One of the more visible effects of global
warming is flooding, and coastal cities -like Lagos, Nigeria- are seeing a
rise in sea levels, due to melting polar icecaps. As one of the most populous
cities on the continent of Africa, communities fear that the city is becoming
unhabitable. This is because while floods are not foreign to Nigeria -March to
November are peak rainy months-, the floods this year have been some of the
worst on record.
This issue is further exacerbated
by unreliable drainage systems, waste management facilities, and rushed poor
housing infrastructure. Lack of infrastructural
resistance and/or agility in the face of climate change put the lives of
residents at risk. Torrential rain because of ecological injustice and rising
sea levels, coupled with a coastline that is constantly eroding due to being
mined for construction purposes, the urgency of now cannot be overstated.
priorities by the Lagos State government geared towards caring for the
environment such as: proper waste management facilities, tree-planting
exercises, and avenues for environmental sustainability awareness have been
abandoned, leaving residents and indigenes reeling and struggling to keep up
with manifestations of ecological injustice, such as these torrential floods.
Governmental and institutional failure to see these floods not just as an
ecological issue but also as a public health, security, and class issue as well
highlights how tragic its dismal response to the recent flooding and the displacement and hardship it is causing.
Western efforts to disseminate
capitalism via economic and democratic conditions in the name of ‘development’
sees cities such as Lagos located on the African continent -which produces 2-3%
of carbon emissions, being disproportionately impacted by the effects of
climate change. Often advocacy for a political economy that mirrors that of
countries like the US, which have large industrial economies -industries that
include a food system contingent displacement and immigrant worker
exploitation, or the military & arms industry- in countries like Nigeria do
not highlight the violence that is the cornerstone of these political economies.
Additionally, dependency is what is usually advanced through efforts of
disseminating development via institutions such as IMF, World Bank and even US
State department and USAID. Ecological injustice is a direct ramification of
turning a blind eye to the slippery underbelly of the current political
economy. There is a direct connection between the maligned, capitalistic use of
the land for coal, oil, monoculture farming and animal rearing, funding +
sustaining of extrajudicial wars and environmental degradation. Analysis of the
torrential floods impacting coastal cities such as Lagos must be done within
the larger context of ecological injustice internationally.
As people of faith, we have an
obligation to hold in love the land and all who walk on it. An important way of
doing so is understanding the ways in which we are complicit, questioning, or
actively pushing back against structures and institutions causing harm -harm
that disproportionately impacts black and brown bodies worldwide. Pushing back
against ecological injustice is work that does not take place only in the
sphere of the individual; changing your recycling and composting habits is half
a step in a fifty-mile journey. Ecological justice is also a security, public
health, and economic issue, and we must orient ourselves to thinking about the
work of loving the earth and all who walk on it in these realms too. This week
especially, as we gather in to break bread with our loved ones, on stolen land
soaked with the blood of indigenous nations who even now steward and care for
the land, we echo the sentiments shared in the World
Council of Churches Statement in response to COP26, which “…acknowledge[s]
and affirm[s] the agency and leadership of Indigenous People…” and “…appeals
for a fundamental conversation in all our nations, societies, churches, and
communities, away from the destructive exploitative path which has led us to
this precipice, towards a just and sustainable future.”
Susuyu Lassa is currently a
seminarian at Bethany Theological Seminary. She is from Nigeria -born in Lagos-
and is a member of the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria (EYN). This op-ed was
written to fulfill the requirements of the 2021 Faithful Climate Action
I have done a lot of growing in
this year of service.
And no, it’s not the kind of growth that takes place with a background of sunshine and rainbows and peppy music, but the hard, achy kind of growth. Still I walk around with these growing pains, sitting with questions that push at my own personal perceptions of peacebuilding, service, and what it means to actively build the kind of peace that mandates liberation for all.
Earlier in the year, I wrote about the struggle of maintaining resolve in the face of what seems like a stagnant, and in some cases regressive, time in our political climate. In the time that since that piece, I know that my resolve has weakened, and naturally, anger was poised to take its place. COVID-19 ripped back the curtain on the various systemic problems in the U.S and worldwide, and police brutality and racial injustice were once again cast into the limelight (with the help of live social media documentation of a phenomenon that is as old as the institution of policing itself).
In bearing cognizance of my anger
and the ire that burns hot in my belly, I wondered what to do with this fire.
After getting tired of letting it burn me out and leaving me weak, through the
help of Audre Lorde, I came to realize its refining power. Through her words, I
came to see the malleability of anger and its ability to be used as a powerful
source of energy, and I utilized its energy for reflection.
Left to focus on the intent and motivation behind my work as opposed to the outcome -because the outcomes were increasingly unfavorable- I became aware of how little time and reflection I had devoted to this endeavor. As the observatory lens turned away from what change we could effect and towards the why and the how, I was awash in the light of the selfishness of my approach to service. There I sat, questioning why I was doing this work, and not being thrilled with the answers.
