Remarks for an Interfaith Response to the President's Policies

The first question someone might raise upon hearing of an Interfaith response to the president’s policies might reasonably be, “Why are faith leaders involving themselves in partisan politics by holding a press conference?”

The answer to that question, most simply put, is that the kinds of policies and the legislative agenda coming out of Washington D.C. . . . all the way down to our state capital are a matter of profound concern to us gathered here. To put a finer point on it, the issues—ranging from the proposed budget, to the Executive Order, to the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act are not merely partisan political issues to us—they’re moral issues, issues that strike at the heart of our most precious moral and religious commitments.

From my own tradition, I can say with certainty that Jesus never said: “Go ye therefore into all the world . . . and make life as miserable as possible for poor people who need financial and healthcare assistance. And while you’re out there spreading misery, don’t forget to ensure that refugees, Muslims, undocumented immigrants, African Americans, women, and LGBTQ people have as grim an existence as you can possibly make it.”

That doesn’t sound anything like Jesus . . . or the Prophet Muhammad, or Moses, or the Buddha—or any of the faith traditions we hold dear. But you might be forgiven for thinking that those are exactly the marching orders handed down from certain political leaders . . . both in Washington and Frankfort. If it were possible to craft a social and political agenda that would fail more stunningly to represent the best expressions of all of our faith traditions, I’m sure I don’t know what it would be.

How we treat those seeking refuge or work or a start on a new life, how we care for the environment, how we empower women to have control over their own bodies and careers, how we refuse to enable systems that continue to oppress and deny human dignity to African Americans and LGBTQ people, how we ensure affordable healthcare to all people, how we protect the rights and the safety of our Muslim and Jewish neighbors . . . these things and not our commitment to dogmatic purity, we believe, are the true test of our faith.

We are called, as the deepest expression of who we are as people of faith, to give voice to the voiceless.

We will not be silenced!

In the Room Where It Happens: Public Moments of Worship

By Rev. Mindi

It’s probably been twenty years since I last joined in a public singing of Handel’s Messiah. I was part of a community choir, and we invited the audience to join us on the Hallelujah Chorus. In this particular instance, our choir stepped down from the risers and interspersed ourselves among the people, singing our harmonies among those singing the melody, helping our neighbors find their places in the sheet music so they could sing along. It was a moving moment of joining voices, professional and amateur, to sing this magnificent opus. And it was a public act of worship, of joining our voices to sing these notes and text that portrayed such a moment of praise.

I know that many churches still offer public singings of Messiah around the holidays, but the opportunity to find such moments outside of the church are rare. A few years ago, when flash mobs were the rage, I remember watching the video over and over again of the people singing the Hallelujah Chorus in the middle of a mall, from where they were sitting and standing.

I call these moments of worship because the focus is not on the individual. In these moments, the focus has turned outward. It has turned into a moment of joining together with other voices to make something greater than ourselves.

I have felt these moments of public worship in other spaces. During the 2000’s, attending U2 concerts often felt like acts of worship. I remember during the Vertigo tour, singing Yahweh at the end of the concert, where one by one the instruments stopped until all that was left was our voices on the chorus and the sound of Larry’s hands on the bongo’s. At other times, singing 40 at the end of the concerts was our public moment of joining together. In both cases, those words led us to singing a song of praise to God.

However, it was on the 360 tour, in singing Walk On, that I began crying, when Burmese refugees came forth wearing masks depicting the face of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese political prisoner who was finally released soon after that tour after fifteen years of house arrest under the military regime. It was a moment of solidarity, a moment of understanding the plight of the Burmese people. Of course, we paid $45 plus Ticketmaster fees to join in that moment, so I understand the skepticism of others, and I have heard the criticism of using Aung San Suu Kyi to sell concert tickets. But I also know that U2 have worked hard to share the message of the Burmese people during Aung San Suu Kyi’s house arrest, and made their struggle known to the world.

I wasn’t expecting to find this moment of public worship at Emerald City ComiCon this year in Seattle. Of course, being a fan of Hamilton and singing those songs at the top of my lungs in my car sometimes feels like a moment of worship. I am sure for those who have attended the musical there is an understanding of a greater story being told. But at ComiCon, there was a Hamilton Sing Along, and In the Room Where It Happens, it happened.

