Race, The World, Inequality

Is your faith group fighting society’s racism – or ignoring it?

As an Episcopalian, this intentional and organized work offers hope for the future of local communities and the larger dialogue about racism and privilege in the U.S.

Conversations about being an ally have died down to a quiet rumble in the distance on social media. People have changed their profile pictures back from safety pins. Those who wore them without dedicating themselves to activism have likely removed them from their coats. As with many trends, most of those who expressed revulsion and shock after the election of Donald Trump to the highest office in our land, and pledged themselves to being part of the solution, have since gone silent.

It’s not easy to keep up momentum in a conversation that began with shock but requires action, reflection, and change.

It is easy to be outraged in the moment. It is even encouraged by our culture of posting public statements and heartfelt comments about instances of hate or violence that pop up on our feeds. While there is some seed of empowerment in posting online, the true challenge is in effectuating real change, and in being a part of the solution.

Yes, there is some truth that clicking on or sharing certain articles can change a national dialogue, but what about addressing root causes?

Behind the scenes, slowly and steadily, people are gathering and organizing. But, who is doing the work?

“Racial reconciliation” is a phrase that many are not familiar with. It’s the act of dismantling racism in ourselves, communities, and country through education, healing, and advocacy. The goal of reconciliation is to transcend differences to end inequality based on ignorance.

This kind of work is arduous, uncomfortable, and takes quite a long time to bring people to the table, educate, train, and begin the process of healing. It is also a term used mostly in Christian circles, though not frequently enough in my opinion. If you Google “racial reconciliation,” the first several websites are to churches or Christian organizations of some kind. This phrase is not new by any means, but has its roots in scripture and focuses the conversation on the reconciling message of Jesus. 

Large organizations and structures like churches can either operate to perpetuate the norm and act as oppressors, or they can be some of the greatest agents for change and justice. Therefore, one can see how institutions that claim a moral foundation or empowering mission for their purpose are often those doing the heavy lifting and the dirty work of justice.

The Episcopal Church is one such institution that has made this a priority. With the welcoming of a new Presiding Bishop, The Most Rev. Michael Curry, this denomination has made racial reconciliation one of its three main tenants for the rest of his term, which lasts for another eight years. They allocated over $2 million to the cause in 2015 for three years and hired new staff dedicated specifically to this ministry. Groups around the country are meeting and organizing church leaders (clergy and lay) to train them in having constructive conversations about race and privilege with their parishioners and even families. Activism within communities to advocate for representation is beginning in these small ways. This is how change begins.

Heidi Kim, the Missioner of Racial Reconciliation for the Episcopal Church describes how the “contentiousness of the 2016 election has brought a new awareness of the persistence of institutional racism for many people of faith, including Episcopalians who have begun to discern how best to work for racial justice and reconciliation.”  This work takes form at the large church-wide level with the creation of the Executive Council Committee on Anti-Racism (ECCAR), which “is charged with developing anti-racism training in our church, and is composed of representatives from each of our nine [geographic] provinces.” The members of ECCAR are “skilled and experienced facilitators of anti-racism work, and are currently working on guidelines for anti-racism training and facilitation.”

Dioceses around the country are “developing anti-racism curricula and convening racial reconciliation task forces, drawing upon the gifts of people in their local congregations and communities to engage this important ministry.” Kim describes partnerships with non-Episcopalians as part of the strategy for the Presiding Bishop and his staff, as well as several dioceses. These ecumenical and inter-faith partners join the effort to “address the sin of racism in their local communities,” proving to be mutually inspiring and beneficial. The hope is that in the future, these greater communities can gather as “people of faith to work together to foster unity and combat hate.”

As an Episcopalian, this intentional and organized work offers hope for the future of local communities and the larger dialogue about racism and privilege in the U.S. These conversations may seem like a small start, but in order to get at the root of people’s racism, it takes time to dig into the societal and familial patterns and stereotypes that cause it.

Those in more metropolitan and progressive areas may already be engaged at a different level of this conversation, and it is heartening to see seeds of discernment being planted in some places and how they are being cultivated and flourishing in others.

To me, this work is part of what all Americans are called to, regardless of religious or nonreligious affiliation. If we agree that the basic Truths of our country’s founding are “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” then we must fight for our neighbors’ rights to these, too.

Right now, many are being denied the basic right to life, let alone the opportunity to pursue happiness for themselves or their families. If you disagree, look again. Ask your neighbors. Look around The Tempest and read articles written by those who look different than you. Liberty is not equally distributed. Racial reconciliation is the first step, and it’s a big step that takes dedication, in healing divides that have plagued our country since its founding.

There are models of institutions that are devoting themselves to calling out racism, informing themselves of historic and present-day exclusion, and acting in new ways to dismantle racism. Some may surprise you.

If you have been feeling frustrated by this conversation falling flat, ask your community organizations or groups you are a part of – faith-based or not – “what are you doing for racial reconciliation?” You may be surprised by the responses you get and what comes from those conversations. You might just be the one to get things going.