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2019 National Gathering Keynote: Jennifer Harvey

Jennifer Harvey, professor of religion and ethics at Drake University, gives a keynote presentation on racial justice and white anti-racism at the 2019 NEXT Church National Gathering in Seattle.

Confronting the Dominant Gaze of White Culture

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Jessica Tate and Jen James are curating a series featuring videos from National Gatherings and suggestions for how they might serve as resources for ministry. We’re revisiting speakers from this most recent National Gathering in Seattle as well as speakers from previous years. Our hope is that inviting you to engage (or reengage) their work might invite deeper reflection and possibly yield more fruit. What is taking root and bearing fruit in your own life and ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

In his keynote at the 2017 National Gathering in Kansas City, Dr. Soong-Chan Rah discusses the changing landscape of our culture, how that affects our churches, and how the dominant gaze of white culture continues to divide and disconnect us from our neighbors. Dr. Rah’s keynote would be a great resource for a committee, session, or team to watch and discuss, or even for a youth group as a way to dig into the surrounding culture.

What changes in the culture do you see in our world? In our country? In your neighborhood?

Dr. Rah describes two commonly used images of diversity:

  • Great American melting pot
  • Salad bowl

What are the images you have heard? As you reflect, how are they helpful or harmful?

Dr. Rah discusses how the dominant gaze defines everybody else – that culture is defined by the dominant group. Those not in the dominant group are either viewed as a pet or a threat.

Where have you seen people of color viewed as a pet? Where have you seen people of color viewed as a threat?

Can you think of examples where dominant culture saw a pet become a threat? How did the dominant culture react? How did you react?

Dr. Rah says that white dominant culture isolating itself has created a loss of connection and that the church needs to step in. He leaves the audience with two challenges to consider:

1. What is the world you have surrounded yourself with?

The last 10 books that you’ve read – who are the authors?
The last 5 people you’ve had in your home – what race and culture were they?
The furniture in your home, how would you describe it in terms of culture and ethnicity?
What are the books on your coffee table?
Who are the main stars in the top 5 tv shows that you watch?
What other questions might you ask to examine yourself?

2. Who are those who have shaped you? What race and ethnicity are the mentors in your life?

What step might you take to intersect with cultures different from your own? How will you hold each other accountable to take this step?

Addressing the Evil That is Racism

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Jessica Tate and Jen James are curating a series featuring videos from National Gatherings and suggestions for how they might serve as resources for ministry. We’re revisiting speakers from this most recent National Gathering in Seattle as well as speakers from previous years. Our hope is that inviting you to engage (or reengage) their work might invite deeper reflection and possibly yield more fruit. What is taking root and bearing fruit in your own life and ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

In her testimony during the 2016 National Gathering, Jessica Vazquez Torres offers a strong challenge to the church to get serious about addressing the evil that is racism in meaningful ways. This 30 minute video is a resource for leaders and congregations who are already talking about race, racism, and white supremacy and want to lean into that tension. It is a challenging personal introduction for leaders who want to deepen their own wrestling with racism and white supremacy.

As you finish the video, what word or phrase describes how you feel after watching this? (in a group setting, be sure to allow for complexity of reaction and varied reactions)What is hard to hear in what Jessica says? How might you lean into that discomfort?

Jessica offers four insights in addressing racism that the church needs to be clearer about:

  1. Racism can’t be understood aside from white supremacy.
  2. History matters.
  3. Racism is structural, not relational.
  4. All of us are made complicit.

Thinking about your own context or your own life, which of these insights is most recognizable to you? Which is the most daunting?

What’s one step toward learning you can do in one of these areas?

Jessica she offers four actions to take:

  1. Own your complicity.
  2. Develop a thicker, more complex, intersectional analysis of racism.
  3. Be political (because racism is lived out in the public sphere).
  4. Talk about whiteness and the benefits to white people, not just the oppression of people of color.

Which of these actions could you lean into most easily as an individual or as a congregation? What’s one step you/your church could take?

Which of these actions would be the most difficult to lean into? Is there an initial step you could take toward that larger action?

Holy Spirit, this is a challenging word. Help us to hear your liberating promise within this challenge. Open us to the tension and discomfort that we pray is in service of sanctification. Amen.

