Monday, November 30, 2009

Institute for Dismantling Racism: "Racism diminishes human existence"

by Rev. Laura Barclay

Recently, I attended a weekend-long Institute for Dismantling Racism (IDR) Training, conducted by the groups Crossroads and IDR. It began with introductions and a retelling of American history from the perspective of People of Color. From the beginning of the European invasion through the genocide of American Indians and slavery to the fight for Civil Rights, listening to a fact-filled narrative of American history from this perspective was incredibly powerful in thwarting many shadowy American myths still hiding in the corners of my mind. Perhaps one of the most jolting pieces of information was that the first slave ship to the New World was called “Jesus”. I could not help but remember one high school teacher of mine defending the idea of Manifest Destiny, which is a glorified way of saying that one believes God ordained European settlers to conquer the New World and that the death of millions of American Indians was just tragic collateral damage. This idea is still very much alive in the psyche of many Americans.

The next day we discussed the importance of a unified definition of racism, which is the misuse of power plus prejudice, so that we may more successfully confront racism and become anti-racists ourselves. We addressed low-income neighborhoods and the consequences of external government, corporate, and non-profit decisions: poor roads, less grocery stores, more government placed liquor stores, substandard education, less access to medical care, and social services whose leadership lives and makes decisions outside that community. We discussed white privilege, which is what a white person gets just for being white (read: white affirmative action). For instance, white persons do not have to worry about racial profiling, unfair treatment in the justice system, discriminatory hiring practices, etc. People of Color have to worry about all of these things and receive statistically higher interest rates on loans when compared to whites with the same credit history, along with higher infant mortality rates and higher stress levels. These discussions made me think about the everyday things about which I am blind, simply because I was born with lighter skin. I felt fortunate that I could enter into a safe and honest dialogue with other people about institutional disparities with regard to race.

The final day we covered racism in our own institutions. One of the most obvious and troubling observations about where the attendees’ institutions fell on the continuum of racism (racist institutions on the left and multicultural anti-racist institutions on the right) was that churches were the farthest behind. This is not surprising when you think about Martin Luther King’s observation that 11:00am on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America, or that the Southern Baptist Convention was created because preachers in the South wanted to defend slavery from a biblical standpoint. Most of our institutions were created in a pre-Civil Rights era, and we need to think creatively about how to confront racism and transform these institutions. We cannot do it alone and we cannot do it overnight. Organizations like Crossroads and IDR are here to train as many people as they can across America to give them resources to discover how racism infects their institutions. IDR encourages several people from every institution to attend and form an anti-racist group so that one person is not trying to change the organization alone. Contact Willard Bass, Executive Director of IDR, for information about tailoring a workshop for your organization or attending the full 3 day training. His email address is

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving (aka National Day of Mourning)

by Rev. Laura Barclay

In 1970, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts asked Frank James, the leader of the Wampanoag tribe, to speak at their Thanksgiving festivities. As he looked at the spectators and out into the waters where a replica of the Mayflower was docked, he did not speak about the partnership between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe. Instead, he spoke about the pain that followed. For European settlers, we trace the beginnings of our country and the idea of America as a melting pot to that meal. For Indians, they trace their genocide, loss of land, customs, languages, and way of life to that symbolic day. Not long after that meal, many Indians died or were enslaved in King Philip’s War. Within a few centuries, the United States would break treaty after treaty with the Indians, forcibly removing Indians off their land to reservations and forcing Indian children to reject their native traditions and be schooled in European culture.

The Gospel lectionary text for this Thanksgiving Sunday is Matthew 6:25-33, where Jesus instructs that we should be more concerned about the Kingdom of God than our clothing and food. I do not believe that he’s saying hunger and poverty are not of great concern. In fact, he states the exact opposite in Matthew 25, when he claims that the only criteria for judgment hinges on clothing and feeding the poor. I believe, in context with Jesus’ other statements, he is saying that what matters most is hospitality. Jesus’ whole ministry was about expanding the social norms for hospitality. He healed lepers, ate with vilified tax collectors, changed water into wine to extend the celebration at a wedding, and blurred the lines of the strict social environment in which he lived. Perhaps he’s saying that loving God and neighbor, with hospitality being the public outpouring of that love, is more important than priding ourselves on large tables of food and designer clothing.

In our displays of food around the Thanksgiving table this year, let us remember the entirety of the Thanksgiving story. Let’s remember that God calls us to hospitality and love. As God’s children, let us give thanks for God’s love and show others that love through our hospitality. Let us ask for forgiveness when we have failed to exhibit that love, and give thanks that tomorrow is a new day to work for reconciliation. Let us remember the Indians who will again gather at Coles Hill near Plymouth Rock and to observe the National Day of Mourning. Most importantly, let us pray and work toward the day when “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away (Rev 21:4).”