Sure, we started off with, “How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by Providence…” and you know the rest. We sang songs with colorful language that we would never sing in church.

But we also sang Wait For It: 

Death doesn’t discriminate

Between the sinners and the saints

It takes and it takes and it takes

And we keep living anyway

We rise and we fall and we break

And we make our mistakes

And if there’s a reason I’m still alive

When everyone who loves me has died

I’m willing to wait for it

I’m willing to wait for it…

 In that moment of singing those familiar lyrics, there was a sense of knowing our own mortality, that we all have one shot at this life, and that the best we can do is to come together and try to find enjoyment when we can.

When I looked around the room, there was a moment that surprised me. There were children in the room who knew every singing word without having to look at the power point. There were people dressed up as Spider Man and others as zombies who sang the harmony on Satisfied. It was ComiCon, after all. But it felt like worship. It felt like church.

We didn’t get to sing It’s Quiet Uptown, with the lyrics, “There’s a grace too powerful to name,” but I felt that message in all of our joyous singing, in the raised fists during The World Turned Upside Down, in our insistence that we were not throwing away our shot. And when we sang Rise Up, one by one, people began to rise up together. We began to join not only our voices but our bodies in this movement. I felt a connection to the turmoil that is happening right now in the United States people, one by one, stood up and sang.

To me, it transported me back to that moment twenty years ago, singing the Hallelujah Chorus. We were naming a powerful moment, singing our praise as a people, and while we want a revolution, in that moment, we had a revelation. Hallelujah. Rise Up.

2017: What The (White Protestant) Church Must Do

By Rev. Mindi

I read this post shared by an Episcopalian friend this week, and along with some online conversations on “what is the future of the church?” with declining attendance and resources, I’m wondering what has happened to our ecumenical movement? What has happened to our movement for unity?

As an American Baptist pastor married to a Disciples of Christ pastor, I can tell you that not much really separates us. We all do baptism pretty much the same way. We do communion the same way, albeit Baptists tend to only do communion once a month. We aren’t opposed to doing it every Sunday, we just make it out to be more work than it really is. We have some common roots in history. We have faced some of the same struggles on inclusion and diversity in recent years, and as both denominations have taken steps to truly live into God’s ways of love and justice and the teachings of Jesus, some of our more conservative kindred have gone out the door, or have simply stopped talking with us.

And it’s not only American Baptists and Disciples, but Presbyterians, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, Congregationalists (and other UCC-ers), and the list goes on. While we vary in our ways of baptism and communion and vary in our liturgical rigidness, when we start talking about issues of justice, Black Lives Matter, inclusion of transgender and lesbian, gay, bisexual and other queer folks, and welcoming refugees and immigrants, we have so much in common. I regularly have conversations in ecumenical gatherings of clergy (especially fellow clergy in a similar age range to me, but not always) about the same issues facing our churches. The same issues facing our communities. The same longing to follow Jesus and being held up by resources.

So why oh why oh WHY ARE WE NOT WORKING TOGETHER? Why are we still separated on Sunday mornings? Why is (as the author of the blog post I shared stated) Sunday morning still the most segregated hour, decades after Martin Luther King Jr. called us out on it?

I know I am not the first to say it, but as a response to white privilege and white supremacy, perhaps those of us in the traditional white protestant churches, as we face closing down and shrinking numbers, need to go join a Black church. Perhaps we need to listen to someone else preach on Sunday morning and tell us how to be involved in the community. We can do this within our own denomination to start with.

Secondly, we can join with our kindred down the street. While many of us have “full communion” with other denominations or allow for those of other ordination standards (or none at all!) to preside at the table and at baptism, we do not move beyond those relationships (as again, the author of the blog post I shared stated).

As we enter 2017, the future of the church doesn’t lie in us keeping to ourselves on Sunday morning. If we do that, we will continue to shrink, decline, and close. Those of us who are white Christians need to especially consider giving up our power and ownership of space to join with our Christian kindred of color to truly follow the ways of Jesus (who wasn’t white, as we keep pointing out but fail somehow to truly comprehend). We might find that the church isn’t declining, but thriving, if we give up our own vision of what the church is supposed to look like, and join in God’s vision:

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God, and to the Lamb!”