I noticed that my approach to this
work centered the things I thought would be beneficial to the demographics that
I was advocating for; it didn’t center their own needs, wants, and aspirations,
and this was a glaring problem. This was something that I also noticed in various
of the spaces that I interacted with while in this position, and I felt
comfortable in my criticism of these spaces but remained oblivious to my
complicit conceptualization of the very same service that I was engaged in.
It soon became obvious that I needed to look at my motivations for service, first and foremost, as an act of service to those that I am in-service of. I needed to make “basic and radical alterations in those assumptions underlining” why I serve as a peacebuilder, and in utilizing the refining fire of anger, I called out my own biases and began the process of reconstructing my perceptions and motivation around service and peacebuilding. This is an ongoing process, and I hope that it only ends with a world where ALL can grow, because we are not free until the most marginalized within our world is free.
This year has been one of
learning and aching, and I gleefully rejoice for the work that I have been able
to do on myself while actively in service of others. I came into this position
with a reservoir of resolve and energy, and that reservoir has been severely
depleted. However, I see this not as a bad thing, but as a necessary
pre-condition to the work of understanding the assumptions around why I serve,
and what the larger implications of my actions are for the well-being of demographics
in which I have an active interest.
I know that in what should be a
blog post about the work done in service of others this year, I have spoken
more so about myself.
I think that is the point.
Service is a necessary, worthwhile, and laudable endeavor, but doing the work of examining why we serve is an act of service in and of itself. This year has helped to clarify my hazy assumptions and preconceived notions about what it means to truly be in service of others, and in that way has strengthened me as a peacebuilder. This work, for me, took place within my year of service, and while I am thankful that working at OPP provided me the conditions to come to this realization, I am cognizant that this is work that should be intentionally done by all who serve others, in all avenues and capacities.
I am better peacebuilder for working at the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy; its been a tumultuous year, but I believe that this refining process has instigated in me a process of discernment that is of paramount importance when working in service of others. I plan to head to Bethany Theological Seminary in the Fall to gain a Masters in Peacebuilding, and I hope to tailor my projects and reading materials to study theology from the perspective of African American Liberation Theology. Afterwards, I intend to continue in the vein of peacebuilding, because this is necessary work.
OPP Report on the Churches for Middle East Peace Annual Advocacy Summit by Galen Fitzkee
Representatives of the Brethren Office of Peacebuilding and Policy (OPP) tuned in to the annual Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) Advocacy Summit on Monday, June 22, to become more educated about the Israeli-Palestinian relationship and advocacy efforts to bring peace to the Middle East. We were soon reminded that a virtual conference is not a perfect substitute for meeting together on Capitol Hill, however technical difficulties were resolved in short order and the program commenced. The theme of the webinar was Equal in God’s Eyes, Human Rights and Dignity for all in Israel and Palestine and focused heavily on the efforts we can all take to promote a peaceful and holistic solution to the fraught situation between Israel and Palestine. Jeremey Ben Ami of J Street oriented those of us who were less knowledgeable with a brief summary of the human and political considerations involved in the fight against annexation of Palestine. He shared a message of optimism and encouraged each of us to get involved to change the course of American policy and thus the future of the Palestinian and Israeli people who both deserve a right to control their own futures. Ben Ami answered some questions about the immediate future of the region and layed out points of action that the US can take including clearly defining purposes for financial aid and making fair and balanced criticism of Israeli actions in international bodies.
COVID, Middle East, and
Next, we quickly transitioned into a panel of speakers from all over the world including Jerusalem, Gaza, Geneva, and the United States to talk about the human rights work of their various organizations. COVID-19 is making a tough situation worse throughout the Middle East and all around the world, according to World Council of Churches rep Carla Khijoyan. Jessica Montell, executive director of Israeli human rights organization HaMoked, reminded us that restrictions to reduce the spread of the virus are necessary but can be used as a pretext for human rights abuses and actually exacerbate other injustices. Bassam Nasser of CRS informed us about the current reality of life in Gaza, which has been defined by intense restrictions since before the pandemic. He noted new restrictions particularly affect access to education, which is usually a source of hope for Palestinians looking for a way to overcome their oppression. Overall, they encouraged us to get our information directly from the source and to focus on people rather than politics to both solve a humanitarian crisis and address the systems of power that undermine sovereignty and contribute to instability for all parties.
After a break for lunch, CMEP
provided us an overview of their mission and programs that work to Educate,
Elevate, and Advocate for the Middle East. Initiatives such as Pilgrimage to
Peace Tours offer a first-hand look at the conditions in Israel/Palestine and
help build relationships with local peacebuilders. CMEP also has made an effort
to bring marginalized women’s voices to the forefront in the peace movement.
