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In defining ‘Gracism,’ panel considers ways to challenge racism

Speakers in a panel on “Gracism” at the Good Neighbor Conference on Dec. 3 in Spokane defined the term as God intersecting to combat racism.

Panelists were Skyler Oberst, Andre Dove, Walter Kendricks and Phil Tyler.

The three-hour mini-conference, organized in a week, drew 29 presenters and 374 participants for sessions on Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, interfaith relations, listening, social media and engaging with leaders.

The Gonzaga Institute for Hate Studies, the Spokane County Human Rights Task Force, Spokane Faith and Values (FAVS) and Spokane Interfaith Council organized the event.

Skyler Oberst, president of the Spokane Interfaith Council, now operating under Spokane FAVs’ nonprofit status, moderated the panel on “Gracism” with the Rev. Andre Dove, pastor of Restoration Church Spokane, Phil Tyler, president of the NAACP Spokane, and the Rev. Walter Kendricks, president of the Spokane Ministers Fellowship and pastor of Morning Star Baptist Church.

“Recently, we have had a spiritual role to heal and call out acts that are not neighborly,” said Andre, who grew up in Chicago and worked 18 years in higher education and teaching high school.  “What is going on is related to hate, but religion does not cause hate.” 

Rather, he said, some people who belong to different religions—Jewish, Buddhist, Christian, Muslim or others—hate, despite their faiths’ teachings of love.

“The fundamental tenet of all religions is to love one another,” he said, quoting author John Steinbeck that “people can’t hate people they get to know.”

So Andre urges people to go beyond the surface level of passing each other on the street.  He suggests that people invite people of other races and religions into their homes.  For him, white people are part of his family.  His oldest son is half white, and his stepfather of 28 years is white. 

“By inviting someone into your house and getting to know the person, walls of fear break down, one relationship at a time,” he said.

Phil said that the Good Neighbor Conference was an opportunity for people to talk of religion and hate.

Often, he said, people of faith are divided by parishes and religions, to the point some hate those who do not have the same set of beliefs, said Phil, who served eight years in the Air Force and 16 with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Department Jail Division. 

Recently a speaker at Life Center, which he attends, introduced him to the term “Gracism,” which puts “G” for God in front of racism.  He said it’s about moving toward people, who are of different races and religions.

“It’s about lifting people up.  It’s about covering and protecting the vulnerable.  It’s about sharing with others and honoring them.  It’s about standing with people and considering them equal, acknowledging and respecting differences and commonalties,” Phil summarized.

Walter, who worked for 35 years with United Airlines before retiring and becoming a full-time minister, reminded that Jesus told his disciples there would be a time they would be put out of the synagogue and killed by people who think they are doing God’s service.  He pointed out that in God’s name there have been countless wars.

“It’s not surprising with the tenor of the elections and recent crimes that people think, believe and are convinced they are doing God’s service,” he said.  “They don’t know Scripture.  They don’t know the power of God.

“We are in a scary time and hate has come out.  How can people hate a person they do not know?  We need to use tools to reason out problems,” he said.

Andre, who has been in Spokane four and a half years, said he believes there is a particular need to say that black lives matter because people are killing black men.  He is concerned for his three sons and daughter, as well as for other black men and women.

“A post-traumatic slave syndrome permeates the lives of many African Americans,” said Andre, who wore a bow tie and jacket “to look professional and credible” to match the fact that he has a master’s degree in theology.  Someone seeing him as a black man might fear him.

“We need to build relationships and spend time breaking bread.  You can’t hate me if you know me.  If you know me, then you can advocate for me and love me enough to push past the cognitive dissonance,” he said.

“When I’m stopped by police, I’m nervous.  I have a visceral response.  My hands grip the steering wheel,” he said. “I don’t know if I’m going to go home.”

He called people to speak up to abolish hate and promote life.

Walter said the “great USA has had a problem with race since its inception,” and it has never really dealt with racism.

He told of going to visit a parishioner in the hospital and having three nurses draw back when he entered the elevator.

“Can’t reasonable people be in a room together?  Maybe I’m in a dream world to think reasonable people can come to reasonable conclusions.  What are we afraid of?” he asked.

“From one man, God created all nations, a rainbow of people.  Why are we afraid of each other?  Why have we allowed fear to divide us?  Can’t we sit at a table and discuss our differences?” Walter challenged.

“We need to leave our comfort zones and reach out to people who do not look like us,” Walter said.

In South Carolina a policeman shot Walter Scott in the back and the jury deadlocked. 

“All lives matter, really?” Walter questions, seeing that and other instances as demonstrating the need for the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

Phil called for more talk on racism, more opportunities “to build relationships to increase world views.

“Rights are not about just us, but about justice.  We cannot hold so tight to our perceptions that we do not assume the good of others.  Holding our perceptions tight, we may clench our hands into a fist.  If we make a fist, we can’t shake hands,” he said.

“We need to be educated, to have a PHD (Passion to Have Dialogue),” he said.  “We need to use that passion to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.  Some conversations can be uncomfortable at first, but we need more dialogue.”

In response to a question about churches being segregated, Walter suggested that churches be in fellowship with each other across racial lines, as his church does in the Northwest neighborhood.

Andre said, “We need to be intentional to build relationships between black and white churches, because Sunday is the most segregated hour.” 

He suggested white churches with some black members put those members on the leadership team so the church reflects God’s kingdom of people of different races.

In response to someone asking if the NAACP is just concerned about blacks, Phil said it was founded by people of many races and has members of many races.

“When we uplift people of color, it helps the whole community, not just African Americans.  We are for civil rights and social justice for all,” he affirmed

He called for transplanting hearts, prying out the negative and divisive, and filling hearts with kindness, inclusiveness and love. 

Asked about LGBT youth being afraid to go to church, because of judgment they have experienced, both Andre and Walter said that a church’s role is to love neighbors and not sit in judgment.

“Things we don’t understand lead us to fear and that divides us,” Walter said. 

“God loves us for who we are and how we are,” Andre said.  “We have to unconditionally love people for who they are.”

“We can’t love anyone until we love ourselves,” Walter added.  “When I understand who God is, I can love myself and love others.”

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