The Rev. Dr. Marcia Mount Shoop discusses the hard and important work of antiracism
by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — “Being Matthew 25: Summit Edition,” the broadcast that celebrates plenary speakers and workshops that will be offered during the Jan. 16-18, 2024 Matthew 25 Summit, featured the Rev. Dr. Marcia Mount Shoop at the microphone Wednesday. Listen to Shoop’s conversation with Melody Smith, associate director for Digital and Marketing Communications in the Presbyterian Mission Agency, by going here or here.
Shoop is pastor and head of staff at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in Asheville, North Carolina. Among her books are “Touchdowns for Jesus and Other Signs of Apocalypse” and “Let the Bones Dance.” During the Matthew 25 Summit, to be held at New Life Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, she’ll co-lead a workshop on “The Role of White Voices in Antiracism.”
Shoop has served in pastoral ministry for nearly eight years after 11 years working around the country as a consultant. “I’ve noticed the richness of what can happen when you are able to embed yourself in a community over time,” she said. She and congregants have worked together “to center this healing work, especially around how white supremacy shows up in our bodies and our relationships, in our church and in our larger community.”
Our bodies “are so wise,” Shoop told Smith. “They can teach us a lot about why we hold on to certain things, why we react to certain things, and the capacity that we have for change and transformation.”
Without the work of repair, “we can’t really have true justice, and we can’t really have true peace and true healing,” she said.
“And because it comes from our bodies, that’s the screaming voice that says, ‘Don’t go there! Don’t have that conversation.’ It’s gonna be hard,” Smith said.
Throughout most discussions about racialization and social change, “the white bodies in the room are not in danger,” Shoop said. “It takes a lot of practice, and it takes support. That’s what I feel like we’re trying to do here at Grace Covenant, a true community of support. We’re doing the work — it’s hard work — and we’re doing it in a supportive environment where we want to be with each other in the hard parts.”
The only danger for white bodies participating in those discussions is “the danger of being very uncomfortable,” Smith said. “We often hear people discount historical harms” by saying, “‘you know, I didn’t do it. That was my ancestors.’” Smith then paraphrased from Shoop’s blog: “While we are all both victim and perpetrator in different gradations in this world, there are some who carry the weight of violence and abuse more accurately than others.”
Mainline white Christianity “has had a major and profound role in the formation of this country” and in its values, rhetoric, laws and culture, Shoop noted. “Presbyterians were there at the very beginning, both in colonization and in the writing of the Constitution.” Presbyterians have been well represented as presidents, governors, doctors, legislators and mayors. “We’ve been right there in the formal channels of power in this country,” Shoop said. “So, for me, it’s not so much about being responsible for our ancestors as it is being honest and truthful about the culture that we still carry and that we still use to make sense of the world.”
If Shoop were to claim no responsibility for what her ancestors said and did, they’d return from the afterworld “and smack me in the head. They’d say, ‘Where did you get that? We’ve always taught social responsibility,’” she said. “As Presbyterians, we realize that it’s part of our heritage, that we are responsible for the human family — not in a paternalistic way, but in a deeply humble way.”
Those are the ways we can understand complicated topics including stewardship, sin and redemption — collectively, Shoop said. “You can call it responsibility, or you can just call it genetics, or whatever you want,” she said. It’s “inviting our denomination into a time of deep transformation, of coming to a reckoning of … the things we have done and the things we have left undone,” including “the ways that churches have avoided the difficult work of transformation in order the accommodate the powerful and the wealthy.”
The “heart of who we are” is to “provoke justice for and with those who bear the weight of oppression in our contexts,” Shoop said. “Where do people learn their moral courage? They learn it at church,” and she’s seen it at Grace Covenant. “The more we deepen our shared analysis and the more we do our own inner work, the more we start to deconstruct whiteness and how it has been outed” as the motivator and shaper of “our behavior in the civic square.”
The people “who are willing to stick their necks out and put some skin in the game are being supported and strengthened in our ability to make an impact nationally and locally,” she said. Teaching people to be fearless is a big job, but “that’s what faith is, and there’s nothing else that can teach people that like faith can.”
Smith asked: What do you want people to take home from next month’s summit?
Shoop said it’s that people will trust “that God’s hand is this” and that they’ll receive “a shot of adrenaline and hopefulness” after being “with other people doing the work.”
“The other thing I hope people get is just a really visceral sense of the creativity, the vitality, the life that there is in this work,” Shoop said.
She’s also praying people will “come away with some new connections” and “a sense of accompaniment of companionship, of resourcing that there is out there.”
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