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CPJ Training Day addresses racism, materialism and militarism

Series of workshops provide Presbyterians with tools to make change

by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

SDOP Coordinator Alonzo Johnson moderates a panel discussion called “Diverse Voices: Confronting Chaos, Forging Community” with panelists Stephanie Quintana-Martinez, Elona Street-Stewart and Amal Nassar. (Photo by Ray Chen)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a speech that provided the foundation for this year’s theme at Compassion, Peace and Justice Training Day. Speaking at the Riverside Church in New York, King provided a connection between the war in Vietnam with the civil rights movement.

King said there needed to be a “radical revolution in values” in order to address what he called the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism. Speakers and workshop leaders at CPJ Training Day told attendees last week that the issues addressed in April 1967 are still relevant in April 2017.

Following a morning of worship and messages from the Rev. Kevin Johnson and the Rev. Floretta Watkins, more than 260 attendees took part in a series of workshops. Among them was “Antiracism: Next Steps” led by the Rev. Mark Koenig and the Rev. Alonzo Johnson.

“Racism is historical, cultural and institutional. Slavery is historical. Culturally, it is passed from generation to generation. Some things we’ve made acceptable,” Johnson said. “We’ve made it okay to commodify and dehumanize people.”

Johnson referred to redlining — the practice of systematically oppressing certain groups of people — as an example of institutional racism. His examples included some real estate agents preventing people of color from moving into specific neighborhoods or banks refusing to grant loans.

Koenig told the group that the issue of privilege has nothing to do with guilt. But he asked attendees what they were willing to give up with that privilege.

“How do we use the privileges we have to disrupt the system on race, sexism? Advocacy is one thing we can do,” Koenig said. “There are no voiceless people. The task of advocacy is to amplify and find the appropriate platform for all people to speak and have their voices heard.”

CPJ Training Day attendees take part in discussions during an antiracism workshop. (Photo by Sue Washburn)

Amanda Craft, manager of Advocacy with the Office of Immigration in the Office of the General Assembly, led a workshop focusing on refugees and immigrants. She started out by polling the attendees on their personal histories of immigration.

“We have several [people] here whose parents, grandparents or even great-grandparents came to this country as immigrants,” she said. “It’s not so far removed from any of us. We have a history with immigration.”

Craft highlighted some of the key reasons why the refugee crisis has become a major issue in recent years: the U.S./foreign economic policies in Latin America, the shift in nationalist rhetoric, the immigration system in the U.S. and the recent response to immigrants by the White House.

The Rev. Adan Mairena, pastor and director of West Kensington Ministry in Philadelphia, led the workshop titled “From Broken Windows to Open Doors: The Role Churches and Communities Can Play in Building Relationships with Law Enforcement.” He described his work to help bring communities and law enforcement together and said it requires him to develop strong relationships with criminal justice agencies including police, the FBI, prosecutors and more.

“From the beginning, the image we have of uniformed officers, especially in poverty-stricken neighborhoods, is usually not good,” Mairena said. “Police officers are only trained to detect problems, operating on a theory of suspicion. They’re trained that way. This is what they’re taught.”

Mairena says that because of police-involved shootings and community responses, people are afraid.

“Police are looking over their shoulders and now they are at a higher level of awareness,” Mairena said. “Police have a high rate of depression and suicide. So, as a church, how do we create space for police to share their stress?”

Mairena urges churches to be a faithful voice of inclusion to the whole community and police, providing a safe place for all sides to get together and talk about the issues. “When I hear that a police officer has been shot or is dealing with a particular problem, I call and tell them I’m thinking about them and that means the world to these officers,” he said.

The day wrapped with a final gathering of the entire group. The Rev. Jimmy Hawkins, director of the Office of Public Witness, said there is a genuine desire by people to make positive change.

“The spirit of God is working everywhere and there are people who are just committed to this and want this world to be a better place,” he said. “It’s inspiring to know you are out there doing everything you can to bring forth a better day for children and adults.”

The Rev. Floretta Watkins, pastor of Seigle Avenue Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, urged the attendees to keep marching, singing and boycotting. “Think about how Christ’s resurrection totally shook up the Roman empire. You’re about to shake up the empire in 2017.”

This year’s event drew a record crowd to the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, a 38 percent increase over last year’s attendance.

“The plenary was good at getting at the heart of the deep spiritual issues we are facing and addressing the kind of transformation that we need,” said Catherine Gordon, representative for International Issues at the PC(USA) Office of Public Witness. “The tone of the conversation in our country has people looking for spiritual food that is grounded in love and how do we stay grounded when we face these divisive issues?”


The Peace & Global Witness Offering supports Presbyterian ministry engaged in the Christian witness of peacemaking and reconciliation. It invites individuals and congregations to deepen their involvement in God’s work of reconciliation in cultures of violence by providing educational resources, connections to global peacemaking leaders and supporting advocacy efforts on the global level.

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