Racial Justice Team
Our Racial Justice Team was born out of our congregation’s first sacred conversation on race in December 2014. It was tasked with examining all of our ministries through the lens of racial justice and making recommendations to move us toward being a racially just community. In the last year this team organized two racial equity trainings, launched small groups studying racism through various books (including the Bible), and created the Standing on the Shoulders of Giants program for our 2nd-12th graders on the positive contributions of people of color to our community and the wider world, featuring special guests. This fall we have two more trainings scheduled on dismantling racism and next spring we hope to organize a Standing on the Shoulders of Giants series for adults.
The Act of Reparation
I am so grateful to be a part of this community. Thank you, all, for your vulnerability, your presence and your holy desire to follow God’s call into the depths of a life rooted in the truth that you, and, therefore, all of us here and abroad are children of God. That idea to be a child of God has been co-opted, watered down, turned into a cliche. It’s been turned into a dividing stick if not a weapon. But, I believe, beneath culture’s work to defame and minimize it, its truth is transformative. It is humbling and empowering. It is equalizing and liberating. It’s power is dynamic as it shapes and reshapes our relationship with ourselves and with others. While the dominant force of our culture pushes us up and in, climbing, clamoring for the top and the limelight regardless of the cost, living as a child of God draws us down and out into open awareness of life, all of life, into the margins where we have space to experience an alternative to the narrow limits our history and culture ascribe to us. It clears our eyes and lets us see the beauty of hope in the future’s uncertainty while also seeing, for what might be the first time, the truth of the past, the cost of the dominant force the broken bodies and bones, the torn families and dreams that pushes the few up and up and up.
It was with this clarity of vision that the Racial Justice Group, in the fall, committed formally to how Land of The Sky approaches and addresses the deep, violent evil of racism and inequity that is woven into the country’s history and systems. For decades, the white church has pursued an agenda of racial reconciliation in response to that divide. Jenny Harvey, a religious studies professor from Drake University, details how this reconciliation paradigm, while on some levels is well intentioned, has failed. For the white church, reconciliation has been preached about, reconciliation outreach programs created, reconciliation songs sung, reconciliation youth groups sent out to the mission field of black America to pray over it. Reconciliation, after all, is a core tenet of the scriptures. What has often happened, however, is that these efforts, these well-meaning efforts to reach out, pull up, bridge the gap do nothing to acknowledge the structured inequality and systemic deprivation that courses through the story of our country, our churches,and our lives.
The Racial Justice Group, committed, instead, to a reparations paradigm. In some, if not many, white circles, reparations is a bad word. I have a number of people in my family, whom I love dearly, who have a visceral, angry response to the mere utterance of the word, and some of you may share that response. My hope today is not to convince or cajole anyone here into agreement, but instead to begin a conversation by laying out the framework of why we made this commitment and how we are moving forward. Quite simply, reconciliation is not the first step, but the last. Reconciliation, integrating, healing reconciliation, requires repentance and repair first. It requires repair the root of reparations first. I am not about to assert that the financial reparations that the Racial Justice Group has planned are sufficient to literally repay the centuries of exploitation and oppression of people of color that we, as a mostly white congregation, have explicitly and implicitly benefited from. These plans, are, however, a tangible, practical step away from the broken systems that have failed us all, away from the chaos and trauma and confusion we have shared this morning, toward repentance, toward repair, and, with the grace of God, toward reconciliation.
The complexity of reparations is real. We as the Racial Justice Team, and as a society are still untangling that complexity. Part of that complexity is reflected in the language we use around acts of reparation. They are not gifts or charity, because that language perpetuates the hierarchy of white supremacy bestowing its favor on black America. Reparations are not action grants or investments because that language implies an expected return. Acts of reparation are simply and profoundly acts of reparation. They are a financial, tangible, act that recognizes the privilege built into white America, and the broad evil of racism and begins the process of repentance and repair.
Our community’s first act of reparations was to support Marsha Davis in her work to raise funds to attend a weeklong training at the National SEED project last month in California. SEED stands for Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity, and the program deepened her skills as a facilitator and guide for organizations (like us) and her educator colleagues in local schools, to explore challenging, critical questions and work. She is developing a workshop on racial equity for Buncombe County Schools teachers this fall. Please, hold her in your light and thoughts as this will, inevitably, not be easy. The opportunity and timing to tie the church’s first act of reparations with Marsha was serendipitous and a clear choice for us as a group. In the future, however, we plan to look outside our circle, and are planning on reaching out to other faith communities in an act of collective repentance and repair.
This is not simple. As a group we recognize the uncertainty and mystery of choosing this path. We recognize that this choice has unanswered questions and potential hazards. This choice has hard conversations and discomfort woven throughout. We also, however, are sure we have no other choice. We are choosing to live from, into and out of the profound truth that we all of us are children of God. That recognition clarifies the ambivalence and confusion inherent to a system that thrives on dissonance and division, and draws us together toward the beautiful work of repentance and repair.
- The Case for Reparations – Click here to read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ article in the Atlantic about reaching for wholeness by reckoning with our nation’s moral debts after slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, and more.
- Redlining – Click here to watch a short video on redlining, the discriminatory practice of denying services, such as loans, based on race.
- Webinar on the Church, Reconciliation, and Reparations – Click here to watch Center for Progressive Renewal’s webinar with Dr. Jennifer Harvey on what to do in the face of our insufficient conversations about racial reconciliation.