“IF YOU DON’T THINK RACISM EXISTS, YOU’RE WHITE”


was a button slogan handed out by the Chicago Theological Seminary at the recent UCC Synod meeting in Cleveland where Racism was the subject of two resolutions passed by the delegates.


One resolution called for “Dismantling Discriminatory Systems of Mass Incarceration in the United States” by identifying mass incarceration as a critical human and civil rights issue because of its disproportionate impact on people of color, youth, and limited economic resources.


The facts prompting this resolution are very shocking: The U.S. with 5% of the global population accounts for 25% of the world’s prison population, more than any other country in the world. More than 2.2 million people are currently incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails, while 5 million are on probation or parole. There are more people under “correctional supervision” in America now than there were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin. Also, this prison population is far from representative of the nation’s population as a whole. For example, while African American males comprise 6% of the U.S. population, they make up 40% of those in prison or jail.   African American males have a 32% chance of serving time at some point in their lives, Hispanic males a 17% chance, compared to white male’s 6% chance. There are more black men in the grip of the criminal system than were in slavery in the 1850’s. Also, prisons and jails have become the “new asylums” as the number of individuals with severe mental illness in prisons and jails (350,000+) exceeds the number in state psychiatric hospitals (35,000)by a factor of ten. People with mental health conditions comprise 64% of jail population nationwide.


A second resolution called for the Dismantling of “The New Jim Crow”, a term used by Professor Michelle Alexander in her new book of the same name. Again, the facts supporting the resolution are very disturbing. The War on Drugs has primarily targeted blacks who are disproportionately targeted for prosecution and incarceration. While drug use among Blacks is no more than Whites, in seven states, 90 % of people imprisoned for drug offenses are Black. Thus the saying,” If you White and caught doing drugs, you go to college; if you are Black, you go to jail”. To make matters worse, once people of color are caught in the criminal system, it is very difficult to fully re-enter society resulting in permanent caste of second-class citizens who, once labeled a felon, can not vote, serve on juries, and are ineligible for federal assistance. No wonder the recidivism rate for ex-felons is around 66% and why there are so relatively few Black males in many poor Black communities.


Racism is a factor, and probably the factor, behind the New Jim Crow and the system of Mass Incarceration. Whites tend to think about Racism only on occasion, people of color think about it every day. These resolutions are intended to mobilize members of the UCC to join the growing movement of faith and community organizations to understand modern racism, to dismantle the New Jim
Crow, and stop mass incarceration and the growth of the prison-industrial complex.


Here at First Church, the Adult Education Team is offering a discussion on Modern Racism by inviting the following speakers:

Thursday, September17th, co-sponsoring with Bay Path University, Boston author Debra Irving, who will discuss her new book ”Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race”.


Sunday, September 20, author and professor Jason Sokol from Longmeadow, who will discuss his new book “All Eyes Are Upon Us” which deals with Race and Politics from Boston to Brooklyn, including a chapter on the “Springfield Plan “ for combating Racism in the 1940’s.


Sunday , October 25th, Professor Richard Anderson from Springfield College will talk about his book, “ A Home Run for Bunny”, the inspiring story of anti-racism action demonstrated in Springfield in the 1930’s.


Clobbering the Scriptures

“Clobbering Scripture Saints of the Church, and Bible Interpretation”


Scripture:  Romans 16:1-16


Dr. Jay examines the role of women in the early church by looking at the end of Paul’s letter to the Romans. In it he greets and thanks many women and men who are Christian leaders.  He looks at verses Dr. Jay says scholars and preachers have used to clobber other people and silence them, or demean them by using the scriptures to accuse them of sinning.  He offers some principles in Bible interpretation and will look at passages that seem to contradict one another – what do we do with them?  Why has the church history been dominated by male leadership?  How can progressive Christians understand this history of Bible interpretation?


Living in Glass Houses

 “Living in Glass Houses”


Scripture:  John 8:1-11


Dr. Jay preaches  on an unnamed woman, this one often called “the woman who committed adultery.”  Dr. Jay prefers to call her “The woman who received the grace of forgiveness.”  In this sermon, explore the challenges of living with people who do “bad things” just like we do.  How do we relate to one another when a wrong is committed? What does it mean to forgive someone? How do we experience being forgiven? What happens when we are tempted to throw a few rocks at others?


Refusing to be Shamed

Scripture:  Esther 1:1-22

Pastor Marisa continues the Women of the Bible preaching series with a sermon looking at a little-known character in the book of Esther, Queen Vashti.  Esther goes on after her to become the Queen of Persian and saves the Jewish people from genocide in that kingdom. But she could never have played that role if it weren’t for Queen Vashti first, who was banished from the throne for refusing to be shamed by the King.  Vashti embodies what any man or woman experiences when victimized by sexual harrassment from someone in power over them, and models courageous faithfulness to what is right.


There’s No Place Like Home

Dr. Jay preaches on Mary, the mother of Jesus

“There’s No Place Like Home”

Scripture: Mark 3:19-35, Mark 6:1-6a 

Dr. Jay invites an honest assessment of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Was she perpetually a virgin? What about her title in church history as “Bearer of God/Mother of God?”  Was she conceived herself without sin? Should we pray to Mary? What are we to think about her, and why does it matter?


