Reflection: Being the “Blessed” Amidst Violence
and deed from brother to brother and sister to sister. And we experience fear and pain. We mourn and sorrow. We wonder if there is hope for righteousness and justice. We question, “Will there be peace among us? When?” In the midst of our questions and uncertainty, we hear the words of Jesus reminding us who we are and what we are about as followers of Christ.
Matthew 5:3-12 (NRSV)
- To be “Blessed” is to be a citizen of God’s world, active participant of God’s kin-dom where all people regardless of whatever categories we have created are valued. To be “Blessed” is to live a life Jesus exemplified. What is your image of the “Blessed?”
- Against the angry shouts of racial slurs and disparaging remarks, what is Jesus saying?
- In the midst of the storm we are living in today, how is God calling you to engage as the “Blessed?”
- What is one thing you can do today to be one of the “Blessed?”
Dear God, Thank you for your Son Jesus Christ who came into our world to be our example of how to be “Blessed.” May we live as the “Blessed” so that others may be blessed through us. May we be “Blessed” to continue our struggle for your kin-dom of equity and justice, of grace and mercy, and of peace and love. Grant us the courage to be a non-anxious presence, strong and grounded in our faith in Christ who directs our word and deed. Amen.
Reflection written by Rev. Dr. Grace Pak
Resources for Your Ministry
INTRODUCTORY: For preachers and/or churches who are just entering into the work of racial justice and equity. Beliefs about racial injustice or terror have not been preached from the pulpit. The term “white supremacy” describes only the acts of “fringe groups” like the KKK, cross-burning, or lynching but not associated with historic or contemporary Christianity. The events of Charlottesville were shocking because it was believed that “we were past that” or “we didn’t realize those fringe groups were still around.”
- 25 Traits of the Beloved Community
- Living Into the Beloved Community: Making the Beloved Community Real
- Is Reverse Racism Really a Thing?
- 5 Ways of Diversifying the Table
- 10 Ways to Be More Faithful than Post-Racial
- Moving the Race Conversation Forward is a video that breaks down the differences between four types of racism and defines the concept of systemic awareness. (You can look at this individually – or – gather a small group of pastors and ot laity from your area or annual conference and watch the video together – then brainstorm the following questions to provide a wider breadth of knowledge and wisdom for preaching about or responding to racism in the future.
- What are the 4 types of racism presented in the video?
- What are the differences between them?
- What does it mean to be “systemically aware?”
- Think back to discussions about racism you have heard in the church. On what “type” of racism were they concentrated? Was this discussion systemically aware? If not, imagine what would have been needed in order to transform it into a systemically aware discussion (i.e., what changes to focus, what changes to language, what information needed to be added or left out).
WHAT’S NEXT? For pastors and/or churches who are able to define “white privilege,” “systemic racism,” and “anti-racism.” Beliefs about racial injustice or terror have been preached from the pulpit and many people will have also participated in intercultural competency or anti-racism workshops. The term “white supremacy” describes both acts of the KKK and white nationalist groups as well as systemic racism that benefits those who are racialized as white. The events of Charlottesville were shocking because it was believed that radical white supremacist groups were not “part of our neighborhoods and churches.” Statements like, “go home” and “we won’t put up with that here” were used to separate everyday acts of white supremacy or the “people who would attend the rally” from who “we” are.
- Many people have been shocked by the events of Charlottesville. What is more difficult is for some is to connect the events of Charlottesville with white privilege or systemic racism. What was most shocking to you about the events in Charlottesville? Why were they shocking for you? Create a list with the connections between white privilege and the events of Charlottesville. Reflect and discuss.
- Many people consider Charlottesville a “one-off” event. Some consider it an event which also sparked responses such as those occurring the next weekend in Texas, California, and Massachusetts. Google the “response events” and discuss the similarities and differences between them. Now consider how Charlottesville is connected to other events/decisions based in white supremacy and systemic racism. After reflecting and discussing the connections in “society out there” consider seriously the connections in “the church right here.”
- Many of the events of Charlottesville were captured on video, many were not. Share anything you have heard from those who were at Charlottesville (either that you heard in person or read a witness account) that were not captured on video. What are the similarities and differences of what was publicized widely and what wasn’t? Reflect and discuss the “both sides” argument that indicates fault/blame on both protestors (those who were protesting the removal of the confederate statue) and counter-protestors (those who were protesting against the “Unite the Right” rally). What evidence are you using? Why?
- Now that you have seen the events that occurred in Charlottesville, what does it mean for you/your church/sermons to bear witness to them? What evidence will you use?
