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Reflecting in the aftermath of Charleston: Quintin Robertson reminds ‘We are one in the spirit’


“For the past two months I have become enamored by the lyrics to the hymn, ‘We are one on the Spirit, one in the Lord. They will know we are Christians by our love’,” said the Rev. Dr. Quintin Robertson, director of the seminary’s Urban Theological Institute and Black Church Studies program.

Robertson was reflecting on the aftermath of the Charleston mass murders tragedy and other tragic civil rights chapters that have unfolded in Ferguson, Baltimore, New York City, and elsewhere, including Philadelphia.

He referenced the remark by the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; “Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.”

“We are not divided because we look different,” Robertson said. “As Christian people of faith we have commonality in our spirit. I used to think that when Jesus spoke of being one in the spirit that I needed to focus on resolving denominational differences. Today I think more broadly. As with the Jews and Gentiles of the time of Jesus, I think about what may be going on today. Do some of us think we are better than others because we look different and have larger cultural power? Is that what is going on? I think we have to remember that we are one in the spirit. I think about what [the Apostle] Paul said about the body. The eye and the hand and the foot are part of the same body, and when one part hurts, the whole body hurts.”

Robertson acknowledged during the interview that, “Racism is still alive and well. It took a bit of a hiatus and then resurfaced during the last six or seven years.

“But if you take a close look at history, I think you see a better world for today’s youth than the world in which I grew up, the world in which my parents grew up, the world in which my grandparents grew up,” Robertson said.

“Every child in America today gets to look at an African American president, and that means that equality has a far greater impact,” Robertson said. He added that he doubts that 50 years from now the issues of racism will have as great an impact as they do today.

“Some might say to me, ‘Well, Quintin, you are far too optimistic.’ But really, with the passage of the Voting Rights Act in the 1960s, would anyone dare to think today that we do not all have the right to vote? We have a better world now that is heading in the right direction.”

With regard to the criminal justice system, Robertson acknowledged that racism has been at the core of some abuses, “but we also have to remember that not all criminal justice abuses are the result of racism. There are abuses across racial lines, and there is good and bad in all of us. Many abuses have nothing to do with the color of someone’s skin.” He said he believes there should be more African American judges in the court systems. “I may hold someone who looks different from me to a higher standard,” he said. “If I see someone who looks like me who has made a mistake, I might be more inclined to give that person a second chance. That’s human nature.”

He said he thinks that young African Americans sometimes may not know enough about history to watch out sufficiently for themselves when they encounter law enforcement officers.

“My parents always reminded me to respect others at all times, and that I could be in danger of being beaten up otherwise,” he said. “My parents had known of Jim Crow laws in the 1930s and 1940s. I think many young people today have not grown up as sensitive to those issues. They have not experienced that history first hand. And so they may not know how to watch out for themselves.”

On August 3, a dialogue between seminary President David Lose and African American church leaders in Philadelphia was set up to discuss the Charleston mass murders and a response to it. Among those facilitating the dialogue at the headquarters of Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC) of Philadelphia were Pastors William Moore and Mark Tyler of the UTI Advisory Board, and Pastor Kevin Johnson, a recent lecturer during the UTI fall series. Dr. Johnson is CEO and President of Philadelphia OIC.

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