Part of being Pittsboro Presbyterian and a Matthew 25 congregation is our commitment to dismantling structural racism. Simply put, this means recognizing racist policies (written and unwritten) and helping replace them with anti-racist policies. Part of our task is to learn how racism works nationally and historically so that we can recognize anti-racist and racist policies affecting our own congregation and community. While there is much in our tradition for which to repent, the material below also highlights how many aspects of our Presbyterian heritage offer us hope in understanding and reforming racist policies to become more like God’s intended church and kingdom.
Check out these links to learn more about how YOU can help your community and congregation be anti-racist and allow God’s love, justice and mercy to permeate more of our ministry!
What Can We Do As a Congregation?
Understand the Original Sin of US History (click to read)
UNDERSTAND OUR HISTORY AS ORIGINAL SIN (perpetuating white supremacy through silence & inaction)
The PC (USA)’s 2016 policy, Facing Racism, offerings a powerful vision of understanding the sin of racism. Here are some excerpts (with bold added for emphasis):
Racism is the opposite of what God intends for humanity. It is the rejection of the other, which is entirely contrary to the Word of God incarnate in Jesus Christ. It is a form of idolatry that elevates human-made hierarchies of value over divinely-given free grace. Through colonization and slavery, the United States of America helped to create and embrace a system of valuing and devaluing people based on skin color and ethnic identity. The name for this system is white supremacy. This system deliberately subjugated groups of people for the purpose of material, political, and social advantage. Racism is the continuing legacy of white supremacy. Racism is a lie about our fellow human beings, for it says that some are less than others. It is also a lie about God, for it falsely claims that God favors parts of creation over the entirety of creation.
Because of our biblical understanding of who God is and what God intends for humanity, the PC(USA) must stand against, speak against, and work against racism. Antiracist effort is not optional for Christians. It is an essential aspect of Christian discipleship, without which we fail to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Since the invasion of the Americas by Europeans, indigenous peoples have borne the brutal consequences of white supremacy. Racism against Native Americans has led to lower health, income, and education indicators, as well as higher rates of suicide and other forms of violence. Although they are the most legislated racial group in the U.S., Native Americans are often rendered invisible in national conversations about race, erasing their struggles, perseverance, and contributions.
Anti-black racism has been a structural component of the United States from the beginning. The Constitution defined an African American as three-fifths of a person, denying their full humanity. The economic foundations of the United States were built on slave labor. The legal system of the United States has consistently perpetuated the subjugation of African Americans throughout the history of the nation.
Hispanics/Latinos-as have been a vital part of the fabric of the United States, particularly since the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, when a large part of Mexico became what is now the southwestern United States and when the U.S. invaded Puerto Rico in 1898. Yet Hispanics/Latinos-as are often presumed to be undocumented and difficult to assimilate.
Asian Pacific Americans experience racism as perpetual foreigners, whether they and their ancestors have been in the United States for seven generations or one generation. Vastly different Asian American populations, such as Chinese Americans and Cambodian Americans, are grouped together, erasing cultural differences and unique contributions. Immigrants from all over the world continue to experience oppression, exploitation, and inequality due to racism in America. Furthermore, a
persistent focus on race as a black-white binary has been used as a tool of white supremacy to prevent coalition-building among different groups. For example, the representation of Asian Americans as model minorities has relegated them to a “wedge” position between white and black, in service of white supremacy.
While recognizing that racism victimizes many different racial ethnic groups, we acknowledge its unique impact on the African American community. Given the particular forms that anti-black racism has taken in the United States of America both historically (including slavery and Jim Crow) and today (including mass incarceration, disproportionate policing, economic inequality, and continuing acts of racially oriented violence and hate), we state clearly: GOD LOVES BLACKNESS. Too many have denied this basic truth for too long. Our choice to align ourselves with love and not hate requires both a rejection of racism and a positive proclamation that God delights in black lives.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we stand against racism in all its myriad forms. As Presbyterians, we have specific resources in our tradition that can be useful in turning away from racism and towards the diversity and justice that God desires. In particular, we have received wisdom regarding sin, confession, and repentance.
Reformed theology offers a nuanced understanding of sin. Calvin did not understand sin to be simply an individual belief, action, or moral failing (Calvin, 1960). Rather, he viewed sin as the corporate state of all humanity. It is an infection that taints each of us and all of us. No part of us—not our perception, intelligence, nor conscience—is unclouded by sin. This does not mean that human beings are awful. Rather, it means that we must have humility about our own righteousness, and that we must cling to the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
Nineteenth century theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher reiterates the corporate and communal nature of sin. He writes that sin is “in each the work of all and in all the work of each” (Schleiermacher, 288). He uses the terms “original sin” and “actual sin” to explain. The sinful actions and beliefs of each person (actual sin) contribute to communal ways of being that are in opposition to God (original sin). As people are born and raised in the context of original sin, they begin to commit actual sin, and the cycle continues.