Comforted and Challenged

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, MaryAnn McKibben Dana is curating a series on the Sarasota Statement, which we unveiled a year ago and continue to promote for use in our congregations and communities, along with the accompanying study guide. You will hear from a variety of voices and contexts throughout March, reacting to phrases in the statement, and sharing ways it is being used. How have you used the Sarasota Statement? What is your reaction to these phrases? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter

by Frances Wattman Rosenau

Passing the peace can be the most uncomfortable part of worship. You know, the time when some congregations invite everyone to stand and even get out of their pews in order to shake hands and greet other people who have gathered in worship. It’s not just uncomfortable because there are those inevitable awkward church people who pass the peace with exuberant enthusiasm and purpose. It’s awkward because of, well, the other people.

Greeting other people, indeed touching other people in worship, forces us out of our God-and-me bubble. If we came to worship to escape the world, we find ourselves right smack in the middle of it anyway, shaking hands with strangers. It’s so much easier to slip in quietly during the first hymn, sit unassuming near the back semi-anonymously, and pretend we’re there to be with God. We know what to do.

But other people just get in the way.

The Sarasota Statement offers us an encounter. Through the claims and stances in the statement, we may very well find ourselves “both comforted and challenged.” Like passing the peace in worship, we get the opportunity with the Sarasota Statement to be changed both by radical affirmation as well as boldly facing the truth.

In this phrase “both comforted and challenged,” I hear an echo of the oft-repeated call to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Religious leaders have latched on to this phrase as a battle cry — our purpose as Church. These words, from Finley Peter Dunne, were originally written about the role of newspapers in public life.[1] And yet, it seems such a great fit for the Church, when we are our truest selves.

Indeed the Sarasota Statement does comfort and challenge. We are all here in this statement: no matter our identity or what side of what spectrum we’re on. We are heard and accompanied in experiences of being excluded. We are challenged in our own privilege or our histories of exclusion. We are called to something better.

The whole endeavor gets to the core of what church is for. Why don’t people sit at home by themselves, sing songs to themselves and read the Bible by themselves? I mean, maybe some people do. My suspicion is that it isn’t very fulfilling, and certainly not very transformational.

Those of us who engage in church, and who value a vibrant faith community do so to be a part of something bigger than what we could do on our own. We need other people, as awkward as they are, to comfort and challenge us. That’s what the Sarasota Statement has done for our congregation when we have used it in worship: it amplifies the truest purpose of church. Through voices long-silenced and calls to action, the Sarasota Statement enriches worship to its greatest call – to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable – in order to move boldly forward as the people of God.

[1] https://www.poynter.org/news/today-media-history-mr-dooley-job-newspaper-comfort-afflicted-and-afflict-comfortable


Frances Wattman Rosenau is the Pastor of Culver City Presbyterian Church in the Los Angeles area. Her DMin studies focused on multicultural and multiethnic worship. She has a passion for the global church and has lived in India, Scotland, Arizona, Upstate New York, Paris, Chicago, and Tulsa. When Frances is not at church you will find her training for a race, reading about bulldozers with her boys, or searching for her husband in a used bookstore.

Road Signs and Tough Topics

by MaryAnn McKibben Dana

Last fall, after much cajoling from my children, we spent an afternoon at Cox Farms for their fall festival, a beloved institution here in Northern Virginia. I say “cajole,” because after many annual pilgrimages when my children were younger, I was ready for some new autumn traditions for our teen and tweens. But they are adamant about going. For them, it’s a connection to childhood and a pleasant place to be together as a family. (I suspect the giant cylindrical bags of fresh crisp kettle corn can’t hurt.)

Thanks in part to my connection with NEXT Church and our emphasis on inclusion and diversity, I like to look around the places I go to see how racially and culturally diverse they are. Who is here? Who is conspicuously not here, and why might that be? That day last October, I noticed way more people of color at Cox Farms than I ever had before. I couldn’t be sure whether the demographics of the clientele had actually changed, or whether I was seeing with new eyes groups of people who were always there… but the difference was striking.

It was only later that I found out about Cox Farms’s tradition of feisty signage. It began many years ago with two rainbow flags flying over the hay-bale tunnel. Then, a Black Lives Matter sign in the window of the family home, followed some time later with a message on their marquee expressing love for their immigrant neighbors. Again, I’m not privy to Cox Farms’s statistics on clientele. But it stands to reason that in a culture in which whiteness is considered the default, historically marginalized populations won’t simply assume they are welcome somewhere unless they are explicitly welcomed. I couldn’t help but think of the church: what topics we take up together, what remains unspoken, and how we express our welcome. If we’re not specific and heartfelt in our language, if we rely on generic words like “all” and “everyone,” our message will not get through. It’s too easy for “everyone” to be followed by an implicit “…who looks like me,” especially when the community and its leadership are homogenous already.

