Social Issues

Modeling Courageous Conversations

Glued to our screens while sheltering in place, we have seen the unequal effect of Covid-19 on our Black and Brown siblings. We have watched footage of brutality and heard of its unequal effect on this country’s communities of color.

In the midst of it all, I can’t help but wonder if we will lose interest? I hope not. Because there is no easy answer to the systemic racial realities we are being asked to confront.

This June, Executive Pastor Charlene Han Powell asked our congregation the following questions 3 questions:

  • Does America have a race problem?
  • Do I have a race problem?
  • Does the church have a race problem?

She concluded by challenging us to commit to talking about these questions 3 weeks from now, 3 months from now, 3 years from now, for as long as it takes.

As our Clerk of Session, I took her challenge seriously.

I recognize that this important work does not have a clear, finite timeline. There is work to be done by oneself, but also in community. Most importantly, we must do what we can to make the world more just, more equitable, more in line with the vision Christ set forth for humanity. In light of this, I can think of no better place to have those hard conversations than within our community of faith.

I reached out to our clergy staff to ask how I can help. In response, Senior Pastor Scott Black Johnston encouraged me to do what Presbyterians do best:
gather people together to pray about, discuss, and discern a way forward. This June, we convened Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church’s Anti-Racist Response Team (ARRT). The team members include Salome Noufele, Jeneca Parker-Tongue, Eric Daniels, Jama Toung, the Rev. Werner Ramirez, the Rev. Dr. Charlene Han Powell and myself.

Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?

—Isaiah 58:1-9

What will Anti-Racist Response Team (ARRT) do? We agreed that we are not going to solve racism on behalf of the church. Here are a few things we will do: model courageous conversations; listen to and learn from each other; gather and share resources; research and recommend helpful methods of self-reflection and identify areas of the church we can improve on in this area. We also agreed we would seek out prophetic voices for our Community Groups and our congregation to listen to during this time. Stay tuned!

In his sermon on June 28th, The Rev. Werner Ramirez warned us to avoid the “cheap easy answer” and to “not fall into the trap of Hananiah’s easy grace that brings false comfort.” I know his journey will not be easy, but it will be worth it. Let us take up the work that God calls us to do and “loose the bonds
of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke”.