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Dismantling structural racism ‘is in all our best interest’

More than 260 people enrolled in a four-week Matthew 25 course seek healing from white supremacy

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — More than 260 people spent a remarkable and at times uncomfortable two hours Monday evening in the first of a four-part online series designed to awaken Presbyterians to structural racism.

Hosting and coordinating the sessions are Rick Ufford-Chase, co-director of Stony Point Center in New York, and the Rev. Paul Roberts, President of Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary. The course is being organized around one of the three focus areas of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Matthew 25 invitation.

Alison Wood

Alison Wood, whose work includes accompaniment coordinator in Tucson, Arizona, for Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, was the content provider Monday.

“I am longing to benefit from the destruction of white supremacy,” Wood told the group. “I want to be a full human, and I trust you do too. The work of dismantling structural racism is actually in all our best interest.”

Wood said she moved to Tucson about 10 years ago and went to work for a binational education organization. During a meeting called to solve a significant problem, a colleague named Tito said in Spanish “something brilliant and perfect” to address the problem. “I felt surprised and then ashamed,” Wood said. “I still believed that smart ideas are expressed by white people in English. That’s what intelligence looks like.”

White supremacy had earlier during Monday’s session been compared to people breathing in smog. For Wood, “I think of it as the fluoride in our water. I have taken it in for so long, it has become part of my being on a cellular level.”

In advance of the breakout session that will conclude each of the four sessions, Wood said she hoped participants will “share your experiences of shame and guilt. I am certain that the path to liberation runs through discomfort.” White folks, she said, will have to do the work of ending white supremacy, and will have to be led by people of color while doing the hard work.

“It is not the responsibility of people of color to end white supremacy and explain why Black lives matter or why white supremacy is harmful. If you are white,” she said to her overwhelmingly white audience, “it is your job to end white supremacy — if you’re a follower of Christ who seeks after justice.”

Bryce Wiebe

Bryce Wiebe, director of Special Offerings

The PC(USA)’s Special Offerings director, Bryce Wiebe, led a thoughtful Bible study from Matthew 25:1-13, The Parable of the 10 Bridesmaids. “There is a complexity and richness” in Jesus’ parables, and it’s on purpose, he said. As participants heard the parable read, Wiebe invited them to consider:

  • When is it wrong to share?
  • What are things I can’t possibly share?
  • Where do you feel alone and isolated in this story?
  • Listen for words that sting.

“Jesus tells us a story we didn’t expect,” Wiebe said, and like the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis, “calls us to good troublemaking.”

“Here we have an admonishment not to share, to hold on to what we have, and that should trouble us,” Wiebe said.

He said the four weeks of learning, discussing and changing “is the opportunity to do our own work and fill our own lamps so we will be prepared when the bridegroom comes.” For white Christians, “unmaking ourselves is scary, hard, slow and painful work … My hope is that we come from this place as healers and exorcists from the demon of white supremacy. We are here to be grounded in the story we have already professed, to be the one we have already said we must be.”

“That is the invitation of Matthew 25,” Wiebe said. “I hope you are ready to be unmade with me, because my healing can only occur along with yours.”

Attendees were privileged to screen the second episode on whiteness from “Trouble the Water: Conversations to Disrupt Racism and Dominance,” a collaboration across two PC(USA) agencies and several offices.

In the film, scheduled for release soon, the Rev. Denise Anderson, coordinator for racial and intercultural justice for the Presbyterian Mission Agency, talks about people of color having their “lived lives interrogated” by white people. “We are expected to validate why it is that we feel the way we feel,” she says. “It’s frustrating when I have to convince you of my humanity. Do you know how humiliating and maddening that is? I can’t just tell you about my experience and that be enough.”

Ruling Elder Elona Street-Stewart is co-moderator of the 224th General Assembly (2020).

Ruling Elder Elona Street-Stewart, co-moderator of the 224th General Assembly and a descendant of the Delaware Nanticoke tribe, said that although Native people have had centuries “to say who we are,” they’ve often been “denied the right to own who they were. It’s always up to other entities — or the Church — to identify who we were.”

During the session’s final half-hour, participants were placed in small groups to discuss what they’d learned. Their instructions were “to go into breakout groups and let Scripture and the video dismantle us.”

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