Here’s a question for you – What does your church’s nativity set look like? I was raised in the 50’s and 60’s so my experience was always of a blond, blue-eyed baby Jesus and accompanying figures that were clearly of European descent. The prevalence of this model came home to me a few years ago when I searched on-line for images of the Stations of the Cross that were more racially accurate. Our congregation doesn’t have the Stations hanging on our walls and we wanted to pray them during Holy Week so I made copies of the most appropriate images I could find but they still have a slightly Western feel about them. I’m still on the hunt for something better.
As a diocese, we have been intentionally discussing the importance of reconciliation for the last few years. We have made a good start in addressing this in our congregations with the help of our Diversity and Inclusion Task Force and VISIONS, Inc. At the diocesan convention last Saturday, we all had the opportunity to have some table discussions following the Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas’ keynote address. Even if you weren’t able to be present, these questions might be good coffee hour discussion starters for your congregation:
• What does it mean to be church, and how are we to e church at this time?
• How, as the church, are we being called to respond to narratives of anti-blackness?
• How has your church sustained or upheld narratives of anti-blackness?
• How, as the church, do we counter narratives of anti-blackness?
• How can we treat black and brown bodies as sacred bodies?
• What can we do to make our churches safe spaces?
• How can we move on from anti-black narratives into a more whole community?
• What are the implications of cultural anti-blackness for the Jesus Movement and for our Presiding Bishop’s call for us to become God’s beloved Community?
We can preach this message to my congregation St Michael’s – and we certainly have in the past and will continue – yet preaching isn’t enough. We also need to act on our resolve to come against this pervasive message of anti-blackness. These thoughts reminded me of our congregation’s beloved Nativity set. Likely our lovely scene has some historical connection for many members of the congregation. In practicing the guidelines that we have adopted from VISIONS, Inc, our Ministry Support Team and convention delegates discussed that we don’t merely want to get rid of the old one; we plan to add to our collection of Nativities by purchasing new sets that represent the Holy Family from other races and cultures – more of a “both/and” response. This might seem like a trivial baby step yet it is a step forward and will provide an opening for personal conversations with members of the congregation as we try to change the prevailing culture.
At our convention last weekend, we passed 5 resolutions, each of which I will highlight in the blog over the next few weeks. This week, I’d like to share Resolution 1: A Stand Against White Supremacy
RESOLVED, that the congregations of the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan decry every form and expression of racism and white supremacy, including those expressions by alt-right white supremacy, the Ku Klux Klan, Christian Identity Adherents, white nationalism, and Neo-Nazism, as antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ; and be it further
RESOLVED, that we denounce, repudiate, and work against white supremacy and every form of racial and ethnic hatred as evil and in non-compliance with our baptismal vows to:
• proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ;
• seek and serve Christ in all persons loving our neighbor as ourselves; and to
• strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being – and be it further
RESOLVED, that the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan work with others committed to continuing the struggle to root out all remaining forms of intentional and unintentional racism in our midst; and be it further
RESOLVED, that we earnestly pray, both for those who advocate racist ideologies and those who are thereby deceived, that they may see their error through the light of the Gospel, repent of these hatreds, and come to know the peace and love of Christ through redeemed fellowship in the Kingdom of God, which is established from every nation, tribe, people, and language.
The problem of racism is not new yet what we are witnessing now seems to have reached a level we haven’t seen as openly in recent years. It’s as though people feel that they have been granted permission to express their white supremacist views since the last election just one year ago. As members of the Jesus Movement, Episcopal Branch, we must take a stand against the ugliness of this message and do all in our power to stand against it. The originators of this resolution shared the following rationale:
When considering this resolution, we ask that you consider the following points.
• the Psalmist proclaimed, “The earth and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants, belong to the LORD” (Psalm 24:1); and
• the Apostle Peter said, “God doesn’t show favoritism, but in every nation the person who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him” (Acts 10:34–35); and
• Galatians 3:27-28 explains that our justification before God is based on faith in Christ Jesus and not in our ethnicity; and
• Scripture teaches, “From one man [God] has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live” (Acts 17:26); and Scripture proclaims that Jesus is purchasing by His blood believers “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9); and
• throughout eternity we will gather with a “multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language” in worship of our risen Savior (Revelation 7:9).
Our Catechism teaches that:
• the mission of the church “is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”; and that
• the church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members.
The United States is experiencing the resurgence of a political movement that is reigniting social animosities, reversing improvements in race relations, dividing the people of this country, excusing violence, and is promoting hatred, classism, and ethnic/racial separation.
The Episcopal Church:
• continues to repent of the racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously or unconsciously; and has committed itself to full inclusion of all people; to the dismantling of systems that practice and promote systemic oppression; and the rejection of bigoted policies that promote violence, discriminate, impoverish, under-educate, and deny people basic human rights; and
• the Episcopal Church continues to renew its commitment to eradicate racism in all its forms and has promoted action on this commitment through various documents and teaching series including: the 1994 Pastoral Letter, The Sin of Racism, the anti-racism training manual Seeing the Face of God in Each Other, and A Way Forward: Reflections, Resources & Stories Concerning Ferguson, Racial Justice & Reconciliation.
Maybe you and your congregation are already addressing this topic and you have resources to share with the rest of us. Please comment with your ideas and strategies on our Facebook page – so that we can get the ideas out to others.
If you’re still looking for resources, our Diversity and Inclusion Task Force shared some very helpful articles at their convention display table. Here are some links:
White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack
Becoming Beloved Community Where You Are
Friends, let’s work together to see a change in the pervasive culture of white privilege and anti-black narrative. Let’s get beyond the politics and see the people for who we are – all God’s beloved children.
Let us pray –
Dear God, in our efforts to dismantle racism, we understand that we struggle not merely against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities – those institutions and systems that keep racism alive by perpetuating the lie that some members of the family are inferior and others superior.
Create in us a new mind and heart that will enable us to see brothers and sisters in the faces of those divided by racial categories.
Give us the grace and strength to rid ourselves of racial stereotypes that oppress some of us while providing entitlements to others.
Help us to create a Church and nation that embraces the hopes and fears of oppressed People of Color where we live, as well as those around the world.Heal your family God, and make us one with you, in union with our brother Jesus, and empowered by your Holy Spirit. Amen.
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council