Working Multiple Borders: Black Faith Agenda Launch, St. Paul

After church yesterday, I attended the Black Faith Agenda Launch co-sponsored by Isaiah and Faith in Minnesota, two organizations organizing for racial, economic, and climate justice. It was held, conveniently, at Camphor United Methodist Church in St. Paul, minutes from where my son and I live.

Camphor UMC is predominately Black, but—as United Methodists do so well—racially diverse, and focused on a common faith tradition as the taproot of social change.

I would definitely be in the minority group at the event.

So I put on my clergy collar when I dressed for the day. I don’t normally wear one to church on Sunday morning, because everybody at Falcon Heights knows who and what I am. But I wear “The Uniform” when I need to be clearly identified as a pastor.

I felt a mixture of “visible” and “invisible.” Visible because I was different racially; invisible because no one looked to me to comment, ask a question, lead, or do anything else besides be present. And that was very freeing—but also weird.

I need to get used to situations where it feels weird because I’m “different.” If I want to be an ally for racial justice, I need to be quiet, listen, watch, learn.

The Black Faith Agenda is not a huge surprise if you read the Bible and have followed the past year’s news. It covers eight areas: Incarceration, Immigration, Voting, Education, Health, Housing, Economic Dignity, and Safety.

These are the cornerstones of a healthy civil society, but of renewed concern relative to Black communities in the US because they’re in jeopardy now, with regulations, laws, and programs under attack that have ensured that everyone has equal opportunity to succeed.

They’re of renewed concern because they’re the by-product of the slicing and dicing, dividing and drawing of borders between and among all kinds of groups of people, telling us that we’re so different from each other that we need to each protect our “turf”—that if Group X gains, Group A, B, and C are all going to lose. A zero-sum game.

But these are faith matters because they feature prominently in the books of Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, prophets such as Isaiah, Amos, and others, and Jesus’ activities, teachings, the people he hung out with, and the matters over which he had disputes with the religious and political authorities at the time. Not to mention the letters of Paul and others in the New Testament.

Progress in these areas requires hard work because those who have power, voice, and money always have more clout with politicians, media—AND religious leaders, it turns out.

It’s easy for church leaders to get pulled away from biblical faith by the bigger givers’ demands, the lure of worldly “success,” and the temptation to simply hold onto the status quo, no matter how mediocre.

I have a lot to learn. This is the year of showing up, being quiet, watching, asking questions, learning.

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