This month’s focus for the NEXT Church blog will be on the Sarasota Statement, which we unveiled a year ago and continue to promote for use in our congregations and communities, along with the accompanying study guide. You will hear from a variety of voices and contexts throughout March, reacting to phrases in the statement, and sharing ways it is being used.

There are many themes woven into the statement — the nature of Christ’s kindom; the need for the church to be a vehicle of change — but a major theme is our call to dismantle forces of oppression, notably systemic racism. And guess what? Cox Farms took on that one too, with a sign a couple of months ago that said “Resist White Supremacy.” It didn’t take long for some folks to respond with angry letters and calls for a boycott. Thankfully, the overwhelming majority of comments and messages on the business’s Facebook page were positive (and I vowed never again to push back on my kids’ nostalgic desire for hayrides and fresh-pressed apple cider).

The Cox family was baffled by the negative response. As an article in the Washington Post put it, “Who, other than a white supremacist, would be offended by a message condemning white supremacy? [The family] also understood, though, that this is America in 2018, a time of such fierce division that even voicing opposition to the ugliest beliefs could be twisted or taken out of context.”

I am not so coy as to pretend there isn’t political resonance in words like “Black Lives Matter,” “resist,” and “white supremacy.” That doesn’t mean that the church should avoid them, but should lean into them even more. The church is a unique institution, ideally suited to talk about these matters in a deeper way, in communities that pledge to be with and for another not because we agree, but because we are united in Jesus Christ. If tough topics make us recoil, it’s probably because we’re feeling implicated, and that’s never a comfortable feeling. But our bristling may also be a sign that we haven’t talked about them enough. We need to push into that discomfort; otherwise we will never change and grow. The Sarasota Statement provides language — and the study guide, a framework — that allows for such faithful proclamation and exploration. Onward.


MaryAnn McKibben Dana is a writer, free-range pastor, speaker, and leadership coach living in Virginia. She is author of the forthcoming God, Improv, and the Art of Living, and 2012’s Sabbath in the Suburbs. She is a former chair of NEXT Church’s strategy team, and was recognized by the Presbyterian Writers Guild with the 2015-2016 David Steele Distinguished Writer Award.

The Issue of Our Time

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, MaryAnn McKibben Dana is curating reflections from our 2016 National Gathering. Watch this space for thoughts from a wide variety of folks, especially around the question, What “stuck”? What ideas, speakers, workshops or worship services are continuing to work on your heart as you envision “the church that is becoming?” We’ll be hearing from ruling elders, teaching elders, seminarians, and more. We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Jeff Bryan

I went to the NEXT Church National Gathering for two reasons: to see old friends, and rob them blind. By see, I mean reconnect, break bread, and revive my soul with the people I hold dear. By rob them, I mean steal their church ideas. I picked pockets all over the National Gathering, particularly the “Faith Formation in Your Family Room” workshop. I swiped every idea Amy Morgan put on the table, praise God. My ministry is better for it.

tsr_5620_webI did not go to NEXT expecting a third thing, my biggest takeaway: white supremacy. For the longest time, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around America. I’ve been reading articles, watching documentaries, listening to candidates and congregants and cousins, clenching my teeth. I’ve been trying to understand my own place in the world as a white, southern, male, Presbyterian, pastor of a “suit and tie” church in the deep south. Let’s add some more words to that list: progressive, husband, and father. I came to the NEXT National Gathering with a muddled mind in need of organization. In volleyball terms, Jesus gave me a bump—set—spike.

Allan Boseak’s presentation hit me hard. I was struck by his courage, experience, and insistence on justice and restitution. He left me dreaming, “What does restitution look like back in South Carolina?” Bump.

The testimony of Jessica Vazquez Torres completely blew me away. She framed the conversation so thoroughly, and articulated the concept of white supremacy so clearly, I felt relief. It relieved me to hear Ms. Torres pin down the evil behemoth so precisely. Bump, set.

My last workshop was “Engaging the Problem of White Fragility” with J.C. Austin. He further explained white supremacy, listed the ways white people misunderstand racism, led us in a storytelling exercise, and suggested further reading. I followed up with Mr. Austin via email, and he shared an amazing Robin DiAngelo article with me.  Spike.

I am convinced that white supremacy, in all its devilish variations, is the issue of our time. More so, Christ is screaming, calling us into the struggle against it.

