White Power…it happens…

This blog is just a collection of thoughts and not intended to be a dissertation on race relations.  Here goes.

I grew up in the United Methodist Church, just as so many of my colleagues.  I had the rich experience of getting to know the church beyond the local church as I travelled to the then Soviet Union in 1987 with our Northeastern Jurisdictional youth.  We travelled from most of the conferences in the Jurisdiction but I, and another were the only two black youth on the trip.  In some settings, we were not included in the interaction and the engagement of the Soviet Youth. We were there, but we were left out.  I was asked to preach at one of the Soviet Churches and the outpouring of love of the Soviet people was phenomenal. So, over all it was a great experience. I remember the concerned look of the adult clergy on that trip, all of whom were white.  At that time the Rev. Gordon Shea, The Rev. Jaime Potter Miller,  and a few other clergy didn’t smother us, the two black males on the trip, but they were there, close by, making sure we were safe from this grand meeting of youth between two cultures in which we didn’t quite fit.

It was my first experience of being excluded because of my race.  It was painful.  It was disastrous.  But, what was amazing, was that the youth from our delegation and the clergy who travelled with us surrounded us with acceptance and kinship.  The world didn’t accept us, but the church did.

Since 1987 I have been around the connection and unfortunately  I have had to see that we still wrestle with, struggle with and battle with the affects of our diversity or plain racism.  Because we are in a post civil rights era, it is easy to slip into the never-ending daze of disbelief that racism is no longer a challenge for us.  It is like pollen.  It is everywhere, you don’t often see it, but you know you are sneezing and from time to time residue is found on your shoes if its enough of it.

Racisism is a painful tug of war and debate.  Here are two of many sides.  On one side we hear that every critique or employment activity that is unfavarable against a minority person can’t always be seen as racist while on the other side we hear that people of power, white people, are racist by default, they can’t help it.  It just happens.

I don’t want to get into that never ending debate or task of trying to determine who is and who is not.  But, I am old enough to know that much of our tension in the church is undergirded with the tricky web of  race relations.  I don’t always see it clearly, but we all suffer with a communal sneeze from time to time.  It’s around.  The results are evident with the residue on our shoes.

In the entire country we are angry and turning on each other.  We are either Obama supporters or we’re not.  We are either for abortion or we’re not.  We are either for gay inclusivity or we are not.  We are either for Republicans or Democrats.  Either you agree with me or you don’t.  If you don’t, then it sometimes seems that we can not be in communion and fellowship.  These attitudes are far too rampant in the world and especially in our church.  The sad result is that we become contained in the boxes that exist in political and sociological enviornments.  We, the church, are to transcend those boxes.  Our common, abundant, overhwhelming sense of being unified by liturgy, grace and salvation should eradicate any divisions that threaten to divide us.

Our efforts to destroy racism must move beyond a friendly greeting in the hallway; token appointments and assignments; and an occasional joint meeting.  All of us must be engaged at the table for mere conversation without drawing sides.

So, over the years, I’ve seen white power develop in surprising ways.  It may not even be noticed by those participating in this priviledge.  But, it happens when we are not careful. It happens, for example,  when we are slow to fully invest in the whole and entire community.  It happens when we attempt to “fix” a community without knowing that community, their stories, their journey and the real justice issues that aren’t often captured by friendly gentrification, news media and political campaigns.

Here’s what I suggest as we move forward as a denomination, an annual conference and local churches:

1. Be very careful on the affects of gentrification on poor people and people of color in particular.  Cleaning up neighborhoods, removing people from their “land” and relocating them so that property values can increase making it difficult for any poor person or even middle classed person to own land and a home can not be considered mission on behalf of Jesus Christ.  If we are getting rid of drug addicts and urban plight, what are we doing with them and for them?

2. Since when have we lost our civil discourse and even our theological discourse?  We have a rich culture, with many diverse expressions and we must always be students of such cultures.  We must always be cultural anthropologists or we will not be able to lead others around us to embrace those dynamics.

4. We must make room for everyone.  All of us has to work very passionately to unify the church.  Its not just the job of hierarchical leaders. Its the responsibility of all of us, in our conversations, in our texting, in our Facebooking and tweeeting and in the grocery store lines.  We have to be led by a deep desire to unify our witness and our message in Jesus Christ and in love.

5. No matter how well meaning a ministry may be, no matter how impacting an act may be if it is done in exclusion, it is power to that race that’s doing it. Missionary work must never be accompanied with arrogance.  Doing work without enabling people to have self determination is racism, classism and elitist.

If we are going to clean up the city, the neighborhood, can we at least start by learning the names of those living there?

I know we hate these conversations.  I hate them.  I wish we didn’t have to have them.  But, we must be honest with ourselves.  I’ve already decided that the day that comes when we are afraid to speak truth in love is the day we become close minded, close hearted working behind a closed door.

I am grateful for that trip to the Soviet Union.  I saw what it means to be left out.  I can’t depend on the ones who do the leaving out to bring me in.  But there were others, every step of the way, who made sure that I never forgot that I matter!  Those others I tend to call the “church.”

That’s the United Methodist Church I know.  That’s the one I’m sticking with!

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~ by bkevinsmalls on July 24, 2012.

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