But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:25-29)
Once again, we are being challenged with the continued racial inequality that exists in our country, with the horrendous death of George Floyd and the resulting protests (most peaceful, though some violent) that have put us all on edge. This is on top of the pandemic, which appears to be impacting Afro American communities more than others. It is not as if we needed more reasons to be anxious or nervous.
Many would argue that racism has gotten better in our country, so why do we need to continue to address this? But race still continues to impact the way we view people in the world.
The above words from Galatians teach us that we are united in Christ through baptism. The color of a person’s skin is not to be a determining factor when it comes to being received into the Orthodox Church. Yet when I visit the parishes of the Midwest, it is very clear to me that in many of our parishes there are no people of Afro-American descent, and if there are, the numbers are very low. I realize I may be too simplistic in this characterization, as there are people of many different ethnic backgrounds that attend our churches; but the fact remains, there are very few Afro-Americans. There is, I believe, a spiritual and moral challenge that we need to face in order to understand why this is the case. I think the nature of racism amongst us is subtle and not as overt.
I can only speak for myself here. But in my upbringing it was modeled to me to be afraid of Afro-Americans (then it was black people). When Afro-Americans began to move into our neighborhood in Detroit in the early 1970’s, we left and joined the mass white flight to the suburbs of metropolitan Detroit. My family and I were motivated by fear. We never bothered to get to know our new neighbors as they moved in, which was sad. We prejudged the people moving in, making assumptions not based on any actual experience of having known them. We were not mean to anyone, nor did we mistreat anyone; but we avoided getting to know each other. I think this is racism. We were afraid to love, and that, in a nutshell, was the problem.
So for those parents today who are going about the challenge of forming the life of Christ in their children, what can we do overcome the subtle forms of racism that impact our lives? I will continue this next week.
The blessing of the Lord be upon you,
The unworthy Archbishop Paul
Education is key for ourselves and our children. There’s a children’s book called Let’s Talk about Race by Julius Lester. The message is I’m a story. You’re story. So is everyone. Color is just one part of that story. It’s not the whole story. This is more in line with what you’re saying about building relationships. Other books of interest by Orthodox resources for adults – Race, Identity, & Reconciliation by Nun Katherine Weston and Unbroken Circle (contributing author is Fr. Moses Berry).
When it comes to POC (people of color) politics, children should listen to the discussion, but it ought to be balanced because not all black people feel the same above movements like Black Lives Matter and not all black communities agree on policy. We want to teach them balance when approaching these kinds of topics. We’ve found that listening to all black discussion panels, listening to conversations with black academics such as professors, writers, and activists through youtube, and diverse young America discussion panels through youtube channels like Jubliee & Middle Ground has been helpful as well to keep us grounded and balanced in the midst of chaos and unsettling arguments/movements.
For our community within the church, it would be a positive direction to host a book discussion on one of the books mentioned. Another option would be inviting a guest speaker like Fr. Moses Berry, who recently came through the Midwest (specifically Ohio) to host a seminar called Christianity and the Black Experience. Also, there’s an informative discussion with Fr. Turbo, Dean of Chapters, for the Fellowship of St. Moses the Black with the Antiochian Missions & Evangelism facebook group about today’s hot topic which the Black Lives Matter movement. Highly recommend a listen. Fellowship of St. Moses the Black is not a political group, although they are organized. In his opinion, each parish should have some sort of presence if a chapter isn’t possible because it impacts us all. He admits that the fellowship is not necessarily about the program, but about relationships (the image of Christ in another) and recognizes that chapters might not be possible in some areas.
There’s a wound in our church community that needs to be healed, but we must be careful about entering the realm of identity politics by standing with movements like Black Lives Matter. Our family has personally witnessed some disturbing official stands from clergy and the archdioceses that clearly divides us as Orthodox Christians. It may seem like something positive, but beneath the layers, there’s parts of it that are quite dangerous. Personal politics should remain personal. The Antiochian Archdiocese of N. America’s official statement in response to George Floyd and all that’s taking place in America really shined a bright light, offered comfort, and set a good example for our family personally.
We also must be careful about excluding another ethnicity if deciding on a local chapter for Fellowship of St. Moses the Black. When deciding about beginning a ministry like this, clergy and the community must know the demography of their neighborhoods. However, before we take a leap, it starts with walking by means of education, discussion, listening, and retreats like the one I mentioned above.