It's time for an honest conversation about discrimination
Years ago in seminary, I was amazed and dismayed to find out that our New Testament professors would not address in class the texts that many people in the church used to tell women that we could not be pastors or leaders. We petitioned for those texts to be covered, but were denied. Instead we convened a group ourselves of our classmates, as many as would come, and we studied the texts together. I remember saying to the men in the group at the time that they needed to speak up and help their people understand the context of those Scriptures. No one would listen to me as a woman say that women could be ministers – only those who already had the power could help with that. Men already were ministers, and I’m thankful to say that many men have spoken up through the years.
Today, I would add to my statement. The best way to help people understand women in ministry is to still have those who are accepted interpret Scripture and speak in favor of women in ministry. It’s also to have women share both their stories of call and their stories of hurt, pain, and rejection, for all to hear. Discrimination against women in ministry still exists today, and always will throughout my lifetime, I’m sure.
I share this story because we need to have a frank talk about race. I have kept quiet longer than I should have, trying to figure out how to say something without making people uncomfortable. Yet, discomfort is exactly what we need right now, to make us ready to change things. There are many layers of discomfort across our society, but many of them relate to how we treat people who are different from us.
I’d like you to imagine your children and grandchildren (or nieces/nephews, etc.) into each role in the death of George Floyd. Would you want your child or grandchild held down until death by someone who disrespected them for their identity – whether race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, or anything else? Would you want your child or grandchild in the role of the officer who held him down until death? Or how about in the role of the officers who stood by and let it happen? Is any of that acceptable in your mind? What would Jesus do in this situation?
The only way we change the way our society acts is by intentional choices in a different direction, and it starts with each of us. Parallel to the issue of women in ministry, we need the people in power (white people) to make changes, and we need to hear, honor, and listen carefully to the stories of black and brown people to understand their experiences, pain, and suffering. Even taking out the dimension of police officers and civilians, there is plenty of racism and bias out there. We all are biased, like it or not. Change starts with awareness of our biases, and intentional decisions to make things better for others, without worrying about ourselves. Our Christian faith calls us to tend first to those who are oppressed, marginalized, and mistreated, and to do so with self-sacrificial love. Standing by quietly because it doesn’t affect us is not found anywhere in the gospel.
I’m inviting you to consider what you might do. Here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to start by having honest and frank conversations with my children about what equality vs. equity vs. justice looks like (one example is at https://www.icafoodshelf.org/blog/2017/11/15/equity-vs-equality-vs-justice-how-are-they-different). Justice takes everything one step further – removing barriers that divide us or that block us from what life has to offer. I want them to understand how to use their voices to stand up against what is wrong.
Then I’m going to get back to reading books that help me understand my own biases (i.e. Waking Up White by Debby Irving and How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi) and find positive courses of action that are helpful. I’m also going to continue to listen to people by reading their stories and having in-person conversations when possible. I’ll involve my children in this too, as much as I can for their age and maturity.
I’ll remind you that there is a group in Harford County having interracial dialogue, called Coming to the Table. They meet on the first Thursday of the month at 7 pm, currently on Zoom. I have been and found it a good and enriching meeting. Thursdays are challenging for me, so I haven’t been there recently, but if it’s good for you, they meet next on June 4. Reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org, and tell them I sent you. One of our former preschool parents is one of the organizers here.
The response we see is the pain of a group of people who feel powerless, unappreciated, wronged, and mistreated. Their pain and suffering is every bit as important as ours, and being in the positions we are, we cannot imagine their experience unless we listen. I want you all to know that I detest all kinds of discrimination, and I stand for the full and grace-filled inclusion, welcome, and support of all people as children of God. I never want my children or grandchildren to play any of the roles in the death of George Floyd. I want to imagine a new role they could play, and I will do my best to raise them in that way.
Humbly in Christ,