Pastor’s Column: Reconciliation in Minnesota from a Chicagoans Lens

BHM Pastor's Column

Minnesota Nice

When my wife and I accepted the call to come to Minnesota, specifically the Twin Cities, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. Of course we knew it would be colder, we had heard horror stories about the below zero temperatures, the mounds of snow, and the huge sports culture focused on Hockey. What we didn’t know was that we we would have to learn another language, we had to learn how to decipher “Minnesota Nice.”

In Chicago, people are very direct, passive aggressive is not a word that is used to describe Chicago or its residents. Ultimately, it makes it pretty easy to recognize racism on a personal and collective level. For me being black in Minnesota (especially for a non-native Minnesotan) at any given time, often meant being the only black person in restaurants, movie theaters, and sporting events.

 We had to learn how to decipher “Minnesota Nice.”
It also meant having to understand what people really meant in several situations. It is being verbally assaulted in the stands of a packed TCF Bank Stadium by a middle aged white woman during a Vikings game because I was “standing to close to her.” It’s being told by a local tattoo artist that I was “too dark to tattoo,” and that the shop owner would not allow him to tattoo me because they didn’t want the shop’s name on that work. It’s going to a party to enjoy some music with my wife (being 1 of 10 blacks) and not only being disgusted at the D.J for playing Hip-Hop songs that blasted the “N Word” repeatedly, but then being approached several times by people because they assumed I was “selling drugs.”

Racism in the Church

Unfortunately, the church isn’t free of these examples either, though it shows itself in slightly different ways. It is present when one notices that attendance dwindles when the gospel choir sings, or being told by some that gospel music isn’t a legitimate form of music. It is watching the Senior Pastor sift through the emails of irate parishioners because the church service or the Sunday sermon isn’t a place to to talk about police violence. What’s even more frustrating is being in dialogue with Christians who consider themselves proponents of racial reconciliation, but remain distant from the issue of justice.

Christians will quickly show compassion through benevolence, but shy away from the very pertinent need for advocacy.
These same Christians will quickly show compassion through benevolence, but shy away from the very pertinent need for advocacy. The frustration is worsened when churches boast on successfully becoming inter-cultural simply because of the presence of non-whites, when there are no other viable signs of color in how the church governs itself.

Personal Prejudices

I am by no means perfect. Throughout my life journey, I have had to deal with my own issues of prejudice; and recognize how I have media stereotypes, the hurt of parents who were raised in the south during Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movements, and a lack of authentic relationships with people who didn’t look like me, and that all shapes my worldview.

…no longer let “white guilt” be the motivation for its engagement.
It was through organic relationships with people who didn’t look me, and simultaneously didn’t fit the stereotypes, that I was able to begin a journey of true reconciliation. I didn’t know then that I was being prepared for the work I am doing know. It was not my life goal to be doing the hard work of Racial Reconciliation, and Inter-Cultural ministry. Much like those formidable relationships it happened organically.

Love Mercy, Do Justice

However, if as a church we want to realistically continue on the path of reconciliation, there are a few things we must change. First, the majority culture can no longer let “white guilt” be the motivation for its engagement. I have witnessed too many instances where after being challenged by the need for reconciliation, whites respond and act out of guilt.

The church has attempted to reconcile without acknowledgement of its past involvement…
This may for a short time spark action and engagement, but reconciliation enacted by guilt will only go as far as guilt itself.  We need to move from a “guilt paradigm” to a recognition of the “biblical paradigm” that calls for all Christians to love mercy and do justice.

How to Begin Reconciliation

We also need to rethink how we go about reconciliation. For too long the church has attempted to reconcile without acknowledgement of its past involvement or lack thereof of injustice. We have for too long taken the “let’s get over it approach.” We have too many times tried to use the “it’s in the past response” as means of avoiding the ugly history. This method has failed us. In scripture, we learn one has to confess their sins before God (1 John 1:9), as a means of being forgiven and reconciling with God, and cleansed of unrighteousness; how can the church expect to do less, if forgiveness and authentic reconciliation is the true intention.

If the presence of color is all that we use to gauge the effectiveness of the current brand reconciliation; we have severely missed the mark.
In his book Radical Reconciliation, Curtiss DeYoung stated that “reconciliation can not happen without truth,” we cannot continue attempting to move forward without first acknowledging the truth of the past, regardless of how painful it is.  Lastly, those who consider themselves advocates of justice, must assist in the redistribution of power, especially in the church. Reconciliation as we know it, has been less than effective, because the tools of oppression are still present, the methodology has simply changed. If we look at the church specifically, how can a church with all white leadership, Eurocentric worship, and white staff truly consider itself an “inter-cultural” church. If the presence of color is all that we use to gauge the effectiveness of the current brand reconciliation; we have severely missed the mark.

This by no means fully encompasses all the work that is needed to effectively move forward, it is simply the observations gained by the experience of one who has only just begun the good work of Racial Reconciliation, and Inter-Cultural Ministry.

 

Leslie SandersRev. Leslie X. Sanders is the Associate Minister to Youth and Families at First Covenant Church of St. Paul and Program Manager of East Side Thrive Non-Profit Organization.

 

 

 

Pastor Leslie X. Sander’s Author Recommendations:

  • James Cone
  • Dwight Hopkins
  • Cornel West
  • Curtis DeYoung
  • Bryan Loritts

 

 

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