- Baptism and Call to Justice
- Many of the UMC Bishops in their statements and UMC preachers in their sermons responded to the events of Charlottesville with a call to remember our baptismal vows. This resource provides a step by step reflection and engagement of the UMC baptismal vows as it relates to anti-racism. After reviewing the vows which can be found in the the United Methodist Hymnal, what concrete, specific, actionable, and measurable steps will you/your small group/your church take to enact our baptism in the fight against white supremacy and racism in all of its forms?
- Wait… That’s Privilege?
- Depending on how much work you/your group/your church has done with privilege (racial, economic, gender, etc) consider adding or substituting the following questions in the “post quiz questions for consideration:”
- Compare the protests in Ferguson and counter-protests Charlottesville. Make a list of the similarities and differences. How does race influence these similarities or differences? How, if at all, did racial privilege affect safety, police response, or descriptions of the events?
- Name your own privileges in your own words. How will you use your privileges to do the work of dismantling and defeating white supremacy and racism in all of its forms? Name those actions specific to that work IN the church.
- The Rev. Dr. William Barber, Disciples of Christ pastor and architect of the Moral Movement, offers a succinct, historical, and powerful overview of ways to situate white supremacy within the larger American context as well as provide a roadmap for future action here. After watching the video, reflect on and discuss the following Individual or Small Group Questions:
- What does Dr. Barber say is the difference between denouncing Charlottesville and denouncing white supremacy?
- What does Dr. Barber say is the difference between and the usefulness of addressing the “statues” and the “statutes” of white supremacy?
- How does Dr. Barber refute the claim of “I am not a racist” when only based on someone having a Black or Brown friend?
- Barber mentions the names of many Civil Rights sheroes and heroes who have died and empowers us to consider ourselves their children who will continue the fight today. Name 3 Civil Rights ancestors whose legacy you will connect with and continue. (For white people, it is imperative to name at least 1 white person active in the work of Civil Rights with whom you can claim affinity.)
- What specific actions will your church take within the next week and the next month to engage in some of the specific action items that Dr. Barber suggests in fighting white supremacy?
VETERAN (What Else Can We Say/Do): For preachers and/or churches who have been doing the work of anti-racism for a long time in multiple arenas: from the pulpit, attending and offering workshops, activism, changing structures and policies within the local and/or connectional church to ensure racial justice and equity. The term “white supremacy” describes both acts of the KKK and white nationalist groups as well as systemic racism that benefits those who are racialized as white. The events of Charlottesville were shocking because the rally was in broad daylight and the Klan no longer wore hoods. The connections between the expressions of white supremacy at Charlottesville and the day-to-day expressions of white supremacy are historic, deep, and entrenched. This group might have difficulty figuring out “what else” to say or be and is burnt out from what Rev. Dr. Teresa Fry Brown calls “Justice Fatigue” that they need care themselves.
- Listening in Diversity: Different Ways of Thinking about Tolerance
- First go through the learning engagement as it is. Then add the following questions:
- What is the difference between tolerance and understanding someone who thinks differently than you, according to the resource? Consider whether you “tolerate” or are in “community with” people who have different perspectives about Charlottesville. What would it take for you/your church to do more than “tolerate” a person who has a different perspective on taking down confederate statues, the right to hold rallies and the right to free speech, or Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter?
- Consider the Tolerance Paradox attributed to Karl Popper in 1945 which states that tolerance cannot tolerate intolerance because the first thing intolerance does is to eradicate tolerance. Read that statement again. Reflect and discuss your thoughts about this. Do you think tolerance (in the sense of allowing for multiple perspectives to be valid even when people don’t agree upon them) is ever “allowed” have intolerance for anything? In other words, does intolerance of intolerance make us tolerant or intolerant? If not – how does our Christian faith help us to draw the line in faithful places?
- First go through the learning engagement as it is. Then add the following questions:
- The Trouble with Conformity
- Add or substitute the following questions in light of the events at Charlottesville.
- Consider the statement, “Resistance to oppression requires creativity.” What aspects of your faith help to create spaces for and defend creativity? How has conformity to Christian doctrine or traditions helped to assist oppression and oppressive systems? What does it mean to “be the Church” in light of Charlottesville?
- Some Christians would not participate in the non-violent counter-protest organized by Congregate Charlottesville (or in the taking down of confederate statues before laws were changed) because they did not agree with participating in civil-disobedience. Some Christians denounce the acts of the “Antifa” because, while the “Antifa” are committed to non-violence as a default, they are not opposed to using violence to defend themselves or others in response to physical violence. How do you discern where the line is between conformity and creativity in the work of anti-racism or destroying white supremacy?
