Presbyterians Today

OCT-NOV 2017

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22 OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2017 | Pr e s by te r i a n s To d ay eras of racism remain staunchly in place. Racism continues to be revealed in socioeconomic inequality as well as employment, education, lending, housing and government. In a report to the United Nations, the U.S. Human Rights Network notes: "Discrimination permeates all aspects of life in the United States and extends to all communities of color." A 2016 Pew Research Center survey about views of race and inequality in America found that racial equality still seems far off for many African-Americans. About 4 in 10 blacks are doubtful that the U.S. will ever achieve racial equality. The survey findings reported "profound differences between black and white adults in their views on racial discrimination, barriers to black progress and the prospects for change." Racism has been called "America's original sin," and the church has been complicit in that sin. The church played a significant part in perpetu- ating racist practices and divisive- ness (see "What Presbyterians Believe," p. 4). On many occasions Scriptures were used to promote the "rightness" of slavery and oppression. While the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has taken steps to address racism over the years, most recently the Church has elected to address racism by adding the Confession of Belhar to the Book of Confessions, part of the church's Constitution. This gives the call for antiracism work both scriptural and confessional authority. Living into hope The Special Committee on the Confession of Belhar recom- mended that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) add Belhar to its Constitution because the commit- tee believed the clarity of Belhar's witness to unity, reconciliation and justice might help the PC(USA) speak and act with similar clarity at a time when it faces division, racism and injustice. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) approved the Confession of Belhar as part of the Book of Confessions at the 222nd General Assembly (2016). But how does the church live out the Confession of Belhar? One way is to address racism at a national level. At this year's Big Tent, racial issues were at the forefront. Before the full conference Racial Ethnic & Women's Ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency spon- sored a discussion on diversity in the PC(USA). Nibs Stroupe, Presbyterian Intercultural Network (PIN) board member and retired pastor of Oakhurst Presbyterian Church in Decatur, Georgia, identified seven ways white people and white congregations can engage racism: recognition, repentance, resistance, resilience, reparations, reconciliation and recovery. When asked how a white man born in Tennessee who was pastor of three Southern churches developed such a progressive ideology about racism, Stroupe replied, "The church taught me racism. I grew up in a segregated church where the cooks and cleaning staff were the only black people in our church. I also grew up in a home where my mother didn't allow certain behaviors. "I could never call black adults by their first names and I could not use the 'N' word in our house. And because my father was not in our home, I came to know a bit of what it felt like to be looked down on or to be marginalized. Other white people in the church taught me to affirm racism and homophobia, but they also helped to understand that we are all God's children. … I chose Jesus over racism." Sharon Mook, moderator of PIN, said it's hard to be white in America and not be racist. "There is a lack of awareness among whites because we are born into racism," she said. "By this I mean when you're white, you're born into a power structure that already exists in this country. The real test comes when you determine how you will participate. … One can be an active racist, a passive racist or a recovering racist/active antiracist working to change the power struc - ture and their personal behavior." The Rev. Dr. Mark A. Lomax, founding pastor of First African Presbyterian Church of Lithonia, Georgia, and author of the report of the 2004 General Assembly task force to study reparations, says we must engage locally and at a personal level. "One must first understand the race, class and gender division of the church," he said. "If we study Belhar and practice the themes of Belhar, it would make a tremendous difference in the way we live our lives, the way LEARN MORE Recommendations approved at the 222nd General Assembly (2016): Antiracism resources: Congregational Ministries Publishing curriculum Being Reformed: The Confession of Belhar: Presbyterian Mission Agency Office of Theology and Worship Belhar Confession study guide:

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