~Revelation 7:9-10

What is needed right now

By Rev. Mindi

What is needed right now is radical love:

Love that blesses instead of divides.

Love that welcomes and embraces instead of casts out.

Love that sees the refugees as Mary and Joseph.

Love that sees Christ in the face of the children among the ruins of Aleppo.

 

What is needed right now is radical love:

Love that celebrates and rejoices in finding a partner in this life.

Love that is not selfish or boastful or arrogant or rude,

But truly rejoices in the truth: that Love Wins.

That Love is Love.

 

What is needed right now is radical love:

Love that cries out when our neighbor is in need

Because they are our own. Because we and they are us.

Love that sees the face of God in each person.

Love that encompasses so fully that we step away from the center.

 

What is needed right now is radical love:

Compassion, empathy, justice for all.

Love that fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty.

Love that lifts up the lowly and brings down the powerful from their thrones.

Love that scatters the proud.

 

What is needed right now is radical love:

For the high trees will be cut down and the low trees raised high.

For the powerful will tumble and the poor will rise up.

For the refugees and immigrants will be the next generation.

For love is radical, and love will break through.

Reflections on Snyder’s “20 Lessons”

By Bentley Stewart

On November 15, Timothy Snyder, a Yale Historian, posted to his Facebook page “twenty lessons from the twentieth century, adapted to the circumstances of today.”

I’m going to highlight just four of the pieces of advice and what they mean to me: numbers 3, 4, 6, and 8. I’d love to hear which pieces of advice have resonance for you and how you interpret their meaning for your own life and practice.  

3. Recall professional ethics

This one might be my favorite, because this roots us in our callings. Our professional codes hold us accountable to our roles in participating in advancing the human project. We are not obligated to do all of the work. We are not free from doing any work. 

While I’m no historian, I will make the bold assertion that it is the codes of ethics of the professional guilds that helped Europe transition from the feudalism of the Medieval Ages into the emergence of a (for lack of a better term) “middle-class” during the Renaissance. 

One of the most famous codes comes from antiquity. While the Hippocratic Oath does NOT include the maxim “do no harm,” it has many of the markers of modern codes. It does include instruction for caring for those who cannot pay for services. It has a moral division of labor; they were physicians not surgeons. It also forbids taking sexual advantage of the power imbalance inherent in serving vulnerable populations. 

I am a clergy person, which is a sacred trust between the communities I serve, and by whom I am held accountable, and our shared mission to serve the world. For me to remain in good standing within my ordaining body, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), I must adhere to our code of ethics. Additionally, I'm endorsed as a hospital chaplain, meaning there's heightened awareness of and concern for serving vulnerable populations. In addition to the professional codes of ethics for chaplains, I took on additional commitments as an educator of spiritual care providers.

All of these commitments demand that I listen deeply to the suffering of others and amplify the voices of the oppressed and the vulnerable. My profession demands that I speak to powers that are being abused in ways that diminishes the dignity and sacred worth of any of us.

4. When listening to politician, distinguish certain words.

“…the first violence is committed against language itself....“ 

A friend recently visited the Holocaust Museum in DC. He posted this sign to Facebook. He asked for help with translation. Here’s the translation offered:

“The headings of the columns across the top, ‘Political prisoners, career criminals, emigrants, Jehovah Witnesses, homosexuals, a-socials.’

“The title of the sign reads: ‘Identifying Markers for Those in Protective Custody.’ The Nazi word ‘Schutzhaft’ demonstrates that under fascism, the first violence is committed against language itself. The Nazis claimed they were placing inmates into the camps to ‘protect’ them from the German people who were angry for the very existence of Jews, homosexuals, Jehovah Witnesses, etc. Compare the term ‘Alt-right.’"

For a contemporary example, I turn to the euphemistic “new-speak” of the eviction order of Standing Rock by the Army Corps.:

“In his letter to Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II, Colonel John Henderson of the Army Corps stated, “This decision is necessary to protect the general public from the violent confrontations between protestors and law enforcement officials that have occurred in this area.” Let’s be clear about what this means. Our people have been attacked again and again by people I can attest from experience do not look at Natives as human beings. While our people have converged in peace, police from around the Midwest have also converged, to play their role in this moment of colonial and anti-colonial struggle. Morton County police and the police who have travelled from afar to join them have done everything short of killing our Water Protectors, and the only solution to this aggression that officials can produce is to further repress us.