LONG-TERM ACTIVISM (When Those in the Fight Need Care): Sermons with discussion questions – especially for those who are burnt out from years of anti-racism activism and work and/or are “sick and tired of being sick and tired” (Fannie Lou Hamer).
- Jesus, Justice Fatigue, and Why Being Black is Exhausting
- All the Charlestons: We Press On for Justice
- Further reflection and discussion questions after watching these videos:
- How did you respond to the events of Charlottesville? If you were there, describe your participation and perspective. Reflect and discuss how your previous work in anti-racism affected your response (in whatever form including internal responses and not actively engaging in public response) to Charlottesville.
- If you are a person who is directly targeted by the oppression and terror of white supremacy – how did you (are you) seek/ing care for yourself since Charlottesville?
- What do you do individually?
- What do you do (or not do) in different communities in which you participate?
- How does your faith or the examples of your faith-filled sheroes and heroes inform your regimen of self-care?
- Do you ever feel guilty for needing or participating in self-care? What aspects of your faith or examples from others might help alleviate your guilt for taking the time for self-care?
- If you are burnt out right now – how would you like others to support you?
- How might the work of multi-racial coalitions doing the work of anti-oppression together create spaces for self-care even in the midst of the ongoing struggle for liberation and safety for all? How much time will you protect for yourself before working to create or participate in a multi-racial, intersectional, anti-oppression coalition?
Have You Checked Out Our Vital Conversations Videos?
1. Introductory conversations. What is racism and how do we start talking about it?
- “Meaningful Conversations About Race,” by Dr. David Anderson Hooker
- Tell a story from the perspective of white nationalists who gathered in Charlottesville. What are some trends in U.S. society that might have motivated them to gather?
- Consider another point of view. What do Black, Latino, and Native American people experience in our nation that they might construe as racist? As white privilege and supremacy?
- “Being A White Ally with People of Color, ” by Dr. Katelin Hansen
- What have you learned as a Christian that might lead you to become an “ally” with people directly affected by racism? What does your walk with Christ tell you about standing with people in trouble?
- Many of the white nationalists in Charlottesville would describe themselves as Christians. What are they missing in their understanding of following Christ?
- Recall a time when a sermon you heard in church or Bible school lessons addressed racial justice and reconciliation. What happens when the church says nothing on these issues?
2. What’s next? Recognizing and addressing how racism and white privilege might stymie our ministries of nurture, outreach, and witness.
- “Deconstructing White Privilege,” Dr. Robin DiAngelo
- During the Charlottesville riots in 2017, a small group of Christian and Jewish religious leaders held a counter-demonstration calling for racial unity. What Biblical call might they have been answering that brought them to face down the hate groups?
- What might your faith group do to let your community know that you are a safe and welcoming space for all people? What role might you play in positioning your church as a community that welcomes, invites, and wants all people to come and participate?
- What things might have to change in your church to welcome people of diverse races and ethnicities? Are you willing to enact some of those changes? How?
- “Contrasting Current Activism with Civil Rights Movements of the Past,” by Rev. Jennifer Bailey
How are young people today addressing racial injustice and racial conflict? What methods and movements seem more affective? What methods remind you of previous human rights movements? What methods do you have concerns about?
How are the strategies of today’s young activists similar to those of the 1960’s and before? How do their methods different?
3. For those experienced in and ready to take the next step in confronting racism.
- “Continued Struggles in American Race Relations,” by Dr. Philip Klinkner
- The vocal resurgence of white nationalists in the United States is, according to Klinkner, evidence of an “unsteady march” on a long road to racial justice and equity. What trends in the last five or ten years are part of that “march?” How did people of color gain in terms of justice in this nation? Are any gains being rolled back?
- The 2017 riots in Charlottesville saw white nationalists calling for a return to “white American values.” What “values” do you think they meant? What current events may have led to the white nationalist actions?
- What is your church saying or doing to help you consider and think about the current racial climate in our nation and world? How is your church either neutral, part of the justice making, or part of the division among racial groups in this nation?
- “Intersections of Oppression and Experiences in Ferguson” by Dr. Pamela Lightsey
- Recalling the riots in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 following the death of Michael Brown, compare that to what happened in Charlottesville. What were the issues in both cases of racial unrest? Which groups held the highest social power in each case?
- Discuss how intersections of oppression might make these people vulnerable to discrimination: A Native American woman; a white child living in poverty in a rural area; an immigrant from Syria living in Germany; an elderly black man joining a counter-demonstration again white nationalists in Charlottesville; a young Latino adult woman born in the U.S., but whose parents came to the U.S. illegally.
- Is there a cause for which you would join a public demonstration? What circumstances might compel you to speak and act publicly in a demonstration?