The five-minute VIDEO below is part of an interview I did for NIC News Today with Anne Marie Gerhardt, Director of Communications for the Northern Illinois Conference (NIC) of the United Methodist Church. This episode was shown a few times at the Annual Conference meeting in early July and attempted to give everyone a sense of what’s been happening with the Anti-Racism Task Force. “A lot has changed since last year,” Gerhardt begins, “including you coming on as consultant to the ARTF. Tell us a little bit more about what the highlights were for you.”
It’s summer, a time when things supposedly slow down a little, when we supposedly catch a breath and look back at what we’ve done so we can gear up for moving forward again in the rush of Fall and early Winter.
I was surprised, first of all, at how much was already going on, but two questions became key: 1) how sustainable were all these initiatives, and 2) do people working on all these know what others are doing, and do they all see themselves and their initiatives working together towards one goal, the goal of creating a less racist church, conference, and country? Both questions are still way up in the air. My goal before the year is out—and my consultancy is over—is to bring these questions closer to the ground. I’m especially anxious, and hopeful, about the second question. I’m most gratified because I can see people beginning to see themselves as part of one great struggle.
Here’s just one example of how we need to see initiatives working together. The Clergy Peer Reflection and Engagement Series (CPRES) brings pastors together to study about how the church has been a major source, or at the very least highly complicit, in creating and sustaining racism. They talk about how they can begin to change that, and they form bonds that help them know they’re not alone, that other peers want to become anti-racism leaders. Every pastor at CPRES, then, should seek to bring the workshop Becoming the Beloved Community to their church. Do they all see this? Not yet. But we hope they do soon. Becoming the Beloved Community seeks to communicate not just essential knowledge about racism to its attendees but also to help create bonds within and between congregations of those who also want to seek a less racist, more just and more equitable world, and support their pastors, to urge them on and have their backs when they bring up the topic and start anti-racist initiatives. The odds are against those pastors.
At a recent meeting of a committee I chair—the one that produced the Becoming the Beloved Community workshop—we had a consultant in to help us look back before we moved forward. She shared a study showing that only 20% of church goers wanted to hear more about racism. 80% did not. On the other hand, of those actively seeking out a church, 80% wanted to hear more about racism, while only 20% did not. The church, in other words, is profoundly out of balance with what much of the outside world is looking for. That’s only one reason I repeat, in closing, what I’ve said many times: IF we work hard, we might see a less racist U.S. in 40 to 100 years. I’m still hopeful, but many days it seems that the 100-year mark is also way too hopeful. And note that I’m only saying less racist, not racism free. Still, that’s something to fight for.
♦ Go HERE to see my draft proposal for a main page on anti-racism work for the NIC website. Here you’ll see my vision in graphic form for gathering all components of anti-racism work together so everyone can begin to see the big picture and begin to feel that we’re in one great struggle together. Eventually, people will be able to click on a link to find out more about each initiative, program, fellowship or committee listed.