August 9, 2019
We are inundated with it.
When we were led by the Spirit to take “Imprints of Peace” as our theme for 2019, we knew that the imprint of violent language (rhetoric used—and too often sanctioned—by those in authority) uttered in public spaces, creates divisions, heightens separatism, and latent tribalism surfaces, revealing suppressed resentments, and unburies violent expressions of hate. The last several years, and the last several days have been wearying on the soul.
More than violent words said, we know that as of this date, 255 separate incidents record 4 or more persons killed or wounded in public spaces this year, in this country. There have been more mass shootings than days of the year so far in 2019. I think of the Garlic Festival in Gilroy, CA, Dayton, Ohio, El Paso, TX, as well as several incidents in Brooklyn, NY (What’s going on in Crown Heights?!), and 250 others incidents not specifically named in this letter.
As people of faith, we know that we are called to demonstrate something radically different. For those who follow Jesus, we pray that we bear an imprint of the Prince of Peace that distinguishes our practices from those not rooted in our faith. This imprint we believe calls us to quell and calm—to remember that we are not our own. After all these years in the faith, and despite what we’ve seen to the contrary, our lives and our witness in Christ remains our hope and our prayer. ABCMNY readers in particular: let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful! 
Our section of the American Baptist family called ABCMNY claims 180+ congregations as a part of our membership. Nineteen (19) of our churches are comprised primarily of Spanish speaking people who identify within the great variety of Latinx cultures and traditions that exist in the world and now in this country. Persons from Latinx churches, week by week, faithfully carryout their faith in worship, service, and fellowship. Even if we don’t always share the same pew at Sunday worship time, they are ours, and we are theirs. In our everyday life outside of worship, we never know who we are sitting next to on the bus or train, walking beside on the street, or bumping into in the marketplace. When we put to rest our assumptions, we don’t know who is and who is not a US citizen. What we do know, simply put, is that we are all a part of the diverse humanity that God has created, sharing space on this earth, in this country, and in our neighborhoods. I suspect all human beings yearn for similar things like security, respect, friendship, love, family, belonging, community, and a peaceful existence.
Privilege is the advantage, immunity, respectability or special rights granted to particular persons or groups because of their external characteristics. Privilege is special favor, meaning higher value assigned or taken. Those who have privilege become particularly apparent in public spaces. As an African American woman, privileged status is not normative for me in most situations. I watch and take notice of how I am treated, watched, spoken to, or avoided in certain settings. Yet, as a pastor and as the regional minister, I have experienced the privileges the position I hold prompts. When welcomed to many of our houses of worship, church folk often bend over backward showing kindness, ushering me to the best spots, insisting that I not wait in line, etc. I am self-conscious about it sometimes, and I try not to expect it, but I must admit it is nice to experience. Privilege has its advantages.
In the public square, the vestiges of privilege diminish for all Black folk, other people of color, or those perceived to be of lesser means. It varies from station to station depending somewhat on how one carries themselves. Some people become invisible in the public square. The opposite is true for others—they are not invisible, but targeted. Their non-white identity makes them a target of hatred, fear, or insecurity that are transformed into menace. Those who are among the most depraved wield weapons that cause psychological, physical, and even mortal harm. Those with social privilege decry, “I didn’t think it could happen in our town or our neighborhood.” Those with less social privilege shudder that it keeps happening with immoral frequency in our lifetimes. So, we huddle together with loved and trusted ones for safety, lament, and solace. Let us use our privilege for good, and to not hide, with bowed heads saying, “What can we do?” We don’t rest on our laurels.
Again, we point you to the pastoral letter by the Rev. Dr. Lee Spitzer, General Secretary of ABCUSA.
But in simpler terms, we are called to remember—and to live out—particularly during times when religious institutions (read Baptist churches) are ridiculed, ignored, have lost their luster, and are looked upon with askance, that WE are called to be ever mindful of the foreboding presence or injustice, to heed our call to do justice, love kindness, and to leave our Imprints of Peace as we walk gently on the earth. I look forward to seeing your footprints around our neighborhoods.
Wash, rinse, repeat.
Rev. Dr. Cheryl F. Dudley
 Hebrews 10:23