Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John reported that Christ’s essential guidance is not only to put God (not gods) at the center of everything, but to turn awareness into action by loving your neighbor as yourself. This was and remains a revolutionary call.
Thoughts for the FCC Winchester as we work on issues of racial justice?
Influenced importantly by Martin Luther King, Jr., I offer below a few hopeful and possibly controversial responses. As usual, on difficult problems like this it looks like it will be easier to gain awareness than sustained action.
AWARENESS. Our FCCW Racial Justice “curriculum” this year has provided solid resources for awareness. Important “Third Thursday” materials are available here.
Given that people think many times — and often over a long time — before turning awareness into action, the assembled readings are clearly important. That’s been true for me. There were long periods years ago when I was analyzing the growth of community colleges for the federal government. Or environmental problems for Mayor Lindsay in New York (during and after Dr. King’s assassination). Or resource allocation as Management and Budget Director for Mayor White in Boston. (Remember the busing crisis?) A lot of this work involved analysis and decisions about racial justice.
My involvement, however, was mostly for conversations and decisions taking place inside government offices. I was largely an introvert and workaholic (still am). While I often worked intensively on racially important issues, I didn’t make much time for out-of-the-office informality or for experience with racially diverse friends invited for dinner.
Since the 1960s, the hours I’ve spent on racial justice readings, conversations, and analysis have generally been interesting and valuable. So were the hours this past year in learning about personal and FCCW options for racial justice, inclusion, and — most fundamentally — for treating our neighbors as ourselves.
I like the people and ideas we’ve assembled for work on these issues. I hope to keep at it. And — if you haven’t read and thought as much about these issues as you’d like — I suggest there’s no better time than now to get engaged. We need to develop and share our congregation’s awareness when it comes to racial justice.
ACTION. But what about moving from awareness of racial justice needs to action (the more difficult part of the journey)?
I think Dr. King provided good guidance for this. He pushed hard against the power structure’s resistance while remaining alert to the pragmatics of gaining its support. We can learn and be inspired from “I Have a Dream,” https://youtu.be/smEqnnklfYs; the “Other America” speech https://youtu.be/m3H978KlR20. and his final “I Have Been to the Mountaintop” speech https://youtu.be/Oehry1JC9Rk.
His key theme was to shift beyond “vision + hate” (the historic and dominant “real world” formula for action) to “vision + love” (a more revolutionary, sustainable, and Christ-centered call).
To make this work, we must understand how long-term trends make the next few years critically important, and what that may mean for historic guidance to “keep churches out of politics.”
Long-term racial justice trends
In culture. My generation has witnessed remarkable cultural changes on racial issues since MLK’s death in 1968. Back then, if you analyzed TV advertising, you had to hunt hard to find companies willing to use even a famous black celebrity as a star in their advertisements. Today it’s easy to find ads with mixed couples (by race, gender, nationality) in all sorts of beer, auto, grocery, cosmetics, and medical commercials.
In politics and government. In terms of politics and government (a key arena for cultural influence), the Republican party began, largely after the 1964 Civil Rights Act, to respond to non-white demographic growth with “dog whistle” appeals to whites. Such appeals have grown more strident (and desperate) today, largely because of the growing diversity and shrinking whiteness in the population and culture. Local laws and other efforts to cut non-white voter participation are evidence that times have changed.
I think these political/governmental changes may open long-closed doors for racial justice.
But short-term impacts clearly look uncertain and dangerous. And the danger extends beyond 2022 and 2024, as laws already on the books or soon to be passed could be very difficult to change. Pushing racial equity through federal laws and the Constitution could become even more difficult. Will we lose our democracy before power is democratically distributed? I don’t think so, but it’s a real-world possibility and could go either way.
In big picture results. In 1965, when I graduated from college, productivity in America had been exploding. As a key economic concern, the War on Poverty was organized largely to solve problems of equity, as the heads of organizations were taking down about 20 times the annual incomes of their median workers. We also worried about public trust in leadership, but roughly 80% of people surveyed said they felt leaders made the right decisions “most of the time.”
Since then, however, the economy has been growing, but not nearly as strongly as in the late ’60s and early ’70s. The heads of institutions today are claiming about 270 times the annual income of their average workers. And fewer than 20% of people surveyed trust their leaders to make the right decisions “most” of the time.
Basically, my generation has been abysmal at loving our neighbors as ourselves.
Implications for the FCCW and other churches
Looking at big picture trends makes me think that many churches — the FCCW included — may need to reconsider strategies for the immediate future. Yes, there is a strong historic reluctance to address issues in ways that could be challenged as “political.”
And it’s clear that energetic work on racial justice WILL be called political — especially if it joins outside debates on the distribution of jobs, education, health care, childcare, elder care, etc. But won’t such work — especially now – also stand at the very heart of what it means to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
As a congregation, our goal should of course be to foster values that Jesus values. A church that is a Christ-centered, nurturing community, growing in faith, serving in love, welcoming all with joy sounds right. But won’t we also need to respond to threats now moving us in a direction quite opposite to Christ’s fundamental imperative?
Maybe the answer is “no”? Maybe church participation on racial justice is not needed or effective on the larger stage? Maybe getting too aggressive externally would be a controversial call internally? And maybe other racial justice progress would be possible and less controversial?
My personal sense is that government racial justice action will be critical. And, for that government-changing work, issues may best be framed in terms of equity, not race. Goals should be tightly focused on concerns readily communicated to and supported by all — including whites — who are non-college graduates and/or whose incomes are in the bottom 70% or so (the groups most strongly hurt over the past 20 years of “coastal” influence and leadership).
I apologize that this note may be too long. And perhaps beyond the pale.
But I hope these ideas may be useful as we continue our work on racial justice.
Jerry Mechling, a member of the Racial Justice Working Group
Judy Arnold, Will Burhans, Sarah Gallop, Jonathan Goodell, Anne Hoenicke, Jerry Mechling, Kaye Nash, Julianne Zimmerman