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, drive safe, and I’ll see you next week!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Getting To Know Your Neighbor

by Rev. Laura Barclay

Last night, I attended the Metro Council of Churches meeting for C.H.A.N.G.E. (Communities Helping All Neighbors Gain Empowerment), an intentionally multi-racial, multi-faith, non-partisan organization that brings churches, non-profits, and neighborhood associations together to solve identified community problems through collaborative research. We then meet with corporate leaders and government officials to challenge them to work with us toward a solution. Delegates representing each of our churches met last night, and one of our activities was to find a person you don’t know and ask them the following questions:

1) Why are you here?
2) What makes you angry/get up in the morning/lose sleep at night?

We had 25 minutes to make a new friend. I paired up with the Liberian-American gentleman sitting to my right representing an African-American Missionary Baptist church. I learned what worried and angered him, why he cared about making a difference in Winston-Salem, and what he’d like to see changed. We had similar values and concerns. Perhaps the most profound thing he said was, “I see this as God’s work. We can say it in church and not live it. Here, we are living Jesus’ example and caring about each other.” He also said that getting to know one another makes it harder to make generalizations about a person based on skin color. Once you get to know one another and trust that you both want to work side by side to make positive change, you realize how much you have in common. Suddenly, the fractures in the body of Christ don’t seem so deep.

The point of the exercise was to connect the members of C.H.A.N.G.E. on a deeper level and to cause you to care about your neighbors even more than the issues you might organize around. You stick with social justice work because you know and love your neighbor, and want to continue to work by their side. I think churches could learn a lot from this model for two main reasons. First, a healthy church should be missional and engaged in the work of the community. Staying enclosed behind the walls of the church in a self-contained community is not what Jesus asked of us. Second, I think church members should have relational meetings with each other and non-church members in their community. In this way, stories become intertwined in the larger narrative of God’s people working through history to be a light to the world. So, go have coffee with someone you don’t know very well. Have lunch with that person you always wanted to know better. You might find out that you aren’t so different after all, and that you can work together “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God [Micah 6:8].”

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

North Carolina Baptist State Convention Severs BCE from Budget

by Robert Parham, Executive Director of the Baptist Center for Ethics
Reprinted from Ethics Daily's website:

The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina voted last week to deny churches the opportunity to give through the convention to the Baptist Center for Ethics, thereby ending an almost 20-year partnership.

No state convention executive or elected leader ever called to explain what it was that we did or did not do that created the need to rupture the partnership. Neither did they bother to disclose information about their pending decision. No formal communication was exchanged.

State convention messengers made a decision in 2008 to begin pulling up the drawbridge to the conservative castle. A year later, they sealed the drawbridge, cutting off relationships with the non-fundamentalist Baptist world and fortifying relationships with the fundamentalists who run the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

"No sideline passes will be distributed for the Baptist State Convention's (BSC) annual meeting in Greensboro Nov. 9-11. You need to be in the game," wrote the convention's state paper editor in a cutesy way. "Come to Greensboro. Get into the game."

By getting into the game, he apparently meant in part that supporters could benefit from "a great lineup of breakout sessions." One of those sessions was led by a man connected with the North Carolina Family Policy Council, a Christian Right organization that believes in thought police, opposes the teaching of evolution in schools and thinks the United Nations is undermining families.

Neither the state convention's action nor its right-wing workshop represents the best of North Carolina Baptists.

From my perspective, I regret the loss of such a long-time partnership. I was not totally surprised, however. I had warned in an editorial in January 2004 about the challenges facing North Carolina moderates. That piece upset some state convention moderates who wanted to avoid thinking about the future and addressing honestly the existing dynamics.

"Know that the Baptist Center for Ethics is grateful for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina," I wrote. "BSCNC provided BCE over $31,000 in funding in 2003. Jim Royston, the state executive director, reviews books on our Web site. Steve Sumerel on the convention staff writes a regular column about substance-abuse issues. Just as BCE expects to continue working with friendly elements within BSCNC, North Carolina moderates will find alliances within the state convention constellation."

A new challenge now faces the theologically thoughtful and morally centrist North Carolinians, who belong to churches no longer allowed to support BCE through the BSC budget.

Traditional Baptists in SBC-affiliated churches must decide if they want to be bound in organizations retreating from the 21st century. They must determine if they want to fund organizations which are aligned with Birthers, Tea-Baggers, Disney-boycotters, anti-public school advocates and preachers who think women ought to only be homemakers. That's who the SBC leadership is. And that's what BSC wants to become.

While thoughtful and centrist church members weigh their decision to stay hardwired to the fringe of culture and theology, these good Baptists need to know in concrete terms what BSC's decision means financially for BCE.

Churches through the state convention provided financial support to BCE of $28,369 in 2004, $26,840 in 2005, $26,031 in 2006, $27,001 in 2007, $23,567 in 2008 and $14,879 through September of this year.

We hope goodwill North Carolina Baptist individuals and churches will decide to make up our loss of funding.

If you read this editorial, then we hope you help us make up this defunding. To make a secure, online contribution, click here. If you prefer to write a check, mailing directions are on this same page.

We also hope you will consider getting BCE in your church budget or supporting BCE through the mission resource plan of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina.