These old-fashioned terms can be helpful in understanding contemporary problems, including racism. Bigoted beliefs, hate crimes, prejudice, and intentional discrimination are all actual sin. They stem from, and contribute to, the original sin of systemic racism that permeates our culture and society. The actual sins of past generations—such as slavery, the Indian Removal Act, the Chinese Exclusion Act, the colonization of Hawaii and Guam, the Immigration Act of 1924, and so on—become the original sin in which we live. This is manifested in severe inequality in education, wealth, income, and opportunity. For example, consider a white man returning from Army service in 1945. The G.I. Bill offered him college tuition and a low-interest mortgage, potentially on land taken from Native Americans by force or coercion. A black man returning from an equal length of Army service did not receive the same benefits due to racism in the administration of the G.I. Bill and widespread discrimination in housing. In 2015, the white man’s descendants have the benefits of inherited wealth (home equity) and increased education, while the black man’s grandchildren do not.
Breaking the Cycle of Silence and Inaction (click to read)
Continuing from the vision of the PC (USA)’s 2016 policy, Facing Racism: No one today needs to commit an actual sin for this inequality to continue. Original sin does not need our intentional consent to thrive. Silence and inaction are enough. This nuanced concept of sin can be particularly useful in understanding how people of goodwill who do not harbor prejudice or intend bigotry are still participants in original sin.
White people in the United States of America continue collectively to reap the benefits of white supremacy, even when they individually believe in the equality of all people. Our theological heritage regarding sin makes it possible for Presbyterians to acknowledge the complex realities of racism instead of moving to defend an illusion of individual innocence.
The second valuable resource from our tradition is the importance of confession and repentance. Acknowledging our sinfulness ought not to produce self-hatred or paralyzing guilt. Rather, the appropriate response is to confess our sin before God and one another, confident in the grace and love of God. The grace that enables us to confess also empowers us to repent, that is, to turn and walk the other way, towards the eschatological vision of God’s new creation. By grace we are forgiven, and we respond to this grace with gratitude, humility, and renewed zeal for the Gospel.
Finally, as Presbyterians we know something about work. While aspects of the Protestant work ethic may be problematic, to the degree that it signifies our determination, persistence, and stubborn strength, we embrace it in this regard: we commit ourselves to DO THE WORK of countering racism in our witness to the Gospel. In our affirmation that God loves difference, we will honor diversity as a good in which God delights. In our conviction that God desires justice, we will learn from others to broaden our understanding of equality. In our humility as sinful people, we will listen openly to diverse voices regarding how racism functions in our society. In our gratitude for God’s grace, we will turn again and again towards the vision of whole community found in the Word of God. In our joyous response to God’s love, we will love one another.
Questions for Pittsboro Presbyterian (click to read)
The Study Guide about Shifting Accountability for Racial Ethnic Ministries
in the PC(USA) from Variety to Equity offers these as the necessary quesitons for every congregation to answer:
Patterns—In the light of the “history lessons” learned about interracial relationship, multiracial inclusion, cross-cultural communication, and culturally attentive governance, what unproductive and unhealthy patterns of relationship need to be broken?
Postures—What new postures (ways of being in relationship) and perspectives (ways of seeing one another) need to be set and cultivated in order that “inclusiveness and diversity” are experienced in new or enhanced forms of mutual respect, genuine fellowship, and meaningful representation and inclusion?
Processes—What new or revised approaches are needed in planning, managing, and evaluating in order for the appropriate conception, creative design, and sustained development of racial ethnic ministries?
Practices—What needs to be done so that culturally-different approaches to racial ethnic ministry can be understood, encouraged, interpreted, and supported as diversity-enhancing differences rather than division-causing differences?
Positioning—What immediate adjustments and experiments do we need so that efforts to begin new regional racial ethnic ministries not only celebrate gifts of ethnic culture but also demonstrate sensitive and innovative ecclesiastical culture?
The PC (USA) has several resources to help inform approaches to anti-racism. (click on the picture)
This 15 page study provides great questions for congregations that can help guide us into anti-racism work of dismantling our own systems of racism.
The Stated Clerk has an excellent article showing how church leaders remain complicit in racism when they do not speak up against it.
What Can I Do As An Individual?
“Love Your Enemies” – Jesus
Matthew 5:43-48 has Jesus telling his disciples to be different from others by loving their enemies. Learn how Daryl Davis took his curiosity about why people didn’t like him to courageously befriend his enemies resulting in the dismantling of the KKK in Maryland.
Who is someone you’re almost certain to disagree with bitterly, and yet God is calling you to speak with them with greater frequency, calmness and respect?
Every-Day Practical Tips
Corrine Shutak offers 75 ideas white people can do to stop standing by in compilcit silence when our non-white sisters and brothers are killed and placed in danger every day due to the lack of these actions taking place.
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