2015: Responding to Racial Injustice in our Communities

Good Friday

2015: Responding to Racial Injustice in our Communities
The cross remains a symbol of our faith and our calling to love one another.


O God of love, struggle, and reconciliation, on this most holy of days, imbue us with Your divine will to fight for justice. Help us to remember those who, like Jesus, experience the corruption and brutality of oppressive systems created with the intention of benefiting the powerful. As we commemorate today, O Lord, the trial and death of Your Son Jesus Christ, who resisted the powers of his day that targeted marginalized minority groups, trouble our hearts with the parallels between Jesus’ time and the brutal realities of our own time's systemic criminalization of communities of color. Remind us of our brothers and sisters struggling with the vast race-based inequalities of the criminal justice system. And compel us to pray, study and act for justice to the benefit of all Your people.

Today we pray for the construction of community health care units in Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), for Alexander George and for Aloma Martin. Amen.


Read John: 18-19.

The Good Friday story is a classic story of injustice; not just the injustices that an innocent man faces, but the many ways that people in his community deal with these circumstances. And we have much to learn from this story about how we can conquer injustice in our own era.

There are so many people and responses to injustice represented in the lines of today’s Gospel: Judas, the betrayer, the slave who had his ear severed, the bickering, fleeing and frightened disciples, Simon Peter, who denied Jesus three times, Caiaphas and the Jewish elites who, disagreeing with Jesus’ theology, seized the opportunity to have him killed, Pilate, Rome’s representative, whose indifference and callousness sealed Jesus’ fate, Barabbas, the so-called bandit, Simon of Cyrene, forced to carry Jesus’ cross, the nameless two “criminals” killed alongside Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea, the wealthy Jewish elder who placed Jesus’ body in his own family’s tomb, the soldiers who both mock and were awed by Jesus, and the people in the crowd, who by turns loved, loathed and ultimately called for Jesus’ crucifixion.

Here we can see some of the typical responses to injustice: denial, fear, hiding, embracing it, giving quiet, behind-the-scenes resistance to it, being bystanders who are directly and indirectly implicated in perpetuating it, wrongly condemning people to it, and washing one’s hands of its impacts. Do we see ourselves in any of these responses?


Where do we fit in the story of how injustices play out in our communities today? Are we deniers? Bystanders? Resisters? Studiers? How do we impact the ways justice is carried out in our communities? Are we aware of the number of people being held in American jails and prisons? Do we understand the impacts of mass incarceration on poor people and people of color? Do we condemn people as criminals because of their racial/ethnic identities or because they do not fit into our understandings of the world?

Jesus’ life is a witness to resisting injustice through love. This is the work we are to do as his followers. And it is hard and necessary work. How Jesus and his contemporaries in the Good Friday story contend with injustice helps us to see the challenges and hopes of the work we have to do to achieve justice in our world. We are commanded to love all people, period: people in jail and prison, those who have been victimized and their families, loved ones of those facing incarceration, community leaders. Everyone is on the hook for creating broad and deep mechanisms for realizing justice. How we work to reconcile the deep rifts that result from unjust systems and relations is the call for Good Friday and for every day of our lives. Who do you know in your community that is working on racial and criminal justice reconciliation? Are you already doing this work? How might you research local entities doing this work or share your efforts in these areas with your local unit, district or conference?


Use the following resources with a small group to deepen your individual and collective understanding of and work for reconciliation on mass incarceration as a racial justice issue:

  • Revisit the 2012 Reading Program Book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander. “Jim Crow laws were wiped off the books decades ago, but today an astounding percentage of the African-American community is warehoused in prisons or trapped in a permanent, second-class status, much like their grandparents before them. The New Jim Crow challenges the civil rights community and all of us to place mass incarceration at the forefront of a new movement for racial justice in America.”

  • View Michelle Alexander’s call to action for faith communities at a recent talk at Union Theological Seminary.

Janis Rosheuvel is executive for racial justice for United Methodist Women.

Posted or updated: 4/2/2015 12:00:00 AM