The Army Corps letter also states that officials are worried about “death, illness, or serious injury to inhabitants of encampments due to the harsh North Dakota winter conditions.” Such pretense would be laughable if this situation weren’t so tragic and enraging. The government has proven at every turn — including its approval of this pipeline route — that it has no concern for our well-being or survival. Any claim to the contrary is a spineless PR maneuver, though some will surely latch onto it, so as not to see this shameful moment in US history as President Obama’s swan song.” 

https://transformativespaces.org/2016/11/26/the-day-weve-been-dreading-plans-to-evict-nodapl-water-protectors-made-public/

6. Be kind to our language.

Micah 6:8 describes the duties of being human as “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” 

We are called to be kind. We are not called to be nice. My colleague, Ruth Schulenberg, recently informed me that the etymology of nice is the French for “naïve.” 

Now more than ever, we need the principles of non-violent communication. Assume good intentions until there is good reason to know that is no longer true. Use “I” statements. Avoid starting with “you” statements that often feel accusative and can trigger defensiveness. Rather, distinguish between intent and impact. For example, make observations first before stating your feelings. “I heard you say ‘x.’ Is that a correct summary?” Once you have clarified the speech, “When I hear you say ‘x,’ I feel ‘y.’” 

…. now, PAUSE and breathe. Wait for them to engage. Perhaps they will take ownership of this impact. Perhaps, when confronted with this impact on me, they will revise their initial statement. Important note, when someone confronts me with the impact of my language on them, I need to remember that impact is always more important than intent. If they are not interested in my intent, I have no right to force my explanation of my intent on them. I need to apologize for the impact and commit to doing better next time.  This process is laboriously slow and the advantage of that is it gives us time to breathe, which helps us activate our prefrontal cortex rather than our amygdala’s fight or flight response. 

Another helpful tool is the first mantra of Improv: “yes, and.” Whenever possible, “build” on the offering of your conversation partner, rather than “block” the emerging dialogue.

“Yes, I agree with you about this aspect of ‘x,’ and I’m wondering what you think about this aspect of ‘y.’ Do you think that adds any nuance to the discussion about ‘x?’” 

Another version of this comes from Systems Centered Therapy. “I join you about ‘x’ and I have a difference with you in regards to ‘y.’”

For me, the problem with being “nice” is that I might sacrifice my voice in order to accommodate someone else’s understandings which violate principles I hold dear. 

Theologically, I draw from Martin Buber’s concept “I-Thou.” We long for communication where we are both seen and heard and in return we see and hear the other person. We long for the meeting of two subjects, each honoring the dignity and sacred worth of the other. 

Violent communication is characterized by an “I-it” dynamic. Our conversation partner is dehumanized and becomes a label: a racist, a communist, and on and on. 

“Nice” communication is the sacrifice of my own human dignity and is characterized by an “it-Thou” dynamic. Making you feel comfortable and liking me is more important than risking real relationship by voicing my truth.

The “I-Thou” encounter is messy and fluid; and at its best, can be life-giving and transformative. 

8. Believe in truth.

The author speaks of “facts.” I’m going to differ from Professor Snyder (see point above) and refocus on “truth.” Following Quaker educator and activist, Parker Palmer, I distinguish facts from truth. Again, etymology is useful here. Facts comes from the French “to make.” We make facts based on observations of reality. We are a multi-cultural, pluralistic society. One culture, rooted in the Enlightenment Project, places a premium on objectivity over subjectivity. Many wonderful things have emerged from the Enlightenment project, such as modern medicine which strives for evidenced-based strategies for health and wellness.

In this age of “fake news,” we are learning that the strategy of propagandists is to fabricate facts. Remember, we make facts. Therefore, they are suspect to the biases of the person claiming objectivity. At their best, facts always fall short of objectivity. At their worst and most manipulative, they are fabrications. And yet, always remember to assume good intentions. And, check out assumptions and suspicions.  

