In this sermon, delivered as the OJ Simpson murder trial was ending, Cecil Murray preaches on inequality, and how blame is placed on communities of color for the consequences of crimes committed against them. He says these communities must be healed before they can be expected to “coexist.”
During his 27 years as the pastor of First African Methodist Episcopal Church (FAME), Rev. Cecil “Chip” Murray transformed a small congregation into a megachurch that brought jobs, housing and corporate investment into South Los Angeles neighborhoods. After the 1992 civil unrest, FAME Renaissance, the economic development arm of the church, brought more than $400 million in investments to L.A.’s minority and low-income neighborhoods. Rev. Murray remains a vibrant force in the Los Angeles faith community through his leadership of the USC Cecil Murray Center for Community Engagement.
The Murray Archive preserves Rev. Murray‘s sermons and interviews in order to inspire the next generation of pastors, activists and scholars.
Following is a lightly edited transcript of the above sermon. To quote from the sermon, please provide credit to: Rev. Cecil L. Murray, Murray Archives, USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture.
“Healing First, Hugging Second”
October 1, 1995
My dear family in God, it is good to celebrate when you come to worship. This is a house of healing, not of hurt. The world deals you enough hurt already, doesn’t it? This month we’re going to be talking on the theme: fightings without and fears within. That’s all you know, isn’t it? Something wrong on the outside, and fighting and struggling and safety laws and security systems. Fightings on the inside and fears within.
You’ve got to find something within you that’s stronger than your fears. We have a lot of merchants of fear, running around the nation now, peddling hatred. You and I, the people who have been healed, owe it to our nation, owe it to our God, owe it to ourselves, to try to find the way to ease the fightings on the inside and the fears on the inside. Now it will be no easy way. Some of us want to be carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease. Some of us want to pick up and run to suburbia. Some of us want to go into denial. We want to pretend we don’t have any problems. You may not have any problems with your two-car garage and your wall-to-wall carpets, but there are millions of people in America who have problems. There are millions of Black people who have problems.
If you’re responsible at all, we are not allowed denial. Denial. Everybody, say, “Denial.” I want you to remember that de-Nile is a river in Egypt. It is not a reality. When we have problems, the problems are not going away. The trial–and you know which one we’re speaking of–it will soon be ended. There will be a decision, one way or another, but the real trial will still be going on. Everybody that stands before the bar of justice will not be a millionaire or have a dream team to defend them.
We can’t pretend we don’t have problems, and we can’t pretend we’ll just hug each other and everything’s going to be all right. Healing first. Hugging second. That’s our subject. Healing first. Hugging secondly. James 4 asks us a question. What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Isn’t it because there is a whole army of evil desires within you? You want what you don’t have, so you kill to get it. You long for what others have and can’t afford it, so you start a fight to take it away from them. And yet the reason you don’t have what you want is that you don’t ask God for it.
Don’t want anything you can’t ask God for. That’s a good rule of thumb right there. Don’t want anything you can’t take before the throne of God. We’re in trouble today, and the media are running around, much of the media, and many of the people in the community. Are you going to riot? Are you going to riot? As if we are some type of people who are just looking for a way to burn down our neighborhoods. If justice is done, no we are not going to riot. If the jury is fair, no we are not going to riot.
We are normal, intelligent people, just like any other people. We built our communities. We don’t want to burn them down. Why can’t we make the point, over and over again? All we want is justice! All we want is economic parity. All we want is political sanction. All we want is fairness. The wrong people are asking the wrong question. Here James is asking the right one. What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? We are fighting today because 300 years ago somebody figured out, we want free labor in America.
You can’t have free labor. If you’re going to work a person, you pay that person, and if you pay that person, you respect that person. You don’t take everything from that person. You don’t go to Africa and rape a continent and kill 100 million people. Kill 18 million people in the Atlantic crossing, and then say they are savages. The savages are the ones who took their country!
Then to say, why can’t we all just hug and get along? We can’t hug and get along because you’ve wounded. You’ve killed. You raped. You maimed. You made lame, and now you want to act as if that has no repercussions on the day. The schools are secondary, because you maim. The jails are filled because you maim. The schools are empty because you maim. You can’t have healing. We want healing. That’s all. Healing.
Certain tribes in Africa, when a man kills another man, they don’t put him in jail. What they make him do is take the position of the man he has killed. He must take that man’s children and rear them. He must marry that man’s wife, now widow. He must take that man’s debts. He must take that man’s position, and as he carries that man around with him, perhaps something will happen within him. It won’t happen that way in America. It probably is not happening too often in Africa, but you can be one thing that’s sure. Be sure your sins will find you out. Be sure that if you hurt somebody, you got to live with that somebody. Be sure that you can’t go around blaming the victim.