Conflict resolution, even between extreme ideological groups. CMEP demonstrated
that they have meaningful connections with faith leaders all across the region
in places like Egypt and Iraq, and our very own Nathan Hosler made an
appearance in a picture with members of CMEP and the Assyrian Church in Erbil.
CMEP offers a wealth of video resources on their website as well as educational
literature and ways to get involved with advocacy for peace. They often use the
hashtag #ChurchesAgainstAnnexation on social media.
Protecting our Right to Stand
for Palestinian Freedom
In light of the current unrest due
to racial injustice in the United States, CMEP welcomed Dima Khalidi of
Palestinian Legal Aid to draw parallels between the plight of Black Americans
and Palestinians. “We are all held captive by a global system that prioritizes
profit over people” she said as she encouraged us to hold fast to the truth
about inequality and systemic realities that affect our neighbors here at home
and abroad. Once we understand our origins, there is a responsibility to
finally react to the work of black artists and organizers that implore us to
act. We must follow their lead and listen to the solutions that they require in
order to imagine an alternative society that is free of oppression. The
response to movements against oppression such as the Black Lives Matter
coalition has been and will continue to be repression and mislabeling, which we
have seen first-hand in the United States. Palestinians face repression in the
fight for their rights too. Leader reputations take a serious hit from smear
campaigns and intense legal scrutiny in Palestine just because they speak out
in favor of Palestinian rights. These threats and mischaracterizations of
Palestine as terroristic or anti-Semitic have increased as grassroots support
has grown. Pro-Israel groups have unleashed an assault on peaceful advocacy by
bogging down efforts toward progress in legislation and seeking to criminalize and
intimidate dissent strategies such as boycotting. While Khalidi wanted to make
clear that the root causes of the situations in the US and Palestine are
fundamentally different, it is amazing that we are witnessing similar
strategies from the US and Israeli governments play out in real time. So, what
can we do to stand with those fighting the uphill battle against oppression and
subsequently repression? First, we must protect the right of advocacy and free
speech rights as ways to dissent and fight for social justice. We should
recognize that bold demands will not be easily accepted by the powers that be
in either case because they have a stake in the oppression of minorities and
the status quo. Finally, we must go back to the roots of the injustice in
Palestine and the US so that reform and redevelopment can result in holistic
and lasting changes. Khalidi left us to ponder a variation of the following
question: Are we willing to listen to the oppressed and give up comfortability
in order to finally achieve the worldly embodiment of Equality in God’s Eyes?
Foreign Policy and Election
Since 2020 is an election year and
the presidential election is fast-approaching, CMEP Senior Director of Advocacy
and Government Relations Kyle Cristofalo hosted a panel of experts to address
United States foreign policy. The consensus of these experts was that the current
administration and ambassador to Israel David Friedman have been enabling Israeli
leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel’s far right policies by encouraging de jure
annexation and other illicit activities. They encouraged us to take a look at
writings and actions that began at the outset of the administration’s term
which include: recognizing Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel, moving the US
embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, discontinuing aid to UNRWA and consequently
Palestinian refugees, closing the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)
mission in Washington, D.C., allowing incremental annexation of the Golan
heights, failing to recognize violations of international law, and pushing a
one-sided peace plan. The pattern of action in US foreign policy has been
blatantly pro-Israel at the expense of the Palestinian people and hope for a
two-state solution. Going forward, policy considerations should seek to reverse
this steep trend towards the annexation of Palestinian territory and
depoliticize the policies themselves. We were encouraged to maintain awareness
of the human rights abuses occurring in the middle east. We can expect more of
the same from a second term of a Trump administration who will likely continue
to move the goalposts when it comes to opposing annexation as they seek to make
changes irreversible. The speculation is that a Biden administration would not
take a firm pro-Palestinian stance but may reengage with multilateral
organizations and reverse extreme policy shifts that have occurred. It is
likely that if Palestinians were able to vote in the US election that they
would support a changing of the guard, however the unfortunately reality on the
ground is that the Palestinian people continue to lose freedoms and the
sovereignty of their own nation every day.
In closing, Grace Al-Zoughbi
Arteen, a Palestinian Christian and accomplished instructor at Bethlehem Bible
College, offered us a moving prayer in both English and Arabic. She reminded us
of the meaning of the beatitudes for the oppressed, of our shared humanity and
experiences, and of our hope in Jesus who offers us help, peace, and love.
This blog post was written by Office of Peacebuilding and Policy Food Insecurity Intern Priscilla Weddle.
In 2018, the current administration withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal and re-imposed sanctions on Iran. The sanctions cover shipping, finance, and energy with the goal of “limiting Tehran’s ability to fund destabilizing activities and forcing its leaders back into nuclear discussion” (Piven, 2020). These sanctions have had a devastating impact on the country’s economy and its citizens. Iran’s gross domestic product (GDP) contracted an estimated 4.8% in 2018 and was forecast to shrink another 9.5% in 2019 (International Monetary Fund, 2019). Living costs have also risen as a result of inflation.
