Search PNC News for stories of people and churches in our UCC Conference:

Justice Witness Ministries facilitates discussion on racism

The PNC Justice Witness Ministries Committee, which has taken on a priority of dismantling racism, helped set the stage for discussions on racism in PNC congregations and the need to support clergy of color as part of awareness of racism and white privilege in society.

Steve Clagett, chair of the Justice Witness MInistries Committee, helps guide the PNC in efforts to dismantle racism.

Steve Clagett, JWM chair, pointed to progress from the statement in founding documents that all are created equal, to the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves, to the Civil Rights movement gains, the election of President Obama and other of progress in race relations and justice, Steve said there is still work to do in dismantling racism

“African Americans are still beaten, put down and humiliated,” he said.

“Now clergy of color have come to us and are serving in ministry in our white-dominated congregations,” he said, suggesting that their presence is a gift, because “people of color see us more clearly.  They have stepped out to minister to us, but find it stressful.”

So at Annual Meeting, the Justice Witness Ministries Committee (JWM)’s Dismantle Racism Team facilitated discussion to celebrate nonwhite churches—such as the Samoan churches—and to acknowledge wrongs by denominations.

Along with the need for white members to understand their privilege and power in society, Steve said.

Mary Flowers helped lead discussion on issues facing clergy of color in PNC congregations.

Members of the team read quotes from stories some African-American clergy shared, because telling stories can change perspectives.

• One pastor expressed anxiety that her suggestions in committee meetings were met with opposition as part of some not wanting a black pastor to take leadership rather than take orders.

• One was told her direct communication style seemed aggressive and angry.

• When a white congregant touched her hair without permission, one felt as if she was in a petting zoo.

• One felt brought to serve as a token so the congregation could pat themselves on the back for being progressive in hiring a black pastor.

Rick Derksen of the People's Institute helps Plymouth UCC address racism and white supremacy.

• When a black congregant told of mistreatment of black people by the congregation, a white member said the black people in the room needed to stop blaming white people for everything.

• One was chastised because a Trump supporter left when she opened space in a Bible study for congregants upset after the election.  When the congregant returned, she gave the pastor the silent treatment.

• During recuperation from injuries in a car accident, no white congregant called on her, but instead accused her of not visiting white members.  Black people are expected to ignore their pain for the sake of white people’s comfort.

• In April 1994, the first ordained black UCC minister in the Washington North Idaho Conference spoke to an adult Sunday school class about his ministry with Union Gospel Mission of the Beacon Ave. UCC.  The leader invited him stay for the morning worship, but as he entered the sanctuary, the pastor greeted him but closed the double doors in his face.  The Rev. Jeffrey Barker, now semi-retired and on call as chaplain at the Children’s Hospital in Seattle, stood outside the doors at Bellevue First before Annual Meeting, handing out a letter telling of his experience.  He later joined Annual Meeting.

Mary Flowers of Village of Hope, a 10-year-old multi-racial, mostly African American anti-racism organization in West Seattle, partnering with Plymouth UCC, said those words were “a small sampling of aggressions some clergy experience in churches every day.

With Village of Hope and European Dissent, Plymouth members have worked three years to develop a model for white congregations to engage in anti-racist organizing in partnership with communities of color, learning how racism was constructed and how it can be undone.

Arising from internalized racial suppression, she said she was traumatized and in tears to learn she would have only an hour to explore the testimonies of the African American clergy at the PNC Annual Meeting.

She had hoped to bring a climate of change in the church.

“A pastor who is not white may feel like a guest, not really at home, even though invited to a position of leadership,” she said.

Rick Derksen, of the People’s Institute, a partner in Plymouth’s anti-racist work and participant in European Dissent, told of training whites and blacks on the internalized relationship they didn’t think about as the church invited Kelle into the pulpit and ministry.

“We couldn’t go in ignorance into the experience,” he said.  “We spoke about leader care.”

Rick said that 20 years ago, he did not understand why it was important for him as a white person to learn about the dominant culture systems, the powers and principalities, he represents.

“I grew up as a missionary’s child.  When I was 20, my wife and I were called to be Mennonite missionaries in the Democratic Republic of Congo, to save lives. I served 20 years.  I did not people in Congo, however, called to be missionaries in the United States.”

Returning to Pennsylvania, he began anti-racism training, beginning seeing himself as open-minded and progressive. 

“I saw other whites as bad whites and myself as a good white,” he said.

After two days, he began to transform, confronting how racism had impacted him and how he internalized messages of superiority, seeing himself as better, more capable, even as a white savior.

“I stopped asking if I was a racist and began asking how my racism played out for me as a person of faith.  Now I know it’s about saving our families, our souls from participating in a system of racism,” Rick said.  “I have five grandchildren who keep me grounded.  We need to name and disrupt white supremacy wherever it is in our society and churches.

“I understand you did a revival service.  Revival is to live again, to be revived,” he said, expressing his commitment to work within white churches so he and they can “live again.”

Mary also pointed out that climate change is about racism and capitalism.

“There homelessness because of racism plus capitalism.  We do programs and services, but people are poor because they lack power,” she said.

Rick said he went to Congo like other Christians of North America who go to tell the lie of colonialism that ripped land from people and made crosses and cathedrals of gold.

