By Ginger Warfield, Racial Justice Steering Committee
We have reached the third anniversary of our resolution to be a racial justice church, which means it is time for a check-in. Where are we? How are we? What have we been doing?
Only one of those is easy to answer, so I will address the other two first. Where are we? In some sense, we are right where we were three years ago – in the middle of a journey so long that we can’t see either end from where we are. To make things even tougher, there is, in fact, no end. We will never be able to put a big check mark and say “We’ve arrived!” Some parts we travel with a tail wind and pleasant sunshine and it feels great. Other parts are dark and painful and don’t feel great at all. But we’ve made a commitment to this journey and somehow, together, we will celebrate the joyful patches and work through the darkness and the pain because that is what UCUCC does. Racial Justice is a Spiritual Imperative.
So then how are we? We are all over the map, which is appropriate for a journey that has no highways or charts – just a compass direction. Some people have found ways to move forward that work for them and sweep some others along – book and lecture discussions or a project whose needs match the skills they have to offer. Others are waiting for a moment that feels right. And some feel that they are being pushed into a dark place where they are unwilling to go, and decide that their only recourse is to distance. This decision is a source of sorrow and grief for the rest of us, but it is clearly theirs to make. The only thing absolutely clear is that all of us, happy or distressed or questioning, need to talk to others, preferably including some who do not feel as we do, so that we can be a whole church moving in the right direction.
On to the easy question: what have we been doing? Quite a variety of things! Probably the most visible was the Beyoncé Mass. It was performed at St. Marks Cathedral, but UCUCC provided a lot of the work that went on for months setting it up. We also had the privilege of having as theologian in residence Reverend Yolanda Norton, who is the prime mover for the Beyoncé Mass. During her time with us she also introduced us to Womanist theology.
Another major element to our racial justice work was that we became strongly engaged in working with the Poor People’s Campaign. This is an organization that grew out of work by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr which dipped after his death, but was picked up by Rev. William Barber. It addresses a broad range of issues, all of them very much within our church’s justice domain, so we decided to become a Faith Partner to the Washington chapter. Some activities have resulted and more will do so. The most recent were on June 18, which was the day of the PPC’s Mass Poor People’s and Low Wage Worker’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington and to the Polls. The event had huge importance to folks at all levels of the PPC and several of us hoped to get to it. One did and took part, representing both UCUCC and Washington. Others of us were delighted to be invited by the First AME Church to a celebration of Voting Rights and a memorial for Representative John Lewis. Several of us joined their march across the new John Lewis Memorial Bridge. The event illustrated the virtues of flexibility. Expecting a large turn-out from UCUCC we made a banner and several signs with messages from the PPC (“Fight Poverty, not the Poor” and “We Won’t be Silent Any More”) and brought them, along with a UCUCC banner. Not many of us managed to make it there, but two of us carried the church banner, and the AME folks were delighted with the signs and PPC banner and helped carry them all. It wound up being an inspiring experience.
Other events are more on-going and less describable but an important part of the whole fabric of our efforts. Book groups and reports, the Intercultural Development Inventory, Racial Justice Resources in the weekly newsletter, and more.
One additional event burst upon some of us with considerable impact. It came to light that we have been underpaying our support staff for years. Given the nature of economic realities, this constitutes an unambiguous racial injustice. Given our professed, genuine values this is a real blow. Has any of us intentionally carried out a racist program? Absolutely not. Have we as a church been responsible for an act of institutional racism? Beyond question. Thanks be to God for the folks who spotted and corrected this, and may we all learn from it.
And so as we mark this third anniversary, may we look back with gratitude for the progress we’ve made and look forward to working together with God’s guidance and grace.