When it comes to NEXT, I got what I came for: friendships and fresh ministry ideas. But God gave me all the more: a clearer understanding of myself, my context, and my calling as a pastor. Thank you, NEXT.


Jeff Bryan PhotoJeff Bryan is the Senior Pastor / Head of Staff at Oakland Avenue Presbyterian Church, Rock Hill, SC. Originally from northwest Georgia, he holds degrees from Berry College, Princeton Theological Seminary, and the Lutheran Seminary at Philadelphia. Jeff enjoys family time, basketball, and discovering new music.

Reflections on the Massacre at Mother Emanuel

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This fall we’ve asked a number of leaders to respond to the question, “What is saving your ministry right now?” Perry Perkins is one of our workshop presenters for the 2016 National Gathering. Learn more about the workshop at the end of this post. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

by Perry Perkins

Editor’s Note: This was first published in the Democratic Faith Journal in June of 2015. We have edited it slightly to reflect the passage of time.

In the introduction to his book The Social Teachings of Black Churches, Peter Parris says that Black churches have at the center of their social teaching a Biblical Anthropology that is based on the Biblical narrative of the Creation. In the Genesis account we are told that all human beings are created in the likeness and image of God. Parris says that African American Churches teach that this means all human beings are equal and kin because we are all children of the one Creator.

Parris goes on to say that this anthropological theology defines how black churches approach the world. He says that white people historically were accepted as members and even Pastors of black congregations because they accepted this very basic tenant of the African American Church.

Charleston_Shooting_Memorial_Service

photo credit: nomader via wikipedia

On Wednesday evening [June 17, 2015,] a young man who authorities believe has white supremacist views, entered the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina as mid-week Bible study was in progress. The young man asked to see the Pastor, Reverend Clementa Pinckney, and Rev. Pinckney asked the young man to sit next to him during the Bible study lesson.

After the lesson ended, this young man began killing those who had gathered to study the Bible, those same people who had welcomed him into their historic church, as they have always welcomed and embraced visitors from around the world. He experienced the practice of the Biblical Anthropology that has been at the center of Emanuel since it broke off from the predominantly white Charleston Methodist Episcopal Church in 1816 and was officially co-founded by Morris Brown in 1818.

Emanuel AME, the oldest African American Episcopal Church in the south, has stood throughout its history as a beacon of hope, teaching the Biblical Anthropology in opposition to the dominant social anthropology of the country, white supremacy. In 1822, Denmark Vesey, Mother Emanuel’s other co-founder, along with other members of Emanuel, plotted what would have been the largest slave rebellion in the country. Vesey and five other members of Emanuel were executed when the plot was discovered. Shortly after the rebellion was foiled, Emanuel was burned to the ground. The white establishment of Charleston and the state of South Carolina were so frightened by the plot that they built a fortress, the Citadel, which aimed its guns toward the houses of the Emanuel members.

Despite the loss of the church building Emanuel continued to thrive and was often the beginning station of the Underground Railroad. For many years it was forced to function underground, but despite these obstacles Emanuel stood as a symbol against white supremacy. Emanuel continued to proclaim that all of God’s children are kin. Emanuel’s very perseverance as a congregation stood as a vibrant testimony against the false ideology of white supremacy.

The gunman who entered Emanuel on [that] Wednesday night experienced the welcoming of the stranger as an unknown brother. Despite this, the hatred and rage within him, spawned by the ideology of white supremacy, led him to take the life of the Pastor and eight other congregation members who had welcomed him. This despicable act cannot simply be passed off as the act of a lone deranged man, but must be seen as a product of the original sin of this country, the ideology and even theology of white supremacy. We have come a long way around race in this country; however, until we fully deal with the demons unleashed by the false doctrine of white supremacy we will continue to see events like the massacre at Mother Emanuel.

Many ask how do we deal with exorcising the demons of white supremacy? There is no easy answer or formula. However, for the last almost 31 years I have been a part of a guild of organizers called the Industrial Areas Foundation. IAF, founded by Saul Alinsky in 1940, is the nation’s oldest and largest network of organizers. IAF partners with local institutional leaders to build local non-partisan political organizations aimed at crossing the divisions of community life to build vehicles of civic engagement that we call Broad Based Organizations. The major division or road block to constructive civic engagement is the construct of race that grows from the false doctrine of white supremacy.