Inflation is estimated to reach 38% with rates being especially high for food items; for example, the cost of meat has gone up 116 percent (World Bank, 2019). The rising food prices and unemployment rate has resulted in many families being unable to purchase basic items. Zahra Abdollahi, the director of Iran’s Ministry of Health’s Department of Nutrition Improvement, has stated that “The eight provinces are suffering from food shortage and malnutrition problems along with other types of deprivation” (“Government In Iran Struggles To Provide Food Amid Shortages,” 2019). It has become increasingly difficult for the Iranian government to handle this situation as their resources continue to diminish as a result of the sanctions.
The Church of the Brethren Office of Peacebuilding and Policy has strong concerns about the welfare of the Iranian people because of the ways in which economic sanctions are correlated with insecurity and deprivation. We, as people of faith, have a moral impetus to advocate for “… the ways of living that lead toward a future filled with blessing and harmonious relationships rather than with violence and destruction,” as stated in the 1996 Statement on Nonviolence and Humanitarian Intervention. The U.S. should end its harsh trade sanctions that target the Iranian people.
This resource is part of the joint program “Black History 2020: Looking Back to Live Forward” led by Rev. LaDonna Nkosi, the new Director of Intercultural Ministries and Alexandra Toms, Racial Justice Associate in the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy. We will be offering various blogs, videos, and articles throughout the month of February exploring the intersections of faith, Black history, and current day racism. We hope you join us this month to read, listen, and reflect as we look back through history, so we can better live into Christ.
Michelle Alexander, the author of “The New Jim Crow” explains in this Ted Talk how certain laws disproportionately affect people of color causing similar discrimination as was seen during the Jim Crow laws. This video gives a look into how policies that may not seem racist can perpetuate racial disparities.
We have a special reading today from Josh Brockway, Director of Spiritual Formation who was inspired to write for the “Black History 2020: Looking Back to Live Forward” program led by Rev. LaDonna Nkosi, the new Director of Intercultural Ministries and Alexandra Toms, Racial Justice Associate in the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy. We will be offering various blogs, videos, and articles throughout the month of February exploring the intersections of faith, Black history, and current day racism. We hope you join us this month to read, listen, and reflect as we look back through history, so we can better live into Christ.
By Josh Brockway, Director of Spiritual Formation
I start my first lectures in my history class by asking the
students to define history. The first student usually offers a riff on
Santayana—those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. Usually the
second one, however, is is that “History is told by the winners.”
For centuries the record of the past has been composed by
those who have the education and the time to write. Not only that, those
persons in power have provided the means, money, and permission to tell the
story. From this vantage point of wealth, leisure, and power, the stories
inevitably leave out facts and people that did not reflect well on the
I learned early in my training as an historian that while
the powerful define and tell the story of the past, there are ways of finding
out about everyday people. Traces of the past hold up remarkably well to the
passage of time. Thanks to grocery lists scratched onto broken pieces of
pottery, thoughts and memories sketched into journals, and letters lovingly
wrapped with string and stored in hope chests we can knit together portraits of
the past. Since history is fundamentally the story we tell about the past,
access to these traces help us fill in the gaps in official histories, or the
histories written by the powerful.
While the powerful define and tell the story of the past, there are ways of finding out about everyday people.
In the 20th century historians started looking specifically
for traces of people on the margins or in the gaps of official histories.
Women’s history, Black history, Hispanic history, and even histories about
Children are now common conversations among scholars. Telling the stories of
people overlooked in textbook histories helps us understand the past more
completely. Though there is bound to be uncomfortable parts of these stories,
bits of information we might not want to know or that challenge the stories
were told growing up, histories focused on people at the margins make for a
Black history month is one of those cultural moments each
year when the stories of Black Americans are highlighted because these stories
have been rarely told in textbooks. The story of Black Americans has not been a
part of the dominant historical story taught in our schools and textbooks.
Thankfully, though, Black historians have painstakingly compiled the data and Black
communities have maintained rich stories about Black life in America. With
Black History Month, all of us can hear whispers from the past thanks to these
historians and story-tellers as it reaches the general—and white—public.
Black historians are crafting compelling stories of black
life in America based on their own questions and using the rich trace of Black
life. These better stories are helping us all to understand the breadth of our
past as a nation. And yes, these histories make us as white folks
uncomfortable. They challenge what we have been taught, since what we learned
came from those who benefited from that telling of history.
And even then, we must realize that the better story of our shared past is more than racist policies, violent segregation, and mass incarceration.
