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Dismantling Racism invites difficult conversations

Christine Hanson, who chairs the Dismantling Racism Action Team of the Justice Witness Ministries (JWM) Committee, became involved in a group that started before Annual Meeting 2019 to raise concerns of African-American pastors.

Shalom UCC in Richland top, and United Churches of Olympia join in calls for racial justice and dismantling racism, below.

“The work started in response to pleas of pastors of color in the conference,” she said.

This year, Dismantling Racism developed a document, “Our Call, Our Work: Anti-Racism to Reparations,” which will be discussed at Annual Meeting 2021.

Christine described the evolving document as a working document the team has taken to committees and the board for feedback. The intention is that it continue to transform PNC-UCC to work through an anti-racist lens.

The team asks people to read, reflect and respond to what is written to inform their individual and collective anti-racism journeys.

On behalf of the Reparations Team of JWM’s Dismantling Racism Team, Christine said, it is not a document she or team members have written, but a document that compiles suggestions from people throughout the conference.  The team has coordinated and given structure to suggestions.

“It is not intended as something we will vote on, because the goal is for people to read and reflect on it in relationship to PNC work, to help us to change from any white supremacist ways and develop new ways to operate from an anti-racism lens,” said Christine.

She was awakened to the concern taking an Undoing Institutional Racism class during a year in the Jubilee Justice program.  In addition, Plymouth UCC in Seattle, where she has been a member since 2018, is also discerning how to be an anti-racist church.

Her pastor, Kelle Brown, “makes sure we are pushed to an uncomfortable edge rather that being feel-good religion.  She asks us to reflect so we grow as a church and individuals.

Christine said characteristics of white supremacy can infiltrate and limit  the work of individuals and institutions.

She referred to a 2001 workbook on dismantling racism by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okum, describing 11 personal and power dynamics that are “The Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture.” They include perfectionism, urgency, defensiveness, paternalism, individualism, objectivity, power hoarding, fearing conflict and valuing quantity-over-quality, what’s written, one right way, either-or thinking, progress as bigger/more and  a right to comfort.

“We have invited committees to read and reflect on the “Our Call, Our Work” document related to how the committee functions and how they could work in a different way through an anti-racist, rather than white supremacy, lens,” she said.

“We have met with committees several times on a journey that will continue,” she said. “Racism and the problems are ingrained in all we do.  Most institutions are based on white men writing rules and not meeting needs of most people.”

Christine has found that after people read the document, they see how they could do things in a more anti-racist way, not just serve needs of white people who are in power.

Instead of an academic approach, the document begins by defining the crisis arising because black and indigenous people “have been under the thumb of white supremacy for 400 years” and continue to be “enslaved by the institution of white supremacy” unable to move freely.

 The document defines term it uses:

“Pastors of color” refer sto Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian American and Pacific Islander clergy.

“White supremacy” is the “system of domination and advantage based on the belief that white people are a superior race” to the exclusion, subordination and detriment of races and ethnicities.

“White privileges” are inherent advantages of white and white-appearing persons in a society of racial inequality and injustice.

“Institutional racism,” in contrast to individual overt racism, may be less perceptible but is based in established, respected societal forces.

“Reparations” comes from the biblical idea that there is need periodically to repair the society, such as through Jubilee.

The call to action invites the PNC-UCC to dismantle oppressive systems in its institutions and members, identifying how institutions serve those in power “at the expense of the global majority without power,” said team co-leader Lin Hagedorn.

The section on reparations for the PNC-UCC talks of changes needed and makes suggestions, understanding that it’s not limited to that list.

Out of the Fall Gathering 2019 in Richland, reparations drew much interest and several agreed to follow up, Christine said.

Team developed suggestions to prime the pump.

• The first suggestion is to institute anti-racism training, with the Church Development Committee, Board and PNC-UCC offering training.

“In the UCC, we cannot require churches to do anti-racism training, but can suggest different trainings available,” she said. “We can require pastors to take anti-racism training through the Committee on Ministry (COM).”

• A second suggestion to provide support for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) clergy has ideas from the COM and Stewardship Committee.

• A third suggestion to promote hiring BIPOC people in PNC-UCC leadership offers ideas from the Board for an Equity Advisory Body and from Educational Ministries on preparing congregations.

• Fourth is to create forums for honest ongoing discussions on racism with the JWM’s Dismantling Racism Team and Education Ministries Committee providing resources.

• The document considers what reparations might look like in terms of acknowledgment, education and relationships with those who can guide anti-racism work.

It asks what reparations may look like for a church’s understanding, structure and practices related to learning a church’s history of harm and working to correct injustices—apologizing, relating with people of color, listening and committing resources to determine what reparations and changes look like for the church’s mission and culture.

The document offers a variety of resources.

“If what we put out is not right, we need to be committed to converse,” Christine said.  “Conversations are not over. We are careful about language, naming groups to be inclusive.

“It does not fit as a resolution, because if it passed, we might think we had done the job, and there would be no action,” she said.

There is opportunity to sign up for Annual Meeting conversations—not workshops with a leader. Examples are: Beloved Community, White Nationalism, Our Call Our Work and Restorative Justice.

“People need an opportunity to talk with each other,” she said. “If we work from a comfortable place, we will go nowhere. We need to work in a different way, to shake things up so learning sinks in and there is transformational change.”

Christine does not expect to wake up and say, “Oh, I’ve got it now.”  Instead, she plans to live an intentional life, reflecting constantly on how to walk in the world with an anti-racist lens to stop doing damage daily to people of color.

“We will not transform unless we make mistakes and feel uncomfortable,” she said. “I begin with changing myself. I’m a weaver who wants the creative process to be perfectly aligned. I need to accept failure, see my defensiveness and recognize my sense of urgency.

“Some whites rewrite religion to make it comfortable for them.  I am done with negative things in the name of religion. We need to be open to other ways to be spiritual in the world and have empathy for other people in the world,” she said, inviting white people to understand the pain and wrongs many people of color have experienced.

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Pacific NW Conference United Church of Christ News © April-May 2021


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