Build up the body of Christ. Support the Pentecost Offering.

Power and Privilege report presented to PMA Board

Consultant finds in-house threats to Matthew 25 mission

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

Marian Vasser, whom the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board hired to consult on power and privilege issues, speaks during an earlier meeting. (Photo by Rich Copley)

LOUISVILLE — A consultant on diversity, inclusion and antiracism presented a thought-provoking report on power and privilege to the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board Thursday.

Marian R. Vasser compiled the report after observing in-person and online meetings and concluding that the organization has some work to do to root out white supremacy.

“Your journey to become a Matthew 25 church, if you don’t start right here, you might as well not even go out into the world, ‘cause what you go out into the world with is your baggage,” said Vasser, executive director for Diversity and Equity at the University of Louisville. “That’s like my house. If my house is a wreck, I can come out and spray all the perfume on me that I want, but my life is going to reflect the mess. It’s an invisible bag of junk.”

By examining power and privilege dynamics within board meetings over time, Vasser was able to identify several things that she sees as threats to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s commitment to meeting the Matthew 25 mission to actively engage in the world and work boldly and compassionately to serve people who are hungry, oppressed, imprisoned or poor.

She included actions that she personally observed, such as paternalism, tokenism, whites speaking over people of color, denial of white privilege, false equivocation, heteronormative language, ableism, and talking about people as property.

Paternalism, which refers to treating people as children, “shows up really, really, really strongly, especially when we’re talking about staff seating and their ability to participate or not,” she said.

Vasser also spoke about the need to interrupt tradition instead of digging into tainted roots.

“Tradition can be reflected on — it can be celebrated when appropriate — but tradition is not intended to be maintained ‘cause that is the same as doing what you’ve always done just because you’ve always done it,” Vasser said. “If you look at the history of the Presbyterian Church, it is directly attached to slavery — supporting slavery.”

At the conclusion of Vasser’s presentation and a brief Q&A, the Rev. Warren Lesane, Jr., who chairs the PMA Board, summed things up by saying, “I think we’re at a good, uncomfortable as hell point … and that’s the ground for cultivation, where things begin to change and hearts begin to confess.”

The Rev. Warren Lesane, Jr. is chair of the PMA Board. (Photo by Rich Copley)

Addressing Vasser directly, he said, “Thank you so much for doing this brave, bold work helping the church and helping organizations face up to the reality of systemic racism and all of those things that seem to tear us down.”

Others, including the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, also praised Vasser.

“I so appreciate you,” Moffett said.

Vasser’s report will be reviewed by a Power and Privilege Task Force that’s chaired by PMA Board Member the Rev. Michelle Hwang, who asked that its members be given time to let the report “sink in” and to develop a plan to address the consultant’s recommendations.

Vasser said it’s important for people to be willing to ask questions and to do some self-education. For example, white people who want to experience growth should strive to build meaningful relationships with people they can have open conversations with. She also suggested using herself as a resource and turning to books and TED Talks.

“That labor is yours,” she said. “There is no certificate of completion. It is a process of ‘Every day, I’m committed to learning something new.’”

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

  • Subscribe to the PC(USA) News

  • Interested in receiving either of the PC(USA) newsletters in your inbox?

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.