The Anti-Racism Task Force met for the first time on November 10, 2020. This meeting yielded an unprecedented commitment and dedication to the work of Anti-Racism. Through prayer, discernment, and honest reflection we have begun to identify and surface the historical and present experiences and stories of peoples affected by racism. We are dawning a new age in which we realize that providing symposiums and multifaceted resources are essential, and yet the great benefit to these initiatives is the revelation that anti-racism work is work that must be on-going.
Racial hatred, bias, systemic racism, white supremacy, and inequitable opportunity are deeply rooted in our systems of education, health care, economics, government, and faith traditions, permeating all aspects of individual, community, and corporate life. Research has proven time and time again that human beings are not born with racial categories in mind. They must be learned.
A recent meta-analysis by Roberts and Rizzo (2020) propose seven factors that contribute to American racism: 1) Categories, which organize people into distinct groups by promoting essentialist and normative reasoning; 2) Factions, which trigger ingroup loyalty and intergroup competition and threat; 3) Segregation, which hardens racist perceptions, preferences, and beliefs through the denial of intergroup contact; 4) Hierarchy, which emboldens people to think, feel, and behave in racist ways; 5) Power, which legislates racism on both micro and macro levels; 6) Media, which legitimizes overrepresented and idealized representations of White Americans while marginalizing and minimizing people of color; and 7) Passivism, such that overlooking or denying the existence of racism obscures this reality, encouraging others to do the same and allowing racism to fester and persist. These categories may be useful in our efforts to better understand ways in which we all have been and continue to respond to implicit and explicit biases. These are rudimentary steps toward the reordering of creation as the prophetic words of Isaiah attest: The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox (Isaiah 11:6-7 NIV). Isaiah speaks of creation reordered: Predators dwell in harmony with their prey, carnivorous instincts are transformed, and the most vulnerable humans in society (children) are free to play with venomous snakes. Interspecies violence effectively comes to an end and harmony ensues.
The Anti-Racism Task Force engages continuously with the vision of a reordered world. Through biblical reflection, meditation, discussion, sharing, hearing, and listening to diverse historical, theological, personal, and communal experiences and stories we undertake a journey of discovery. As we read various books and academic research, we seek to better understand ourselves in the context of our families, cultures, and our various sociopolitical systems. This is difficult and challenging work. We are looking forward to a time, in the next couple of months, when we will invite you to join us via ZOOM to one of our meetings. In the meantime, we invite you to explore the following illustrations:
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord— and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. Isaiah 11:1-4a NIV
- What, if at all, does this passage speak to you about the categories (spiritual, economic, racial, ethnic, educational, political, cultural, etc.) to which you ascribe?
- Can you identify the origin of these categories?
- Do your categories lead you to judge with what you see with your eyes or decide by what you hear with your ears?
- What are the challenges of justice, both personal righteousness and social justice, when you look at the world through these categories today?
Imagine two people playing a game of Monopoly. One player is allowed to collect $200 whenever they pass go, build property wherever and whenever they want, and has a lower probability of drawing “Go to Jail” cards. The other player gets none of these luxuries. To rectify the system of advantage, one could restart the game, redefine the rules and redistribute the wealth, or stop playing the game altogether. To maintain the system, however, one could simply do nothing, or have both players follow the same rules moving forward (i.e., both players can now collect $200 whenever they pass go, build property wherever and whenever they want, and have an equal probability of drawing “Go to Jail” cards), while leaving the unequal wealth distribution intact. Continuing to play under this guise of “equality” would not entail actively contributing to the system; it would entail passively maintaining it (i.e., one player is still advantaged) (Tatum, 1997).
- What, if at all, does this illustration speak to you about the categories (spiritual, economic, racial, ethnic, educational, political, cultural, etc.) to which you ascribe?
- Which player did you identify with more strongly? Why?
- Can you identify the origin of this connection?
- Did you tend to make judgments with what you see with your eyes or decide by what you hear with your ears?
- What are the challenges of justice, both personal righteousness and social justice, in this illustration and in your world today?
We continue the journey.
The Anti-Racism Task Force
We would like to introduce two of our Task Force members. We will continue to feature information about members of the Anti-Racism Task Force in each subsequent publication. Today it is our pleasure to introduce Stephanie Commandest and Ethan Medley.
Stephanie Commandest is a member of the Sky Center for Spiritual Empowerment in Renton, Washington. She is a praise team worship leader for in person worship and “virtual usher” during ZOOM worship services. She also serves as a lay leader on the Executive Committee of the Evergreen Region, ABCUSA and as the Region’s Representative on the Board of General Ministries. Her term ends in 2022. Commandest lives in Seattle, Wash.
Ethan Medley is a member of Calvary Baptist Church of Clifton, N.J. He serves as the director of Community Relations for the New York Giants football team, where he oversees the team’s many charitable efforts, including their social justice programs and partnerships. He is also a member of the team’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee, which works to provide strategic direction, establish best practices and design policies and practices to strengthen the organization’s ongoing commitment to build a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment.
Rev. Dr. Dan Brockway
Rev. Abner Cotto-Bonilla
Rev. Dr. Eugene Downing
Rev. Joan C. Friesen
Rev. Rodney Lynch
Rev. Dr. Don Ng
Rev. Justin Thornburgh
Rev. Dr. Natalie C. Wimberly
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash