A Call to Justice and Mercy


“What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.”
–Micah 6:8

If you’re curious or even frustrated about racism and what to do about it, A Call to Justice and Mercy (ACTJAM) is for you.  It’s for all of us.  As a church community we’re in this together.

We are called – all of us – and invited:
  • to imagine ending racial injustice and systemic racism
  • to learn why racial injustice and racism thrives
  • to work for racial justice and dismantle racism
More information:

What might Madison look like if we as a church community did something about racism?  Here’s one possibility.  Dateline Madison: October, 2022

What might America look like?  “America is an old house.” writes Isabel Wilkerson in Caste.  And like all old houses, it needs repair.  It needs to be cared for by the current owners even though they didn’t cause the cracks.

Listen as Oprah reads this passage from Caste. (2:33)


As Christians we know what Jesus asks of us:  Love our neighbors.

We need to learn about racism, how it came to be, and in what forms it lives on today. We need to know it to do something about it.

We’ll learn together. Each quarter we’ll have a Big Read or two and/or a Big Watch (movie) and then talk about it.

January 2022:  Big Read

SETTLIN’: Stories of Madison’s Early African American Families
by Muriel Simms

Stories bond us. They’re the glue of community – whether that’s church or neighborhood. When we share our stories we find our connectedness.

This month starts the next leg of our ACTJAM journey to share and listen to our own stories and those of our neighbors.

Madison educator Muriel Simms collected the oral histories of 25 African Americans whose families arrived, survived, and thrived in Madison in the 19th and 20th centuries in spite of persistent discrimination in jobs, housing and education.

November 2021:  Big Read

The Church Cracked Open
by Stephanie Spellers

What if being cracked open is exactly where we need to be right now as church?

Now that we’ve been cracked open by pandemic, racial reckoning, decline as a church, where do we go from here?  Do we try to put ourselves back together or do we use our cracks to let the light in and our treasure pour out for others, toward beloved community?

To quote Spellers (an Episcopal priest):  “As painful as it feels, God may even now be taking hold of the dismantled pieces and refashioning a community after God’s own heart.”

How can our treasure inside pour out into a world in need of healing?  How can we be Christ in the world and not just a puddle of good intentions?

Reflection and Action Guide by Stephanie Spellers:  https://bit.ly/3pWw4bu

August 2021:  Big Watch

A film by Ava Duvernay

The documentary 13TH continues our look at racism in the justice system by examining the roots of mass incarceration in the 13TH Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  The amendment, ratified on December 6, 1865, ended slavery except as punishment for a crime.

Filmmaker Ava DuVernay shows that the U.S. prison system which statistically imprisons Black men disproportionately and allows for their servitude has taken advantage of America’s Black population.

13TH is available for free viewing on YouTube:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=krfcq5pF8u8

Discussion Guide from Dr. Alex Gee’s Nehemiah Center in Madison:

July 2021:  Big Read

Just Mercy
by Bryan Stevenson

Stevenson’s Just Mercy is a gripping true story about the justice system and doing God’s justice to heal the hurt and bring about change.  It’s a story of racism infecting the justice system in the U.S. and how lawyer Bryan Stevenson got proximate with death row inmates to free many who were innocent and change the narrative of justice in the U.S.

Get started watching Bryan Stevenson speak with Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City about what it takes to “do justice and love mercy.”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MyBfOX5OHRQ.

ACTJAM Discussion Guide for Just Mercy

April – June 2021

If you’ve been around Bethel Horizons you know the four harmonies: God, nature, others (neighbors) and self. Living in faith is about caring with God for all creation. To be in harmony is to be in balance with.

But what if we’re not? What if 2020 has knocked our selves out of balance?

Restlessness. . . fuzziness. . .on edge-iness. . . exhaustion  

We can’t care about neighbors when we are frazzled. That’s why self is one of the harmonies. It must be cared for.

Our theme for this quarter is health and healthcare, sponsored by Bethel healthcare providers. Given the havoc of Covid on ourselves and our neighbors we’re going to focus on both – self and neighbor. For ourselves, we’ll look at restoring balance. We’ll call it WELL-BEING.

Bite-sized ACTJAM activities will replace a Big Read book and a Big Watch movie.

As we turn the lens on racial disparities in health, we see that Covid revealed and deepened fractures that have been there all along.

To get started, read this introduction to racial disparities in health and why it matters.


Then, watch this TED talk by Harvard sociologist David R. Williams.



