We Stand Together

‘We Stand Together’: Rev. John Denson, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Social change is going to take more than changes in legislation — It’s going to take a change of heart and communities standing together to make sure each of us are valued.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church is sharing that message in a big way. News 8’s Katiera Winfrey sat down with Rector John Denson for Tuesday’s “We Stand Together” report.

WINFREY: When you’re driving down Meridian, you can’t miss the church. It’s huge. But there is something else you can’t miss. There is a big sign out front. What was the inspiration behind deciding we were going to put this sign up?

DENSON: So we had the same reaction as some of the other people to George Floyd’s death. And we wanted to respond. And as I said, why not? Because we could’ve responded so much earlier. To any of the other number of deaths that have happened. And we wanted to do it in the simplest way possible. So we thought about what signs we could put up. So we wanted to put just Black Lives Matter because we wanted to make it clear that where we stand as a community of faith and we don’t want to shrink back and just make statements. So, so the other thing and that is the sign in of itself is not sufficient. It’s fine to put up a sign, but the question is, ‘How does that call us as a people to live into the gospel?’

WINFREY: I know a lot of people have this idea when you say Black Lives Matter, in some kind of way you’re devaluing other lives. And I’ve heard that’s not the case. Was that ever something you had to wrap your mind around understanding, that, ‘OK, when we say Black Lives Matter, we’re not saying they matter more than anyone else, but they matter just as much.’ Was that something that was hard to comprehend or took time to comprehend for you?

DENSON: I don’t think, I don’t feel like it took me time to comprehend it, but I know it’s taking time for others. So we’ve certainly had some members of the church who questioned why we wouldn’t put a sign up that says all lives matter. Or neighbors who have called and wondered why we didn’t put up a sign that said all lives matter. Of course our response was well, yes, all lives matter. Of course, all lives matter, but we live in a time in society in which that’s not lived out systemically. In the structures and systems in which we live, all lives are not valued. And so sometimes, you have to name the specific lives that are not being valued in order to claim that they are.

WINFREY: I did a story recently where they talked about how God and how religion really helped motivate people during the Civil Rights Movement, motivated people to stay the course when it came to pushing for social change. Do you believe that the church and religion is going to play another major role in keeping the momentum going and keeping people motivated to push for change?

DENSON: I hope so. In Martin Luther King’s letter from a Birmingham jail, he deeply, deeply criticized the white church for hanging back. For trying to convince him and others in the Civil Rights Movement that they should not be causing trouble. That they should just wait and be patient. And I listened to that recently. It’s just a reminder to myself. We don’t want to pay lip service to something. And I think the church has a role. I think religious people in general have a role. Not just Christians, but Jews and Muslims and people of all faiths. In order to create community. You know the Civil Rights Movement was not simply about changing laws. In part, what Martin Luther King wanted to do was create a beloved community. And we want to create relationships and transform hearts, not just legislation. Because legislation, legislation may make certain actions legal or illegal, but it doesn’t change behavior. When I watched the video of George Floyd, one of the things that I felt was so disturbing was the look on the face of the police officer. Not … it was not a look of hatred; it was not a look of evil; it was a look of indifference.

WINFREY: So you mentioned the time that it took to get the sign out front. Talk about what other steps the church is taking to try to make sure your voices are using to kind of push this movement or push change forward.

DENSON: So we’ve been active a while. So the sign is not the first step for us. What’s important for us is that we are involved and active in this movement. So that this isn’t just a ‘We’ve checked the box.’ We put up a sign now. We’re good. This is going to be a long, long time that we need to be on that. So if you things. One of them, one of our clergy was a leader and an ecumenical clergy to form a group to support the Black Lives Matter protest going on downtown. So he was downtown along with some other clergy from the ecumenical church and other religious denominations to support the protest, standing in front of the protesters, in many cases to protect them. Providing food and water in spiritual care. We also have, over the years, developed relationships through a ministry of ours, Faith Justice in the Arts for the Martin Luther King Center. So we did a gun violence project in partnership with Martin Luther King Center. We have a relationship with School 43. Both of those organizations right here in our ZIP Code. So with the school, we’re providing tutoring, providing support for teachers. All sorts of ways to create relationships because we think that being part of the movement is about how we are grounded in relationships in our neighborhood.

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