You can’t blame those children. You done took their father away! What is causing these quarrels among you? James gives us the word of the Stoics. The Stoics of his day said, “Desire is causing our problem.” Turn to your neighbor on your right and ask, what do you want? Neighbor, you heard the question. Are you a Christian? Turn back on the left and say, I don’t want nothing that doesn’t belong to me.
Why can’t we understand that? Why do we keep wanting something at the expense of someone else? We have some men running for President, and they got the nerve to talk about Affirmative Action, and there ain’t one woman running for President in the United States. A few of them have integrity. The others of us ask what is causing these quarrels. They want something. They want to become President. So, they throw us at each other. They throw meat to the big white tiger. They throw Affirmative Action to America at large. They know better. They know better.
They know that the angry white male, as they call them, and praise be to God for those beautiful white males who are a part of our congregation, but they know truth when they hear it. We’re talking about the angry white male, and they’re appealing to the angry white male, and there’s nothing but rhetoric.
They know that the angry white male is only 33 percent of the American population, but 90 percent of the Congress of the United States. Ninety percent of the Fortune 500 companies. Ninety-three percent of tenured college professors. One hundred percent of the Presidents of the United States. They know better.
But they have desires. They want to use our backs as a bridge to the White House. Much as in the Senate, many Southern Senators used to get elected just by hollering the N-word, and now they’re going to jump up and say we are playing the race card because Furman used the N-word. The N-word, we’ve been hearing the N-word for three centuries. Furman ain’t nothing new to us. We’ve been hearing the N-word for three centuries.
The only way we made it around the N-word, neighbor turn to your neighbor on your left and tell them that old African proverb, “It ain’t the name you call me. It’s the name I answer to.” Tell them neighbors. Tell them neighbors. I can handle Furman. I can handle Mark Furman. What I can’t handle is you looking shocked that somebody in power could use the power in the wrong place. Anybody with any sense knows that you sow the wind, you reap the whirlwind. Anybody with any sense knows, when you put a gun on a person’s side and a badge of authority on their chest, you have to monitor them very well. Anybody with any sense knows, if you have an upper class and you have an underclass, you have to be careful to protect the rights of the underclass, or the rights of the upper class will get carried away.
Anybody with any sense knows, when you go into a courtroom and you have an all-white jury, sentencing an all-Black person, you’re going to have an inequity of justice. Anybody with any sense knows. It’s desire, and they ask, what do you people want? Are you deaf? Can’t you hear? Three hundred years! All we want is liberty and justice for all. Not all white people. For all. Not all brown people. For all. Not all yellow people. For all.
What’s our solution? What’s our solution? We can’t pass this on to our children. We can’t pass hatred on to our children. What we must pass on to our children, of all generations, and of all ethnicities. We have a problem in this country. We have a problem in this state. We have a problem in this city. God calls upon each of us to be problem-solvers. God doesn’t call upon us to be problem-creators. The problem created itself. The problem was created when the Statue of Liberty pointed every way but towards Africa.
The problem was created when a tobacco-spitting Southern Senator stood up on the floor of Congress and said that all Negro soldiers were cowardly. The problem was created when, in 1965–after the dogs had started barking, after we’d buried Martin Luther King–things are not much better off today than they were then.
James tells us we’re going to need a lot of humility. I agree with him. We’re going to have to come to these problems as problem-solvers. He says you’re trying to take by evil what God would give you by prayer. James got enough sense to know, our problems are not going away by you and me coming to the altar call. He’s saying that when you come to the altar call this morning, have a little talk with Jesus. Tell him all about your problem. Open your ears and hear Jesus say, “Hey children, I set you free, but only 33 percent of you are voting. You got to keep on voting. Children, I taught you how to write, and you got to write letters to your Congress people. I taught you how to move. You got to get up and get on your feet. You got to protest when things are wrong!”
When it comes to hurting each other, children, you’ve got to stop hurting each other. You got enough out there hurting you already. You got to love one another. You got to lift one another. You got to shout with one another. You got to support one another. You got to preach freedom to each other. You got to realize you ain’t free yet. You got to preach up! You got to teach up! You got to lift up! You got to pray up! You got to move up! You got to know up! And when all that is given, God will make a way somehow. In the name of Jesus.