February, 2021:  Big Watch

Lack of housing is an equal opportunity issue that disproportionately impacts people of color.  This is a legacy of decades of housing segregation.  This month we’ll look at that legacy – racial covenants, redlining – in northern cities like Madison.

Our BIG WATCH for February is the 1-hour PBS film Jim Crow of the North which documents racial segregation in Minneapolis.

Minneapolis is not unique.  To quote from the film:  “[There’s] this very persistent myth that northern cities never had formal segregation.  The south had Jim Crow and look at those signs! [“whites only”] Well racial covenants did the work of Jim Crow in the north.  All over the north.”

Jim Crow of the North can be viewed at no cost at these sites:

January 2021:  Big Read

Evicted:  Poverty and Profit in the American City
by Matthew Desmond
448 pages

Evicted is the 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winning book that takes us into the homes and lives of eight families – Black and white – on the housing edge in Milwaukee. We follow their stories as they struggle to keep a roof over their heads while people and systems exploit their poverty and vulnerability. Evicted helps us see the human dimension of the housing crisis and the kinds of solutions it will take to solve it.

Housing – or lack of –  in Wisconsin and Madison is an equal opportunity crisis. Like the coronavirus which shows no partiality by race, more of our Black neighbors are suffering from the worst effects of the housing crisis. Improving it for all will disproportionately improve it for our Black neighbors.

Eviction is just one piece of the problem. For many, being shown the door out is the result of policies and practices that go way back. To fix the problem at the root, we have to understand how we got here. We’re using eviction as the door in to the story of what happened in Madison, in Wisconsin, and the upper mid-west to create segregated pockets of housing, cycles of poverty and extreme racial wealth gaps today.

History of the Eviction & Housing Crisis Podcast Series
The history of the housing crisis – the  legacy of the current racial wealth gap and the current home ownership gap – goes way back at least to post-Civil War Reconstruction. There’s a recurring pattern that denies Blacks the right or resources to own property to this day.

Matt Desmond, author of Evicted, was the production partner for the 4-part podcast series The Scarlet E.

December 2020:  Big Sing

Welcome to our first ACTJAM BIG SING! This fall we looked at the history of racism in our country from different perspectives. Four hundred years of history in the book Stamped. A closeup of the civil rights movement and Jim Crow south of 1961 in the movie Hidden Figures. Now we turn to Black music and the stories told through song about the struggle for freedom and of hope.

Since we can’t be together in person, we’re doing the next best thing — a do-it-yourself BIG SING. It’s like a do-it-yourself walking tour of a city.  There’s a map and a route. There’s a description to read about each sight.  Finally, there’s a ticket to get you inside.

Amy will be our guide through this Big Sing. She’s chosen the songs, mapped our route and written a short description of each selection. After you’ve read it, click on the YouTube link(s) to listen to the recording that Amy selected. That’s your ticket ‘in’ to the song.  If it’s familiar –sing along!

Download Amy Hartsough’s Do-It-Yourself BIG SING Guide

November 2020:  Big Watch

Our BIG WATCH for November, sponsored by the Women’s Coordinating Council, is the movie Hidden Figures.  This is a family-friendly movie rated by Common Sense Media for ages 10+.

Hidden Figures continues our look at the history of racism in America that we started with the book Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You.  The movie is based on a true story from Jim Crow Virginia in the early 60s.  Three Black women who work for NASA overcome racial and gender bias to successfully send John Glenn into space and back.  And much more.

In Hidden Figures we see history – and hope — come alive.  Yes, we see and feel the cruelty of Jim Crow.  We also see joy.  We see the nurturing role of the Black church during the civil rights era.  And we see the persistence of people seeking justice and equality and the signs of overt systemic racism pulled down.

Check out this music video from the movie.

Hidden Figures Discussion Guide

October 2020:  Big Read

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You

by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
248 pages (excluding notes + index)

This is a young adult book for ages 12+ that’s fast-paced and easy to read for adults too.  It tells the history of race in America from the perspective of Black historian and professor Ibram Kendi and young adult author Jason Reynolds.

Stamped is a remix of Dr. Kendi’s Stamped From the Beginning (see below) which won the 2016 National Book Award.

Parents:  Note that the n-word appears in Stamped.


Optional choice if you prefer more information:

Stamped from the Beginning:  The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America

By Ibram X. Kendi
511 pages (not including notes + index)
2016 National Book Award Winner

Stamped From the Beginning is more detailed and formally written than Stamped (above).  Both books follow the same organization and the same discussion questions apply.

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