The purpose of The Talk of TJMC is to provide a place for congregants to have a place to share their thoughts about things we, as a congregation, should be talking about. It provides a forum that is longer than a Facebook post, and more public than an email. If you have something to say, and think that this is the right place to say it, please send your piece to firstname.lastname@example.org.
⚞ ⌘ ⚟
I’ve been a UU since I was 6. I’ve been with this church off and on for more than 20 years. My Mother ran the church program supplying food to the Salvation Army Day School. There is a hymnal in one of the back rows dedicated to my father Arnold Fraleigh. I love to see his name in the sanctuary of our faith. My Mother and I witnessed Leia’s marriage. My roots are here. I believe our faith and our church are sturdy. I can work through the chaos and come out better for it. I believe we all can. I have trust in our leadership, our congregation, and in our commitment and ability to work this out. It’s a process. And it’s painful. I’m writing because I think seeing my process might help someone else.
I’ve divided this into two parts. You’ll see numbers in the first part. Those numbers will be used in the second part.
I’ve been gradually processing what’s been going on at church. I find it useful to process with friends so thank you to all the people I’ve talked or emailed with and I hope we’ll continue the dialogue. The process is still going in my head so this isn’t the final version of my opinions and understanding. These days I try to question my initial reactions to everything.(1)
The note to Christina was a racist note. Racism is prejudice plus power. The writer accentuated the power by being anonymous, placing the note physically close to where Chris works, and including her children. It was an act of purposeful intimidation. I didn’t get to this point of view so firmly right away. I worried that the person was mentally ill, angry, felt there was no other way to make a point, have an opinion heard.(2) I’m very firm now. The note was an attempt at intimidation.
The things that have happened and the words spoken and written blur together. I wasn’t expecting the response to the perpetrator to be so strong. It challenged my faith. I wrestled with how the first principle applies, how much it matters that the note was anonymous, who was it?, that it was a person many of us probably know well! My response was to write in face book that I would like to have a conversation with the person who wrote the note. I had and have no idea what the person would say so I had and still have no idea about how I would or will respond. I don’t want to have a concrete plan of what I might say because I want listen fully first. The door is still open.
Then I heard that the perpetrator would not be welcome in our church. I was on board with not accepting the behavior but not accepting the person? Then I thought about equity and equality and here’s what I came to. The perpetrator I believe is white. The perpetrator has huge amounts of evidence and reinforcement of dignity and worth everywhere in society. For a life time. So, I don’t and my church doesn’t have to reinforce that to a high degree. The victim, a person of color does not routinely have validation. Therefore the victim needs and deserves a huge response from me reinforcing her dignity and worth. She needs to be believed and supported to help her resist the intimidation and heal the wound. I have done enough to show unconditional positive regard to the perpetrator. I need not do anything more. And I don’t think my church needs to either.
I think no one is perfect and it doesn’t work for me to connect the racism in the note with the performance innuendo. That only gives an excuse to the perpetrator, only blames the victim, only lets the rest of us off the hook for addressing the racism. It also lets me off the hook from listening to our staff suggestions and opinions(3). I deal with this by separating the issues. I don’t like authority, I don’t like to be told what to do. I have trigger words that make me uncomfortable, cause me not to listen, to ignore perfectly valid opinions and options because I’m stuck and get sidetracked(4). So I have to prepare myself in advance by changing the words in my head. Or if I’m surprised and unprepared I have to go back and see what my lack of listening missed.
So the two strands:
The racism and what we can do about it. I asked Christina what I and the Racial Justice Committee could do. I imagine other people did too. So Christina provided guidance. The word complicit had an impact on me. I thought- Oh my god You want me to do more?(5) After I rearranged my head I realized it doesn’t mean that what I’ve been doing already and what we’ve been doing together already has been wrong or not valuable. It means I’m not done yet, and I agree. I’m looking at it differently. Maybe we have to evaluate what we’ve done and how we are doing it and accept advise and direction. The universe is full of white supremacy so it’s not surprising that racist behavior would appear in our church. Addressing racism and white supremacy is a life long hard process and worth doing.
The second strand is the strand of congregational organization, decision making, staff performance, communication, commitment to sticking together to work this out. I feel confident that the avenues that exist will have results. It will take time. The avenues now are the personnel committee, the committee on the ministry, the individual person involved, the pulse survey, the Board. The Board is responsible and we elected them. Sometimes(maybe often) I feel like I’m flying by the seat of my pants and that the church is too. Maybe we haven’t addressed these problems well before but this incident of racism has shaken us up and the direction out will be found. I have the courage to move forward.
Part two: About white supremacy and the outline and article Christina shared. I’ve been using that article for some time in looking at myself and at other people and at organizations. I am no academic. I find the article useful so I use it.
1. I figure all my first responses to anything are learned and patterned behavior built over many years in the air of white supremacy. So I try to remove that aspect from my response. It takes work.
2. This has to do with not liking or doing well in open conflict. It’s also detouring from the primary topic.
4. My right to comfort
6. Fear of Open conflict
I am not done processing. The listening circles may help. We can together make our faith and church stronger than ever if we work together to fix it.