Black History includes the beautiful and useful quilts made
in Gee’s Bend Alabama. In this small Black community in the middle of the
Alabama River, families passed down the craft of quilt-making in ways that few
other communities could in the mobile times of the 20th century. The result is
a stunning collection of utilitarian art that embodies the story of the people
who sewed and used the quilts out of the cloth gathered from work clothes,
remnants, and even feed sacks. https://www.soulsgrowndeep.org/gees-bend-quiltmakers
Black History includes the rich period of time known as the Harlem Renaissance. From 1910 to the 1930’s, Harlem was the locus of Black art, literature, and music. Notable writers like Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston among many others gathered there to share their stories and ambitions. Musicians like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington added the sounds of Jazz to the nightlife of Harlem at clubs like the Savoy. Artists, playwrites, and actors all shared their creative productions with the community. And much like the rest of America, the crash of the stock market and the Great Depression signaled the decline of the Harlem economy, but the cultural works of the community remain apart of American culture to this day. https://www.history.com/topics/roaring-twenties/harlem-renaissance
A clearly American innovation in music, Jazz was the product of cultural interactions in the diverse city of New Orleans. Black musicians merged together ragtime, march, and the blues with improv solos and “trading fours” that mimicked the call and response of Black preachers, to make a distinct form of music. Rock and Hip-hop today have taken a number of cues from Jazz. It has also become a global music since Black artists like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, and Charlie Parker performed all over Europe since they faced discrimination in America. https://americanhistory.si.edu/smithsonian-jazz/education/what-jazz
Jazz, the Harlem Renaissance, and Gee’s Bend Quilts are just
a small snap-shot of the rich historical contributions of Black Americans to
our culture. These snap-shots fill in the gaps of our text book histories so
that we all learn a better story about our past. And yes, economic, physical,
and emotional terrorism are interwoven into these stories. Yet, telling the
better story means we tell the whole story about all the people.
This is the fifth resource in the joint program “Black History 2020: Looking Back to Live Forward” led by Rev. LaDonna Nkosi, the new Director of Intercultural Ministries and Alexandra Toms, Racial Justice Associate in the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy. We will be offering various blogs, videos, and articles throughout the month of February exploring the intersections of faith, Black history, and current day racism. We hope you join us this month to read, listen, and reflect as we look back through history, so we can better live into Christ.
One of the systemic sins in U.S. history is housing discrimination. People of color have been denied mortgages, charged higher interest rates, and have been denied access to homes in predominantly affluent and white neighborhoods. Even after the passing of the Fair Housing Act, these practices that have occurred across the last 100 years still impact the lives of people of color today. The following video includes interviews with Black Americans who share their stories of the housing discrimination they experienced in Chicago. For more information, click here to read an article that goes into greater detail about redlining in Chicago.
This is the fourth reading in the joint program “Black History 2020: Looking Back to Live Forward” led by Rev. LaDonna Nkosi, the new Director of Intercultural Ministries and Alexandra Toms, Racial Justice Associate in the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy. We will be offering various blogs, videos, and articles throughout the month of February exploring the intersections of faith, Black history, and current day racism. We hope you join us this month to read, listen, and reflect as we look back through history, so we can better live into Christ.
Written by Alexandra Toms, Racial Justice Associate in OPP
When picking a church, people try to find a church where they “fit
in.” It may be that they attend a church that has a strong children’s program
because they are a young family. It could be they attend a church with
opportunities to share their musical talents or offers services with their
preferred style of music and worship. If your Brethren, you make sure to find a
church that has a lot of fellowship activities with awesome potlucks.
Regardless, most people try to find a church that matches their beliefs in God
and meets their needs and wants. What if one of those “wants” is that the
fellow congregants are the same race as they are?
The most segregated time of the week is Sunday morning, when many
citizens of the United States are attending church. As people choose the church
they want to attend, they choose one where they “fit in.” We tend to “fit in”
at churches where people look like us, act like us, and have similar customs.
The race of people in our congregations often influences our choices even when
we are not aware. We may feel comfortable in a congregation because of specific
practices and traditions, but those traditions come from cultures. Different
ethnicities and different cultures practice their faith and live out their
faith in unique ways. For example, I teach as a college professor, and a
student of mine from Puerto Rico shared how she was reprimanded in high school
for wearing her rosary beads around her neck. In Puerto Rico, wearing one’s
rosary was a symbol of faith! In the continental US, in a predominantly white
Catholic high school, it was a sign of disrespect. So what type of church is
she going to feel most comfortable attending? One where she can proudly wear
her rosary or one where she feels condemnation for doing so? If you were Catholic,
where would you want to attend?
Where we “fit in” at church ends up being segregated by race,
which at face value may not sound like a bad thing. However, history has taught
us that there is no such thing as separate but equal. What ends up happening is
instead of simply coexisting in different churches, we become unaware of
different churches. We become unaware of how others live out their faith. We
become unaware of other customs, traditions, and ways of knowing the Divine. We
become unaware that our way of knowing God is not the only way, and we forget
how to learn. When we stop learning, we end up being the ones who criticize a
young girl for how she wears her rosary beads.