“Hey that sounds strange to me. Can you cite the sources from where you learned that?”

Truth is related to the Anglo-Saxon word “troth,” from which we get the word “betrothal.” Truth is about commitments. Truth is about shared reality. Truth is discovered through the inter-subjectivity of “I-Thou” encounters (see above). 

Here are my guiding principles around truth (not an exhaustive list):

  • I am called to honor and respect the dignity and sacred worth of every human.
  • I am called to awaken in your humanity a respect for the humanity of others.
  • No one is beyond redemption.
  • Reconciliation requires both truth-telling and repentance. 
  • Evil is real and pernicious.
  • In every moment, we are given opportunities to collude with, accommodate, or resist evil. 
  • Our fundamental calling is the goodness of collaborating as care-takers of the living interdependent web of creation.

Rev. J. Bentley Stewart is the Director of Student Life for Disciples Seminary Foundation in Northern California. He is an ordained minister with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and has standing in the Northern California/Nevada Region, for whom he serves as one of the anti-racism trainers. He is endorsed as a hospital chaplain by Disciples Home Mission. In his decade of hospital ministry, he specialized in pediatrics, palliative care, clinical ethics, interprofessional communication, and cultural bridging. He holds a B.A. degree from Flagler College in St. Augustine, FL, and a M.Div. degree from San Francisco Theological Seminary. Currently, he is organizing the core team to begin a new Disciples worshiping community in Marin County, gathering-desire, where he resides with his wife, their two sons, and their beloved 95 lb. lapdog, Norman.

Why Does Jesus Have to Be Such a Lousy Role Model?

By Derek Penwell

WWJD? If you read the Gospels, apparently not much that would please the Family Research Council.

Given the pressing social concerns about the “war on Christmas” and the first amendment travesty visited upon America's evangelical wedding cake industry, Jesus’ regard for the poor and oppressed seems laughably myopic.

I mean, if you believe that you’ve been put on this earth to skulk about pointing out everyone else’s sins, Jesus doesn’t set a very good example. Oh sure, he cracks on the self-righteous and the hypocrites, but usually because he feels a moral responsibility to shine a light on the self-satisfied, those who seem way too pleased that they’re “not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like [the] tax-collector” (Luke 18:11).

Interesting that Jesus not only doesn’t feel the need to scour the countryside in search of people to condemn—for fear that surely someone’s ruining the fabric of “traditional society”—but, ironically, he seems to find those who are most publicly religious (that is, the folks who do scour the countryside in search of people to condemn) the folks most in need of a good verbal smack down.[1]

So, if you believe your Christian mission centers on identifying sinners to steer clear of, Jesus is a really crappy role model. If you think that the demands of Christian purity require you to shine a bright light on the those people the church ought to be busy hanging scarlet letters on, then Jesus is bound to be a disappointment to you.

At this point, someone will surely object, “But we’re just calling attention to sinful behavior. We don’t hate the sinners, just the sin. What we’re doing is actually the loving thing to do. We love them; but we have a responsibility to make sure that they change.”

But let’s just be honest—when some group utters “love the sinner/hate the sin,” everybody knows they’re only talking about LGBTQ people. (Frankly, I don’t think being LGBTQ is a sin, and I don’t like the phrase. But if you’re going to wield it against someone you don’t approve of, at least try to be consistent.)

Franklin Graham wouldn’t advocate keeping rich people, for example, from full participation in the life and ministry of the church—in anticipation that they’ll, you know, renounce that which prevents their tricked-out camels from fitting through the eye of the needle.

I’m pretty sure Tony Perkins isn’t launching any campaigns meant to publicize the socially corrosive sin of anger evinced by road-ragers who terrorize rush hour traffic, proudly displaying their “Jesus” fish and their “God is my co-pilot” bumper stickers.

Jerry Falwell Jr. isn't leading the charge against hypocrisy, calling out the white-washed sepulcher lobby who claim to follow Jesus, but who still embrace violence, selfishness, and deceit in their political leaders.

The truth of it is, we’re extremely parochial about the “Biblical” sins by which we’re determined to be aggrieved.

