Racism is deeply embedded in the life and history of the U.S. Through colonization, slavery and a shameful history of legislative action and judicial pronouncements, our nation created and embraced a system that valued and devalued people based simply on skin color and ethnic identity. People of color were deliberately subjugated for material, political and social advantage. Racism today is the continuing and enduring legacy of this history. There is a growing awareness among Presbyterians that racism is a crisis and must be addressed. The PC(USA) is strongly committed to the struggle for racial justice.
Maxwell Street Presbyterian Church joins in this struggle for racial justice. Racism is the opposite of what God intends for humanity. It is a lie about our fellow human beings, claiming some are less than others. As Christians and as Presbyterians, we believe strongly in the Image of God that lives equally within every human being and in the power of God Incarnate of the human being Jesus Christ, both of which affirm the beloved-ness and value of every human being not in spite of but because of each unique part of who they are. Therefore, we partner with local organizations in advocating for systemic racial justice including the Lexington Fair Housing Council, Kentucky Smart on Crime, the ACLU of KY, the NAACP Lexington-Fayette Branch, Black Soil Life, Kentucky Council of Churches, and B.U.I.L.D. We shape our asks of our local officials around what our partner organizations are asking for and we will show up at community gatherings with these partners in the name of racial equity.
A Racial History Timeline of Maxwell Street Presbyterian Church:
Like the timeline of Maxwell Street’s history in the Fellowship Hall, one half shows the history of the church and the other half shows relevant moments from our country’s and city’s history. This “Racial History” timeline shows relevant moments in Maxwell Street’s history to understanding our still evolving involvement with the systems of racism and anti-racism work below the arrow and relevant moments in United States’ and Lexington’s histories above the arrow.
It is one of our Social Justice Committee’s four priorities to engage Maxwell Street in the ongoing work of dismantling the structures of racism. We cannot understand many of the most destructive issues or policies in our country without understanding our history of racial inequality. It is a privilege that we may not know our history of relationship with race as a church and as individuals, a privilege we each may have because the structures of racism haven’t affected our life in an oppressive manor. But, we recognize as Martin Luther King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” And so, as Christians called to act justly, we must join in solidarity with our neighbors who still experience the lasting legacies of America’s violent origin story today in the structures of systemic racism that exist today by knowing our history.
A summary of the Maxwell Street timeline: In 1869, after the Civil War, the downtown gatherings of Presbyterians came to the agreement that Second Presbyterian would become home to Presbyterians committed to the Northern Presbyterian church and First Presbyterian would become home to those aligned with the Southern Presbyterian church. In 1892, just 23 years later, Maxwell Street was founded as a mission of First Presbyterian Church. From that time, First Presbyterian and Maxwell Street were a part of the area’s Southern Presbyterian presbytery, the Guerrant-Transylvania Presbytery. In 1971, the Guerrant- Transylvania Presbytery joined with the Northern Presbyterian presbytery to form the Transylvania Presbytery (union). Then, Maxwell Street had dual allegiance to the Southern Presbyterian denomination and the Northern Presbyterian denomination until the two denomination’s union in 1983 to form the PC(USA).
Amidst all of this, in 1948, the session made a statement after the student group had asked permission to invite an African American student group to worship, that no African Americans were welcome in worship. Then, just a few short years later, in 1952, the session voted unanimously to declare that no one should be excluded from worship. Yet, the session minutes from 1952 and 1964 show that the congregation was still struggling over race-related conversations.
It is relevant to trace our presbytery/denomination affiliation and our decisions as a church over race-related issues so that we can be honest about how we were affirming or silent in the face of the stances and structures of the Southern Presbyterian denomination who strongly believed the church should not engage in local civic affairs in the face of slavery and the Civil Rights movement and eventually the Northern Presbyterian denomination as well who was often still moderate at best during the Civil Rights movement. How do we continue to be affirming or silent in the face or discriminatory structures within our church, our denomination, our city and our country? Let this recognition of the past and its legacies motivate us to live our lives with our eyes wide-open as we seek to be justice-doing Christians and a part of the body of Christ as Maxwell Street Presbyterian Church.
A note: we know that timelines and histories are never fully complete because they do not include every person’s perspective or memory or even all the facts. If there is something missing from this timeline that you believe would add value and knowledge to our collective racial understanding of our congregation, please contact the Social Justice committee through Jim Nelson. Thank you for your participation!
Writing Your Officials
When calling or writing to officials, it is best to limit your asks to 1-3. Below is a list of possibilities. Select the ones that mean the most to you when you call or write to your elected officials so that you can speak with the most passion and care.
- Automatic restoration of voting rights to felons who have served their full sentence
- Lowering the fee for felony expungement from 500 to 200
- Kentucky State House bill to raise minimum wage to $15 an hour in Kentucky
- Increased annual allocation to Lexington city’s Affordable Housing Fund
A simple outline for a letter or phone call to an elected official:
1) Greeting, making the explicit statement “I am a constituent” or “As a Kentucky resident”
2) Share your concerns and what is motivating you to be concerned. Make it personal if you can. Be candid, but polite.
3) Request a specific action item. Stick to only one or a few.
4) Let them know if you want to hear from then.
5) Say goodbye. Keep all of this honest, but polite. And remember: They work for you. You can fire them with your vote.