When we practice our faith with people of different races,
customs, and traditions, we learn more about who God is. The Lord created
people of all races, cultures, and ethnicities to worship him in their own
ways. As we practice our faith with people of various backgrounds, we learn
more about who God is because different cultures connect to different
characteristics of God. As a young white woman, the images and characteristics
of God I have grown up with are different than the images and characteristics
of God that a person of color may connect with. For example, for many people of
color, the Lord is a God of liberation. God used Moses to free the people of
Israel who were enslaved and oppressed. During his life, Jesus liberated people
from oppressive forces in society: the sinners, the outcasts, the foreigner,
the poor. He gave them a
new life in a society that had pushed them to the margins. In Luke 4:18-19, we
read that Jesus stood up in the synagogue and read from Isaiah, “‘The Spirit of
the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the
poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of
sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the
Lord’s favor’…’Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’” (NIV).
Jesus did not choose a church because he wanted to “fit in” nor did he spend time with people he fit in with. He chose to spend his time with the marginalized and the outcasts, but it was not solely for the purpose of healing. He broke bread with, lived with, ministered to, and was ministered to by those who were marginalized in society. He lived alongside the oppressed getting to know them, who they were, and what their needs were. If those in positions of power struggle to even learn about who God is from people who are oppressed, how are they going to learn about the person being oppressed and what their needs are. If I, as a young white woman, who is in a position of power simply because of my race do not live alongside people who are oppressed, I may never learn. If I never learn, then I will continue living a segregated life perpetuating discrimination.
Segregation is no longer considered illegal, however much of the
U.S. is segregated by race including housing developments, schools, workforce,
and employment. Even though a company may employ people of different races,
quite often the jobs and duties are segregated by race. Even with affirmative action,
there are various struggles that people of color disproportionately encounter.
For example, a position that requires a master’s degree is often considered a
high-level position, and these positions are disproportionately held by people
who are white. The difficulty comes in attaining a master’s degree. Higher
education in general is costly for people in the United State, including
expenses beyond tuition such as room and board, textbooks, travel, etc. People
of color have a greater likelihood of experiencing financial insecurity than
people who are white. An undergraduate education often is a huge success and
huge financial toll for anyone. For those who experience financial insecurity,
education beyond undergraduate becomes even more difficult and may seem
unattainable. This results in predominantly white affluent people achieving
graduate level education, so the applicant pool for an upper level position
requiring a master’s degree is predominantly white. Even with affirmative
action, the monetary toll of graduate level education and the need to provide
financially for one’s family limits integration in these areas of the
How do we know money is one of the hindrances to integration? It
requires that people live and work alongside those who are oppressed, listening
to their stories and learning from them. If people do not step out of their
comfort zones and remain on the outside looking in, incorrect assumptions will continue
to be made, assuming that people who are oppressed do not have the drive for
graduate level education, or they do not desire those types of jobs. Or concluding
that they have every opportunity as everybody else, but they choose not to get
the education; they are self-segregating!
These assumptions would be wrong.
As we move about our daily lives, instead of always finding places
that we fit in, maybe we need to be looking for places that we don’t fit? Live
alongside people that are different from us and learn what it means for them to
live. What brings them joy, pain, sadness, and trouble? Celebrate with them in
the joyous moments. Mourn with them in the times of pain. Be present even when
it is not comfortable. Live like Jesus lived.
In the United States, our churches are segregated, and the average American’s life mirrors this segregation. Below are various roles people have in our lives. For each of these roles, identify how many people you interact with regularly who are of a different race than you.
______ Clients (people you
work with who are not coworkers)
What are ways that you could increase the diversity of the groups you are a part of? What are some ways you could break out of your comfort zone to live alongside people who are different than you?
of the good Samaritan is often used to explain how our neighbors who we are to
love are not just the people who are like us, but also the people who are
different than us. It is a common Scripture used when discussing race because
the Samaritan extended love and care for the person of a different race; of a
race who he was supposed to despise. By stopping to take care of the man, the
Samaritan showed love for his neighbor. He also stood up to racism in the
process by crossing the racial divide of the two ethnic groups. The Samaritan
put the needs of the person above his own comfort and above societal
What are ways that the Priest and the Levite wanted to protect their comfort over helping the person in need? Who were they “fitting in” with?
What was the Samaritan risking by stopping to help?
When is a time that you saw a “man along the side of the ride,” a time that you encountered racism, but simply continued walking? What could you have done instead?
When is a time that you were the Samaritan, and stood up against racism? How was the experience?
This is the third reading in the joint program “Black History 2020: Looking Back to Live Forward” led by Rev. LaDonna Nkosi, the new Director of Intercultural Ministries and Alexandra Toms, Racial Justice Associate in the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy. We are offering various blogs, videos, and articles throughout the month of February exploring the intersections of faith, Black history, and current day racism. We hope you join us this month to read, listen, and reflect as we look back through history, so we can better live into Christ.