My suspicion is that “love the sinner/hate the sin” language operates practically as a convenient mechanism by which one can appear morally superior to those whose sins most offend one’s particular sensibilities—all for the purposes of public consumption.

But the specificity with which we apply “love the sinner/hate the sin” bothers me. I guess my question would be: Have you actually talked to someone who’s been “loved” to death by all this concern for the particular sin of being LGBTQ? Young people are killing themselves from this kind of “love.”

Yeah, Jesus is a lousy example if what you care about are the sins that vex much of popular Christianity. In fact, not only didn’t Jesus make it his mission to fish about for people to be offended by, he sought out the people that most of the rest of polite society saw as offensive, and then proceeded to go to the bar with them.[2]

So, Jesus is exactly the wrong guy to appeal to as the inspiration for a 21st century version of the personal morality police.

And it’s kind of sad, really. For a large segment of Christianity, Jesus’ lack of moralistic rigor cannot but appear embarrassing.

On the other hand, if you want to pattern your life after a person who befriended the folks who always seem to get picked last in the game of life, Jesus works perfectly as a role model.


  1. See, for example, Matthew 23—a chapter dedicated to calling out religious pretension.  ↩
  2. See Matthew 11:19.  ↩

Not Created for Shame

By Bentley Stewart

“We were not meant to live in shame...” Richard Spencer, white nationalist who popularized the term ‘alt-right.’

I agree.

Let me state that again. I AGREE. We are NOT meant to live in shame.

Notice that I limited Spencer’s quote. There is a very limited amount upon which I can find agreement with him. Even in this limited quote, he and I understand “we” differently.

When he says “we were not meant to live in shame,” he means that white people are not meant to live in shame. His “WE” is white.

I speak as a person of faith. God did not intend for humanity to live in shame. In Genesis 3, God beckons the first human family out of hiding in shame. We are not meant for shame. Humanity, which includes white people, is not meant for shame. Shame robs us of the abundant life that God desires for us and Jesus proclaimed. 

I agree with another thing that Spencer said in this edited clip. Here’s the other comment of Spencer’s with which I (mostly) agree:

“America was until this past generation a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity,” Spencer said. “It is our creation, it is our inheritance, and it belongs to us.” 

Here’s how I would state it: “America was designed for white people.”   

When I use the term “white supremacy,” this is what I mean. “America was designed for white people.” (Some use the term differently and I have much to learn from those nuances.) 

“White supremacy” is the version of racism that is endemic to the United States. In other places, there are other versions of racism. It is also important to note that white supremacy exists beyond our shores.

Before I explain what I mean that “America was designed for white people,” let me define racism.

One problem is that the term “racism” has become a shaming pejorative. Remember, I profess faith in a God who desires that we leave shame behind. Calling someone a racist does not have a good track record for liberating people from racism. When I am shamed, I have two default responses. Accept the shame and wallow in it or reject the shame by breaking relationship with the messenger. Wallowing in shame is not only miserable for me. Wallowing in shame serves no one. 

My working definition of “racism” is informed by the Reconciliation Ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), my ordaining body. 

Racism = Race Prejudice + Misuse of Institutional Power

We, all of humanity, have prejudices and biases. Don’t believe me? Take a test on implicit biases and prove me wrong. We all have prejudices. It is part of the survival strategy of mammals. In any given moment, we are experiencing too much stimuli to make conscious decisions about all of it. We have prejudices. We pre-judge, in part, to filter our experiences. Without these prejudices, we would be overwhelmed by the number of decisions we would be forced to make in any given moment. Part of what it means to be human is that we have the freedom and responsibility to question our prejudices so that we are not limited by preconceived notions. 

Having prejudices based on appearance is not racism. It is part of what it means to be human. 

Instead of unpacking the phrase “misuse of institutional power,” I will return to Spencer’s quote:  

“America was until this past generation a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity,” Spencer said. “It is our creation, it is our inheritance, and it belongs to us.” 

European settlers claimed the land that Indigenous Peoples had lived on for generations. Their relationship with the land was forged through generations of loving and learning from the land as they struggled to survive and thrive. The First Nations people were claimed by the land as much, if not more, than they claimed the land. 

