From an Open Mind to the Heart of the Matter

As I enter a church that’s already had a wake-up call with the Philando Castile shooting and begun to be a witness to the need for racial justice, I’ve been pondering how a pastoral leader begins this work.

I’m white, have been aware of my privilege for a while now, and of what our role might be in a larger cause, and I must admit, it feels daunting—but not so daunting that we can’t start.

Falcon Heights Church members are discussing “A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota,” a book of essays by a racially diverse group of writers drawn from their particular experiences of racism in a state that ranks very low—lower than Mississippi, by one estimate—in its attitudes, policy, and equity.

And this, in a state that perceives itself as open-minded, kind, fair, and not as racist as it is. The shooting and its aftermath revealed how wrong this perception is.

It’s becoming clear to me that while open-minded, intellectual inquiry into the contours of race in Minnesota is a start, it only scratches the surface.

It’s also clear that the key to change will come only if we work on multiple levels with a variety of entry-points that depend on interest and how deeply into actual relationships we want to go. For example:

  • Congregational dialogue – With a familiar group of people examining privilege, sharing personal stories, reading and hearing stories in a book like “A Good Time for the Truth.”

  • Providing safe space – Where congregation and wider community can talk and raise consciousness of what we’re up against and practice the skills of civil dialogue. My church did this in the days and months following the Castile shooting, and a few congregants are part of a group called Do Good Roseville, named for the larger suburb just north of Falcon Heights.

  • Have structured “Courageous Conversations on Race” – See my earlier blog post about Rev. Ronald Smith’s work in Greenville, SC, using this model.

  • Standing witness – Could FHC field a response team to show up at protests, demonstrations, and nonviolent direct actions at the scenes of racial incidents? Simply standing witness where incidents occur, especially when we can’t “fix” what’s happened. Admitting our powerlessness as individuals and the power of multi-race group action to call out persistent racial violence.

  • Building relationships across racial lines – I feel compelled to find an African-American counterpart, another pastor invested in building a long-term relationship between our congregations, to stand witness together, engage in dialogue with each other, have services and pulpit exchanges, choir swaps, shared meals in each other’s churches. Only if we covenant to walk together do we stand a chance of real truth-and-reconciliation.“We make the path by walking.”

While the exact path forward is unclear to us, what is clear is that we need to cross the border we live on, between intellectual inquiry and real transformation in the way we live together as different races.


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