Organizations like Working Together Jackson, a coalition of some 43 institutions in Jackson, Mississippi, are deliberately organized across racial lines. Working Together Jackson was publicly founded in June of 2012, after three years of Sponsoring Committee work, carefully building relationships across racial, religious, political, and economic divisions. These years of groundwork have helped to achieve a measure of public trust that crosses racial barriers and testifies to the Biblical notion of kinship of all creation.

Acting together through this new found trust that flies in the face of the white supremacist history of Jackson, the leaders of WTJ have created the first Housing Trust Fund in Mississippi, as a financial instrument to combat the blight that plagues most of Jackson’s predominantly black neighborhoods. The leaders crossed race to secure 6,600 signatures in one month on a constitutional amendment proposal to fully fund public education in the state. In one week they secured 3,000 yes votes on a ballot initiative to rebuild the crumbling infrastructure of Jackson and to invest $1.2 billion over 20 years in rebuilding Jackson. WTJ is also crossing racial lines to partner with the city of Jackson to recruit and train underemployed and unemployed local residents to fill the living wage jobs produced by this infrastructure reinvestment program.

This evidence of our work is not enough to prevent other tragedies like the one that occurred in Charleston on Wednesday, but the slow and systemic work of building public relationships that teach in word and deed the Biblical Anthropology proclaimed by Mother Emanuel is part of the solution to exorcising the demons of America’s original sin.


 

perryPerry C. Perkins, Jr. has organized for 37 years and has been affiliated with the Industrial Areas Foundation, the nation’s oldest network of organizers. He is the IAF Supervisory Organizer for Louisiana and Mississippi. He, along with organizer Kathleen O’Toole, are leading a workshop at the 2016 National Gathering entitled “Forging Public Relationships after Ferguson, Cleveland, Baltimore, and Charleston.” The workshop will explore the essential discipline of the “relational action” fundamental to authentic conversations and action that move us forward toward God’s beloved community, especially as “America’s original sin” continues to breed mistrust in our public life and discourse.

God Is More Than the Church

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This fall we’ve asked a number of leaders to respond to the question, “What is saving your ministry right now?” Jessica Vasquez Torres is one of our workshop presenters for the 2016 National Gathering. Learn more about the workshop at the end of this post. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Jessica Vasquez Torres

What is saving my ministry right now? This is such an interesting question given the assumptions it holds particularly by the use of the word “saving.”

According to the Oxford Dictionary “to save” means to protect from harm, to prevent waste, and/or keep things for future use. So I must rephrase the question and ask it in its fullness. What is protecting my ministry from harm? What is preventing me from wasting it or at least from wasting my energy in the living of my vocation? What is allowing me to conserve or keep a vision of the church for future use in the exercise of my sense of call?

jessica savingThese questions then must be asked in the context of a nation gripped by xenophobic thinking and imagery and of increasing islamophobia, with a rise in the visibility of overtly racist white nationalists groups where people of color, particularly African Americans, are presumed to be dangerous threats to public safety and therefore expendable and in which class, gender, and race disparities reveal the cracks in the armor of our so called democracy.

For me, the answer to these questions is my participation in a community of queer and straight organizers, critical thinker and theorists, visionaries, educators, and strategic thinkers of every walk of life and faith who are explicitly committed to the eradication of white supremacy and the restoration of creation for every living thing. For me it is a systemic analysis of white supremacy that demands movement away from thin ideas about the efficacy of diversity efforts and a move toward thicker frameworks and analysis which call out the ways in which the church is systemically complicit in the maintenance of racism and other forms of systemic oppression. I think of the application of this analysis as a spiritual practice that grounds me in reality and frees my imagination. What is saving my ministry is an understanding, emerged from 15 years of work in the field of antiracism and institutional transformation, that God is more than the church and that for the church to be a partner the in-breaking of the kin-dom of God on this earth it will have to let go of much of the cultural and institutional practices that hold it captive to white supremacy. It is this realization that has given direction, focus, and renewing energy to my ministry for more than a decade.


Jessica Vazquez TorresJessica Vasquez Torres is a proven leader with 15 years experience in antiracism, anti-oppression, and cultural competency workshop development and facilitation. Jessica, a 1.5-Generation ESL Queer Latina of Puerto Rican descent, holds a Bachelors degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Central Florida, a Master of Divinity from Christian Theological Seminary, and a Master of Theological Studies from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. She is speaking and leading a workshop “Strategic Interventions to Make Diverse Community” at the 2016 NEXT Church National Gathering.