Continued Notes/Thoughts on Race and #SynodNE2014

 This past weekend I attended the Synod Assembly (2014) for the Synod of the Northeast.  I have been convening its working group on Emerging Leadership and you can read my statement and report about that here.  

Another new and important area of work and ministry for the Synod is the Working Group on Race.  This group is new in its formation and we began the year with time with Dr. James Cone of Union Seminary.  I previously blogged on the time together with him and that’s here.  

So, this past weekend we were led by my friend Margaret Aymer (video above of the conversation with Margaret, which was amazing time spent togetheras per usual).  The conversation on Friday night led into some time on Saturday and Sunday of a resolution being presented and passed (below) to the Synod.  It engendered a lot of conversation.  Some of it good.  What I appreciated was that people came to the conversation honestly and said things in an open space.  And listened.  It wasn’t perfect, but it was a good start.  So I think the Synod is opening up some space for these conversations.  Doesn’t mean they are easy or nice.  But there was at least some space for some honest talking together.  

And some of the conversations troubled me, but I have a hard time sometimes when we talk about race because my feelings about the topic are made up so much by watching the difficulty my husband had navigating the immigration system in the United States and seeing the deep-seated racism in that system.  And the racism in that system comes full force at my husband, who is Latino, but who is light-skinned, has a lot of education (privilege) and is pretty well engrained in the “system” here in the United States.  And we feel it in other ways on other days too.  It’s pretty exhausting.  Our daughter who is bi-racial holds within her worry and fear about the immigration process, even though we’ve explained to her many times that her father has a passport, but something about immigration police still scares her very much.  We explain to her that no one is getting deported and yet she sees the news, hears the racial slurs against immigrants/Latinos and worries about her beloved father.  She gets this nervous look in her eyes if a conversation around these things comes up and for me as a parent this is haunting.  She’s talked to me about feeling like she has to pass over her identity in order to “fit in” in a white-dominant culture.  And she’s just 12.  As a parent this is so heartbreaking I do not even have words to describe it.  In recent weeks I have been watching incredibly racist commentary by some of the people I know about Ebola and our President on Facebook.  I’m pretty disturbed by what some people who we know say in a public forum and what sort of messaging their kids are getting.  It is a minefield just to send your child out into the world, and then a child who has one parent who is an immigrant feels just overwhelming some days.  I struggle much of the time with the radicalized atmosphere in church life today and the difficulty in navigating that is hard on me much of the time.  It is painful to me how unaware that system is much of the time.  We have so much spiritual work to do.   And yet I also live with the idea and reality that I am part of of the “power group” and I’ve got tons upon tons of privilege in our system.   The sin of racism lives within my life just as much as it does for anyone else.  And the complications and pain of racism hurt the two people I love the most in this world, my daughter and my husband.  

So I am really grateful that our Synod is working on this incredibly complicated conversation and engaging it from a faith perspective.  We certainly have a long way to go.  And lots to learn and engage with.  But I am grateful we are on the road of faith and conversation and we are being community with and for each other as we do this.  

An event held at a church in NJ last weekend modeled after a traditional Good Friday worship service for Holy Week.  These are the last words of seven different African-American youth killed recently.  You can follow this conversation at #7lastwords

An event held at Shiloh Baptist Church (NJ) last weekend modeled after a traditional Good Friday worship service for Holy Week. These are the last words of seven different African-American youth killed by police, vigilantes or security personnel. You can follow this conversation at #7lastwords  This event was co-sponsored by Princeton Theological Seminary.

Even though this is good and a sign of hope, we have a long way to go.  

Below is the statement from this weekend from the Synod which is just that, a statement.  Nothing special about it until we do something with it and take ourselves out onto the streets and into the communities around us.  I know some of us are starting this work throughout the Synod and aligning ourselves with partners nearby.   Someone said to me last night as we were reflecting on last weekend that he was reached out to by a pastor near Ferguson who said it feels odd for people to be getting involved in his local community without real context.  I agree with that.  Let’s pay attention to where it is we are rooted and doing ministry.  And where racism lives in that place.  And get working/engaged/learning on that as people of faith.  And pay attention to the larger picture that we are involved in at the same time.  

Also below are some resources that informed much of the conversation this past weekend and the information the commissioners were given.  I think having the resources helps to frame where people where coming from and provides a framework for learning for congregations who might be wondering where to start.  

I want to say again that I highly recommend reading The Cross and the Lynching Tree (James Cone) and The New Jim Crow (Michelle Alexander) side-by-side.  Both are amazing recent books and alone are wonderful but read together provides sociological and theological context that I’m just not sure is present anywhere else right now.  I’m rereading these two books right now.  Dr. Cone’s book should be read by anyone leading a faith community today and their leadership body.   I am grateful that one of the congregations in the Presbytery I serve is planning to read together The New Jim Crow in early 2015 and I’m looking forward to engaging with them as they learn and listen to the Spirit during that sacred conversation.  

For me this is an ongoing sacred conversation I am having with my family, my friends, my mentors and my community(s).  I am committed to continuing to post learnings as they emerge.   

Statement/Resolution of the Synod of the Northeast at its 2014 Assembly:

The Synod of the Northeast is alarmed by the frequent occurences of police brutality in the United States, that are grounded in historic patterns and structures of racism in which all of us are complicit. We emphatically denounce this violence, and we stand in empathetic solidarity with the families of those who have had their lives harmed or taken by those who have sworn to protect them. We pray for the officers who are unable to speak out against the corruption and bigotry among their ranks for rear of retribution. Simultaneously, we call on not only Presbyterians but all good people of this earth to commit to combatting the sin of racism and authority abuse.

We recommend the following steps:
1.  Encourage church leaders in presbyteries and congregations to call for body cameras on police officers in their community and dash cameras in their vehicles.
2.  Encourage church leaders in presbyteries and congregations to participate in civilian review boards. For communities without a civilian review board, we encourage congregations to press for establishing one, requiring an annual report from that board.
3.  Hold meetings in churches between police officers and those who are often victims.
4.  Consider what can be done to provide a safe haven for police officers who object to the harassing actions of their colleagues.

Resources from the Synod Assembly:

Facing Racism:  A Vision of Beloved Community (PCUSA)   (From 1999.  And not much has changed.  Has your congregation, ministry community read and worked through this? A good starting point.)

A Call for More than Judicial Remedies to the Killing of African American Boys and Men by J. Herbert Nelson  (a must read from one of the most important leaders in our denomination today.)

Prezi Presentation by Margaret Aymer Oget on Ferguson, with written notes for each slide (Margaret put the notes and resource sheet together so that congregations/groups can walk through her Prezi and have conversations themselves.)

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