This week used to be my favorite holiday. For me, there is no greater spiritual discipline than the corporate practice of gratitude. And, it is becoming harder and harder for me to reconcile my appreciation for this holiday and the genocide it sanitizes. 

Please do not stop reading there. Remember, I do not believe that we were created for shame.

A quick distinction between shame and guilt:

Guilt says I did something bad.

Shame says I am bad.

Guilt is about behavior and shame is about the person.

In order to face the legacies of the displacement and genocide of this land’s indigenous people and the enslavement of people from Africa, we need to confront our historic guilt over this behavior. However, we must not wallow in shame. We were not meant for shame. Shame serves no one. In fact, the insidious pathology of shame allows us to avoid our guilt. If I am a bad person, then all I am capable of is bad. I am incapable of anything good. I am not accountable for my behavior. From the place of shame, I bypass my guilt, which means I forfeit my agency to engage in any new behavior. 

When we use the sickness of shame to bypass our guilt, we then seek ways to self-medicate the shame with all sorts of numbing agents to desensitize ourselves from the pain of one another. If I collude with the lie that there is nothing I can do about how racism oppresses people, then I will strive to maintain willful blindness about racism. 

Perhaps, you are thinking. Hey, I didn’t do any of that. I didn’t own slaves. Why should I feel guilty? I strive to treat everyone with dignity and respect.

Again, I speak as a person of faith. 

"The Lord is slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children to the third and the fourth generation.” ~ Numbers 14:18

God loves us. God did not create us for shame. And, God loves justice. God loves us so much that God cares about our behavior. God wants us to love as we have been loved. 

The verse above has been used by some to talk about “generational curses” and by others as way to talk about “systemic sin.” Whatever your preferred nomenclature, our country’s original sin is racism. The soil of our land, from sea to shining sea, is soaked in the blood of racism. We still eat the poisonous fruit from this blood-soaked soil.

For this reason, I try to avoid referring to people as “racist.” Again, it is a shaming pejorative. Shame serves no one and God never meant us for shame.

Rather, I say that we live in a country struggling with the insidious systemic evil of racism. We all suffer from how racism misshapes our God-given identities as beings of dignity and sacred worth. God wants to liberate us, ALL of us, white people too, from racism. We are meant for so much more. We are meant for the abundant life of becoming the beloved community.

As a citizen of this nation, I am confronted daily, multiple times a day, with the choice to resist racism or to collude with the powers and principalities. Other citizens, such as Spencer and other white nationalists, have decided to publicly profess their allegiance to this evil. 

The temptation is to think that just because I am not professing white supremacy that I am somehow free from racism. In my analysis, we are all confronted with choices daily that present opportunities to collude with or resist racism. I mess up all the time. I refuse to let my missteps to be the end of my journey towards liberation from racism. 

If you have read this far, I want to thank you. I want to leave you with a word of hope. Before that, I offer an invitation and a practice: begin to examine your known world for the vestiges of racism. Freed from shame, examine the ways in which you resist the powers of racism and the places where you collude with those powers and principalities.  Every morning, ask yourself how will I resist racism today? How will I be an agent of liberation from racism?

From Romans 8: I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

The soil of our land is soaked in the blood of racism. Our land was subjected to the evil of racism. Creation itself is rooting for us, the children of God, to be revealed. Our liberation will be discovered in celebrating our interconnectedness and seeking justice for all.

May we seek to be better caretakers of the interconnected web of creation and by the grace of God, when we stumble on our way to becoming the beloved community, may we fall forward towards love and justice. 


Rev. J. Bentley Stewart is the Director of Student Life for Disciples Seminary Foundation in Northern California. He is an ordained minister with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and has standing in the Northern California/Nevada Region, for whom he serves as one of the anti-racism trainers. He is endorsed as a hospital chaplain by Disciples Home Mission. In his decade of hospital ministry, he specialized in pediatrics, palliative care, clinical ethics, interprofessional communication, and cultural bridging. He holds a B.A. degree from Flagler College in St. Augustine, FL, and a M.Div. degree from San Francisco Theological Seminary. Currently, he is organizing the core team to begin a new Disciples worshiping community in Marin County, gathering-desire, where he resides with his wife, their two sons, and their beloved 95 lb. lapdog, Norman.