By Alexandra Toms, Racial Justice Associate in OPP
“How do you deal with Jesus the man, the Christ? Do you take him seriously? His life – his words – his death – his victory? The more I have studied of Jesus the more I realize you cannot take him lightly. What he did was not just for the people in his century, not only Jews or Gentiles, but for men of all ages and all races…. Can I as a Christian and an American remain neutral on the subject? Can I show love for Christ if I do not show love for all of the people for whom he lived and died? Can I show love for God if I do not show love for my neighbor? How can I love God whom I have not seen, if I do not show love for my brother whom I have seen?” – Jay Gibble
The above quote was
preached by Jay Gibble to the Altoona Church of the Brethren at the height of
the Civil Rights movement in 1965. And yet, these prophetic words are still
relevant to racism in the United States today in 2020. In fact, it might be
even harder to live out these words in current day. During the Civil Rights
movement, many around the country rallied together to oppose Jim Crow,
segregation, and overt discrimination against people of color. There were
organized marches, sit-ins, and protests of unfair discriminatory laws and
policies. It was clear what it meant to love your neighbor.
neighbor meant opposing overt discrimination. Loving your neighbor meant
opposing laws that oppressed based on skin color. Loving your neighbor meant,
for many Brethren, protesting alongside people of color in the March of
Washington and participating in sit-ins at lunch counters. It meant standing in
solidarity with fellow Black Americans and fighting for their freedom.
Since the Civil Rights movement, there have been laws passed to prevent overt discrimination based on one’s race. However, there are still many Black Americans who experience regular discrimination and the after-effects of slavery and Jim Crow. Only now it is much harder to see because we often believe the laws fully prevent discrimination. It is harder to see because, while some of the discrimination is based on blatant racial prejudice, sometimes it is based on our own implicit biases that we are unaware of influencing decisions that we make. If you pass a black man on the street, do you happen to clutch your purse a little tighter or cross to the other side of the road? Do you do this more often when it is a black man than a white man?
I caught myself doing this recently. I was taking the metro, and as I was getting off and riding up the escalator, a couple college age students passed by me and bumped into my bag. I started looking through my bag to make sure that nothing was taken, that nothing would have been out in the open that could be snatched, and that all was accounted for. The person who bumped into me was a well-dressed young black man. I caught myself. Have I had multiple people bump into me on the metro? Oh my yes. It is a crowded space. If I frantically looked through my bag every time I got bumped, that is all I would be doing getting on and off the train. So why did I freak out this time? I could tell myself it was just the situation. It could have been the overall behavior of the group or because they were walking past me, not just standing alongside when I was bumped. Though I do not know for sure, it was likely influenced by the fact he was a young black man. What I do know is that because of racial stereotypes, I have to question why I had that thought. Because of implicit prejudice, this young man has probably had many people have a similar reaction that I, as a white woman, will never elicit from people. No matter how much I study about race, I still catch myself in moments of implicit prejudice that I am constantly trying to unlearn.
The problem is, these small moments can lead to larger consequences for people of color. Research conducted by economists in 2004 showed prejudice toward “black sounding names” when measuring callbacks for interviews after sending out 5,000 resumes. When identical resumes were submitted to various jobs, those with black sounding names received fewer callbacks than those with white sounding names, even though the resumes had the same qualifications. In fact, those with white sounding names and a criminal record still received more call backs than those with black sounding names and no criminal record. This type of discrimination leads to long lasting consequences where Black Americans make on average less money than white Americans even when education is accounted for, and Black Americans have 1/10 the amount of wealth as their white counterparts.
So how do we love our neighbors amidst these implicit prejudices? How do we love our neighbors when these circumstances seem beyond our control? When I think of Jesus’ life on earth, I think of the man who did not just love by being nice to the people he was around. Jesus loved by changing people’s worlds. Many of the people Jesus healed were outcasts of society, discriminated against because of some physical quality. An example that comes to my mind is the woman who bled for 12 years (Mark 5:25-34). Quite often when we hear her story, we focus on her faith. All she had to do was touch Jesus’ cloak, and she was made well. Her faith in this Scripture is evident, but let us look at a slightly different angle.
Why was she so desperate for Christ’s healing? Not only had she bled for 12 years straight, something no one wants to endure, but she was also outcasted from society because of her condition. When a woman was on her menstrual cycle, she was unable to touch anybody, or else they would be deemed unclean. Anything she sat on would be deemed unclean, and if someone touched an object that she had touched, that would cause them to be unclean. This woman would have spent 12 years unable to have human contact, and unable to be in a public space. Anyone she would have been around would have been suspect and anything she may have touched would have been suspect. The healing Jesus provided not only healed the physical ailment of the issue of blood but also reconciled her relationship with society, giving her new life where she was no longer an outcast.