I Am Really Thirsty!

Dr. Jay preached on the Woman at the Well:

“I Am Really Thirsty!”  


Scripture:  John 4:1-42

One of the amazing sites to visit in the Holy Land is Jacob’s well where the conversation takes place between Jesus and a Samaritan woman. They have a sparring match which includes misunderstandings and secrets being revealed, challenges to tradition and amazing grace.  Dr. Jay asks us to consider: Are you thirsty for a different quality of life? Aren’t you hungry to have a more vital relationship with God? Aren’t you tired of stressed and strains, the rat race and  the frenetic pace of life? Why ot sit down with Jesus for a drink of refreshing water?


Preaching to the Preachers

Scripture:  John 20:1-18

Dr. Jay takes a provocative look at Mary Magdalene, maligned by some bible commentators over the centuries, but reconsidered by many in recent decades.  Did she marry Jesus and have his children? What about the recent discoveries of extra Biblical stories about her and Jesus? Who was she? What are the implications of her story for us?  From dogma to Broadway stage, Dr. Jay considers this faithful woman and what she can teach us.




Taken: A Sermon About Bathsheba

Pastor Marisa continues the summer sermon series on Women of the Bible preaching about Bathsheba, the second wife of King David.  She is often considered to have seduced David, bringing them into an adulterous relationship that was punished by God. But what do the scriptures actually say? Did Bathsheba even have a choice?  Pastor Marisa invites us to experience the scriptures as closer to us than we might think, making visible our own traumatic experiences of sexual violence, betrayal, murder of someone we love, loss of a child, voicelessness . . . in stories like this one.


Scripture:          2 Samuel 11:1-15                             




Forever Friends: A Sermon on Ruth and Naomi

First Church member Rev. Ute Schmidt joined Pastors Jay and Marisa in preaching on Women of the Bible.

Scripture: the book of Ruth 1:1-18, the beginning of the story of Naomi, Ruth and Orpah. The book of Ruth tells us a story about love and fidelity, of how Ruth, a Moabite widow in a Jewish family brings her widowed mother-in-law back to enjoying life.  In her sermon, Pastor Ute invites us to reflect on the meaning of friendship and commitment that transcends traditional structures of family relationships.


Not Choosing Sides

By now many  of you have heard or read that the United Church of Christ voted Tuesday, June 30th at its General Synod Meeting in Cleveland to approve a resolution calling for divestment from companies that profit from Israel’s control of the West Bank and to boycott  products made in the West Bank. The vote was 508 in favor and 124 against with 38 abstentions.  As an appointed delegate for the Mass Conference, I , along with Rev. Marisa Brown Ludwig, was able to participate in this historic vote.

I knew beforehand that this resolution was likely to be the most significant resolution facing the Synod. I was instructed to study the resolution carefully beforehand but not to decide my vote until the Synod meeting.  The polity of the Synod is not as a representative, democratic process but rather to study an issue collectively and try to listen for the voice of Still Speaking God.  The arguments for the resolution were many and powerful:  the many cruel and unjust treatments of the Palestinians by the Israel government,  the vote by the Mass Conference recently at its annual meeting to  support the resolution, a letter circulated at the meeting from Archbishop Desmond Tutu  endorsing the resolution, the argument from one Jewish supporter at the meeting that standing up to injustices against the Palestinians or anyone else was the best way to prevent another holocaust,  and,  from another liberal Jew, that voting Yes would  would make it easier for other progressive Jews to try to change the policy of the  Israeli government.

On the other hand,  I heard that when the Presbyterian Church voted 310 to 303 in  June 2014 to endorse divestment, that several hundred Palestinians lost their jobs working at Sodastream in West Bank,  and that many relationship[s between Presbyterian pastors and Jewish colleagues were cut off.  I personally felt that an article in the Christian Century last August by Peter Pettit, Director of the Institute for Jewish-Christian Understanding, entitled “On not Choosing Sides”  made a lot of sense and I later quoted from it.

When the time came Tuesday morning to vote on the  resolution, I decided to stand up publicly and speak at the “against” microphone.  In essence I said “that as a physician, when faced with a difficult decision, I tried to follow the dictum  “do no harm”.   Both Jews and Palestinians live with the mortal fear of loosing their identity, legitimacy, and ties to their homeland  When  people have these  fears , anything that bolsters the case being made against them ends up contributing to the conflict, not to the resolution of it.  Focusing just on the evils of the occupation, which are real and many, ignores other deadly forces in the region.  Since we have not walked in the shoes or sandals of the Jews or Palestinians, I don’t think that we are in a position to choose sides.  Let us not be guilty of causing harm.  I encourage you to vote NO.”

That evening I called my best Jewish friend back in Longmeadow and gave him an update about the vote.  I tried to reassure him that the UCC Synod criticism of the Israel government is not anti-Semitism, that First Church had not been asked to vote on the resolution, and that the two delegates from First Church did not support the resolution. I told him that I would be trying to support other actions that would encourage the principal parties to believe that they have more to gain from risking peace than continuing the status quo and the occupation.

My Jewish friend seemed very appreciate that I had sought him out to share my thoughts and feelings.  I would encourage you to do the same with your Jewish friends and help keep the good interfaith relationships we have in Longmeadow strong.

Mark Pohlman