Mary told of seeing missionaries with babies with distended stomachs covered flies. 

“We see the child, not the people connected to the message of superiority and inferiority,” she said. “The parents can’t take care of their child if we do not tell the truth of what colonization and capitalism do in a country. They come in and rob people of their health.   We take the babies adopt them.”

She was introduced to the UCC at Trinity in Chicago, which started Plymouth Freedom Schools.  To be President, Barack Obama had to distance himself from the truth Jeremiah White preached at Trinity.

“Jeremiah was demonized.  We were punished for Obama,” she said.

“I thank Trump.  For eight years, we thought we were in a post-racial society,” she said.  “With Trump, we can’t hide.  In churches, we need to know there is racism and we have benefited, but we were oblivious.”

“Until whites wake up and realize it’s not about black’s pain, but about 400 years of families being split, giving our bodies away, being raped, being divided by the spectrum of color.

“Slavery was not a Southern thing.  It was an American thing.  Genocide is not a Southern thing, but an American thing.  Violence is not a Southern thing, but an American thing,” she said.

The concern is that in five years racism will be on the agenda again.

“It’s not an agenda item,” she said.

Steve Claggett said the PNC is starting to do something.  The Dismantle Racism effort is learning because Kelle, Chris Hanson, Robert Brown, Don Bell of Plymouth, Leslie Cunningham Olympia, Ruth Brandon, Everett and others are keeping up the dialogue and communication between meetings.

PNC moderator Wendy Blight said the conference is committed to continue conversation, aware that despite “the sea of whiteness we swim in, the water I grew up in and are accustomed to,” it makes a difference to know a few people, begin to share conversations of pain and to tell me the truth.

“It’s not easy to hear as a white person but it is our life work,” said Wendy, committing to do two things:

1) Take conversation to the next level of leadership, the Board of Directors and Conference council.

2) Challenge the Ministry Resource Committee for next year to see major changes in nominees and what leaders look like.

Steve said it’s tough to talk just one hour and offered times to share ideas to dismantle racism in individuals and churches.

In preparation for Annual Meeting discussions, PNC members were invited to read articles written in 2017 by three black clergy. leadership-dominant-culture-churchesby-bianca-davis-lovelace/

The full statements members of the JWM Dismantling Racism Team shared at Annual Meeting are below.

Lin Hagedorn reads one of the statements.

• I was accused of being aggressive or angry in my preaching. In the Black church preaching is passionate and is celebrated.

• I was told that my “direct” communication style was viewed as aggressive and angry.

• When a Black congregant stood up during joys and concerns to express himself about the mistreatment of Black people by the congregation a white congregant interrupted, screamed, and named all the Black people in the room and said that we needed to “stop blaming white people for everything.”

• Whenever I brought a suggestion or made a comment during committee meetings I was frequently met with opposition. It was clear that they didn’t want a Black pastor to contribute and show leadership instead they wanted someone who would just take orders. I often got anxious every time I had to go to one of these meetings. 

• I felt I was brought here to be a be the black face with no opinion so the congregation could pat themselves on the back for hiring a black pastor so they can have a false sense of feeling progressive. 
• I was chastised for months by a few congregants for one Trump supporter congregant choosing to leave because I opened up space during a bible study for congregants who were visibly upset to express their feelings the day after the presidential election. The congregant eventually came back but would give the silent treatment to me and my family whenever she was around. 

• I got into a major car accident after leaving bible study and my car was totaled. I suffered documented back and knee injuries (that still affect me to this day), was without a car for months and in physical therapy for months. Not one of the white congregants checked on me. Instead I was accused of not wanting to visit congregants, even though I was spending hundreds of dollars each week (that I did not have) on ride shares and car rentals just to get back and forth to church, doctor appointments, & physical therapy all on a salary of $33,000. Black people are required to ignore our own pain, negate resting, and all at the expense of white people’s comfort.

• A white congregant touched my hair without permission in front of my husband as if I was an animal at a petting zoo. 

• I was chastised by white congregants for preaching a sermon about Charlottesville the day after the Charlottesville incident occurred. I was told after that not to preach any more social justice based sermons because it makes people in the congregation uncomfortable.

Kelle Brown and Bianca Davis-Lovelace “tie up” Annual Meeting discussions on recognizing and dismantling racism, holding up cloth that had been torn as part of Friday evening worship tied together as a symbol of reconciling work and commitment of the PNC.

Since Annual Meeting, the Dismantling Racism Team continues the dialogue on race to lead to action within the Conference to support clergy of color. Conference Minister Mike Denton met with the team and the team submitted a letter and proposed actions to the PNC Board of Directors’ June 8 retreat in Spokane.

The Board appointed an ad hoc group to work with the team. The team proposed: 1) a statement in PNC
organizing documents acknowledging the work a conference rooted in white culture must undertake to become more fully a conference welcoming all people, 2) establishing a Clergy of Color Consultancy, and 3) ensuring more than token representation of people of color on conference leadership and committees.

For information, call Steve at 206-795-9475.


Pacific NW UCC News - Copyright © Summer 2019


Share this article on your favorite social media Bookmark and Share