jesus put his body on the line some 2000 years ago to change the damn world. This is not a comfortable place. It will not be a place for those that are satisfied in their privilege and will turn a blind eye to the suffering of their brothers and sisters across the country. This will be a place for those that believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ commands us to be radicals, aiming to change the world so that the beloved community can come into existence. I'm not talking about violent revolution. I'm not talking about killing or destroying human bodies or souls. What I am talking about is a church that's not willing to be the complicit in the land. A church that is not willing to be a chaplain of the empire. I'm not talking about a church that this willing to go along to get along. I'm not talking about a church that's willing to sell their soul for a few dollars from a faith-based initiative. I'm talking about the Church of Jesus Christ! The church that will turn over the money tables in the Temple. The church that will challenge both the religious elite as well as the political elite and speak truth to power. I'm talking about a militant church that speaks radical truth to the people. A message that says, if you want your freedom sometimes you must be willing to put your body on the line to get it. If the founder of our faith, Jesus, was willing to do it then why would we not be willing to do the same.
I believe that I serve the Sovereign God of the Universe, Creator of Heaven and Earth who has all power in God's divine hands. Since this is the case, why would I live beneath my privilege as a child of God? To allow myself and my human siblings to be demeaned and disrespected is to allow the God within us all to be demeaned and disrespected. To allow others to think that they are better than me because of the color of their skin or because of their social class is to believe that God doesn't love me, does not intend the best for me and God's affection is only for select few people. This is not the God that I believe in nor is it the God that I serve. But the God that I serve is the one who healed the leper, hung out with the Woman at the Well, challenged both the religious elite and political elite, threw respectability out the window and willingly died a sinner's death so that humanity could be set free from the bondage of a world gone mad.
So in 2016, I plan on being a Militant Christian committed to the radical calling of the Divine to be both an Agent of Change and an Ambassador of Reconciliation that will disrupt this world until change comes.
I am out to Change the Damn World.
Join me in the journey.
God Bless and Amen!
Some Images from 2015
Closing out the Year 2015
I did not know what to expect at the beginning of 2015. In my congregation we began the year by talking about a journey to wholeness. Somewhere in the middle of the year I began to realize that the pain of the world was so vast it would be complicated to talk about wholeness in the midst of such brokenness. I struggled even as I watched my sisters and brothers struggling around the country both black, brown, white, yellow and red. Our communities were being torn apart by racism and prejudice by xenophobia and by all manner of things that were just absolutely heartbreaking.
As we close out 2015 we are haunted by the decisions to not prosecute police in the case of Tamir Rice, disappointed in the actions of the court in Texas in the case of Sandra Bland, still waiting for justice for Mike Brown, still waiting for justice for Eric Garner, still waiting for justice for Freddie Gray, still waiting for justice for those killed at Mother Emmnauel AME in Charelston, SC, still waiting for justice for so many names that we don't even know and that will never see the light of day.
Yet despite all of this, I still have hope. At the root of my hope is my faith that says it is often darkest before the dawn. It is dark right now but the dawn will break and Joy will come in the morning light. So, I have hope that 2016 will be better than 2015 and that the losses that we took in 2015 for racial and economic justice will be turned into rallying cries that cause us to have great victories in 2016 and beyond.
I'm still fighting for $15 an hour in Pennsylvania and in Philadelphia.
I'm still fighting for full fair funding formula for every school district in the state of Pennsylvania.
I'm still fighting for undocumented immigrants, my siblings in Almighty God, to be welcomed in America.
I'm still fighting to end voter ID laws across this country that discriminate against people of color, young people, immigrants and homeless veterans.
I'm still fighting for racial justice to see that the police no longer have free opportunity to brutalize dark skinned bodies of men and women across this country.
I am still fighting for the end of mass incarceration and the profiteering off of black and brown bodies in privatized prisons.
I'm still fighting to make sure that the LGBTQ community still has every right to live as full citizens in this country and not be discriminated against.
I'm still fighting to make sure that this earth is not exploited to the point of our extinction.
Despite the rhetoric that we have heard from the political right over the last year I am still hopeful that 2016 will show us a country that has progressive ideas. That the voice of the everyday people are just as powerful as the oligarchs with conservative ideas that would drive us back into the Stone Age. I also have hope that the people of God would show up more powerfully so that this year we can do more to "Change the Damn World."
Some days I'm tired. Some days I might even look like I lose hope. As long as the light of God continues to shine within me even in those darkest moments I will continue to believe that our better days are yet in front of us and that the past days are just building blocks towards building the "Beloved Community." I invite you to join me in welcoming 2016 to be the most powerful year of our lives where we see real change, offer real hope, rebuild our communities and our country for the better.
Thank you for staying on the journey with me!
God Bless You All! Amen!
Bishop Dwayne D. Royster, a leading voice in modern faith-based activism, wants to change the world. Whether he is serving as a pastor, challenging the status quo as a political activist, educating and empowering communities as a radio show host, or encouraging and inspiring audiences around the country as a writer and public speaker, Bishop Royster’s work is fueled by deep faith and passionate commitment to bringing about social justice.