We have a clear moral perspective and a transparent one. We disclose our vantage point every day on, through our documentaries and in our online curriculum units. We frame issues from a centrist Baptist position that is rooted in the biblical witness, seeks to interpret and apply the teachings of Jesus, honors the best of the goodwill Baptist tradition, knows that the headquarters of the Baptist faith is the local church and hopes that we both inform and equip church members. We don't speak for Baptists; we do speak to Baptists and other people of faith.

We hope you will speak up for BCE.

Robert Parham is executive editor of and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.

“For You Were Once a Stranger: Immigration in the US through the Lens of Faith”

-an NC Council of Churches resource

review by Rev. Laura Barclay

An incredibly divisive issue over the last decade in America, the vitriol created by the immigration issue is rivaled only by that of the anger surrounding the health care reform debate. Perhaps putting a human face and hearing real stories about this issue might be the best place to start. On pages 36 and 37 of this resource, chronicler Daniel Grood recounts his stories working in Mexico providing pastoral care near the U.S. border. He states that many undocumented immigrants come from a part of Mexico where there are no jobs, and putting food on their children’s tables has become exceedingly difficult. One man, Mario, revealed that he is not crossing the border because he wants to break the law or even come to America. The economic conditions where he lives are so bad that he knows his family will die if he stays. At least if he crosses, obtains work, and can send back money, his family might live a little longer. However, his group is captured and chained, all while an over-head U.S. border patrol helicopter plays “La Cucaracha” while they run (37). Humiliated and lacking hope, they are transported back to Mexico. How did conditions get so bad?

The book explores the nonsensical evolution and increasing restrictions of immigration laws that clearly reflect the xenophobic culture of the times. For instance, did you know that at one point immigrant “epileptics” and “persons with physical and mental defects” were excluded from naturalization? And almost all Asians were barred from entry at another point in US history (54-55). Even more frustrating is the now-exorbitant waiting period for immigrants to become U.S. citizens: it’s up to 20 years in some cases (13). The explanations of significant, lengthy and painstaking hurdles through which immigrants must jump are not only head-scratching, but make it clear that our laws are actually preventing legal immigration that would help us track who is in our country. It was also helpful to learn that NAFTA destroyed Mexico’s economy along with ours, as American businesses moved from Mexico to find even cheaper labor abroad. This exodus of Mexican job mirrored ones from US manufacturing towns, and left thousands in northern Mexico without jobs (24).

Perhaps the most compelling argument for immigration reform for Christian readers comes in Chapter 7, with the statement, “The Gospel of Matthew says God in Jesus not only takes on human flesh and migrates into our world but actually becomes a refugee himself when he and his family flee political persecution and escape into Egypt [Matt 2:13-150]” (39). Jesus, Mary and Joseph were undocumented immigrants in the great nation of Egypt. Perhaps this experience motivates Jesus to say in Matthew 25, “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…just as you did it to one of the least of these…you did it to me” [NRSV].

If Christians are to example the Good Samaritan, as Jesus demands, what are we to do next? The reflection questions throughout the book help the reader to focus their thinking. The book says that end goal should be for persons of faith to show their hospitality by demanding immigration reform that requires employers to treat workers fairly (34). Low wages and poor working conditions comprise the reality of economic slavery under which many undocumented immigrants are trapped. A majority of workers are paying into Medicare, Social Security and Federal Taxes to the tune of $50 billion in federal taxes from 1996 to 2003 (17). Despite the perception that undocumented immigrants are a drain on our system, statistics like these would show another side of the story. These workers are actually paying into a system they will never get to benefit from, and they risk deportation at any moment.

No one wants scores of unaccounted people in America. We must call for reform that allows hard working immigrants access to a path toward legal citizenship, and allows the US to have a more efficient, practical system. We are all children of God who must help our neighbors. If you are interested in this resource, go to the North Carolina Council of Churches website, for more information.

Anti-Rape Bill Should Not Be a Partisan Issue

by Rev. Laura Barclay

I was very troubled last month to see that 30 senators voted against Senator Al Franken’s anti-rape amendment to the Defense Appropriations Bill. This amendment would revoke defense contracts from Halliburton and others who do not allow their employees to take workplace rape and sexual assault cases to court. One such example cited by Senator Franken involved a former Halliburton employee, Jamie Leigh Jones, who was gang raped and locked in a shipping container by her co-workers and later prevented from taking her case to court by her employer.
How can this be a partisan issue, you ask? Those 30 senators, who all happen to be white, male, and Republican, claim that the government is overreaching their authority into the private sector with this bill. They also believe that frivolous lawsuits would occur from allowing employees to sue. One article explains a portion of this:

However, many of the 30 senators who voted against Franken’s bill had no problem intervening and cutting federal funding when corruption became evident in ACORN. I would have hoped these senators would have made rape cases as much of a priority as financial corruption.

I believe this is another case where politicians get so involved in how to argue against and defeat the other side that they lose focus of the reason they decided to be public servants and run for office. Both parties have been alternately guilty of this throughout history, even though this example highlights Republicans. Many politicians seem to miss the whole point of good governing that protects and cares for its citizens and upholds the law. Democrats and Republicans alike could learn from his example. Jesus went where the poor and suffering were without apology. Our government would do well to exemplify this behavior and listen to the stories of these rape survivors who are crying out for justice.