What if our racist policies and our prejudices are the “issue of blood” that support Black Americans being outcasted in society, causing us to question things they touch; question who they are with; question their presence? What if instead of praying for healing of discrimination in the US as a healing of the Black situation that keeps them pushed down, we pray for a healing in our hearts and the hearts of people, and we pray for healing in our policies to support Black Americans? We pray that God moves us to action like Jesus was moved to action because of the woman’s faith. Maybe loving our neighbors, who are of different races, is a process of confronting our own racial prejudices, learning about racial discrimination that is still occurring, and working toward making change; working toward Jesus’ healing in ourselves and in our country.
Activity and Reflection
As part of working toward
healing, it is important to know what implicit prejudices may influence us.
Below is a link to the Implicit Associations Test (IAT) developed by Harvard
University. The IAT is intended to measure how quickly we may associate certain
words with others. The idea is that we tend to associate words more quickly if
we believe they are similar. To learn more about the IAT, click here. The IAT usually takes
about 10 minutes to complete. If you are interested in completing one of the
tests, please click here and choose one of the
IAT’s on race.
Beyond the examples provided above, what were some ways people would have interacted with the woman because of her condition?
How would this have impacted her relationships with others? How would this have impacted her ability to provide for a family?
What did your IAT score come back as? Are you surprised by the score?
According to Harvard, most of the race-based IAT results show preference for white over black in some capacity. How does this pattern result in similar outcomes for people of color as seen in biblical times for the bleeding woman before her healing?
Bertrand Marianne and Sendhil Mullainathan. “Emily and Greg More Employable
Than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination.” American
Economic Review 94 (2004): 991-1013.
 A. Javier
Trevino, Investigating Social Problem, 2nd edition (California: Sage Publishing, 2019), 61-62
This is the second reading in the joint program “Black History 2020: Looking Back to Live Forward” led by Rev. LaDonna Nkosi, the new Director of Intercultural Ministries and Alexandra Toms, Racial Justice Associate in the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy. We are offering various blogs, videos, and articles throughout the month of February exploring the intersections of faith, Black history, and current day racism. We hope you join us this month to read, listen, and reflect as we look back through history, so we can better live into Christ.
Reflection by Alexandra Toms, Racial Justice Associate in OPP
A common concept used when discussing race is being color blind: “I don’t see race, I see people.” While this sentiment seems to come from good intentions, it can have negative implications. In the following TED Talk, Mellody Hobson discusses the complications of being color blind. However, she offers another perspective, a way to be “color brave.”
“Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body.”
1 Corinthians 12:14-15 NRSV
Have you ever looked at this Scripture and said, “My foot is part of my body. I don’t see feet; I only see a body.” It’s not a statement I have ever said, and it sounds quite foolish to me; but why? If we do not recognize our foot as its own unique part of the body, we do not recognize its unique contributions. Without feet, we would have difficulty walking, running, and simply standing, as many people unfortunately have had to experience. The body is changed significantly because of the loss of a specific, unique part. This change would be experienced very differently than the loss of a different body part, such as a gallbladder. A foot and a gallbladder serve different functions. They have distinct gifts that they provide for the body, and not having that gift would mean a significant change in how the body works and the lifestyle the person would live.
From a young age, we teach kids to identify various body parts, through songs like “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.” As they grow older, we teach the same thing about people and the Body of Christ. We recognize different spiritual gifts, such as teaching, speaking in tongues, healing, and prophecy. We recognize intellectual gifts, encouraging some to be doctors, some to be teachers, and others to be electricians. Yet, often when we look at race, we think we should be color blind and not see any differences.
I believe some of this movement came about with the intentions of reducing discrimination. If I don’t see color, then I will hire the best person for the job without letting racial prejudice affect my judgment. The problem is, by removing someone’s race, we are removing someone’s gift. We don’t see the unique perspectives and life experiences someone has had because of their race. We don’t see their unique qualities and value. We also do not see the distinctive ways people have been oppressed because of their race, remaining blind to networks of oppression and policies that uniquely affect people of color.
When we remain color blind, we also don’t recognize that we have unique experiences and perspectives because of our race, and since those experiences are unique, they are not the same for everybody in the U.S. Our view of life is not the standard. Our perspectives and lived experiences are just as different, but no more or less important, than the hand is from the foot. The hand, foot, and gallbladder are all distinct parts, but they are parts of one body allowing that body to function in a specific way. The diversity of experiences, perspectives, and assumptions of all people of all races, cultures, and backgrounds are necessary for the Body of Christ to be whole and for God’s Kin-dom to flourish.
How were you taught to think about race? Were you taught to be color blind or were you taught to recognize and value differences based on race?
The TED Talk mainly focused on the benefits of being color brave in a corporate setting. What are other benefits of being color brave and benefits of diversity?
Reread verses 25-26. If our foot suffers, the whole body suffers. If a member of the Body of Christ suffers, are we all suffering? Does being color blind inhibit our ability to suffer alongside people of a different race?