Written by Gregg Brekke
As the United Church of Christ commemorates the second anniversary of Sacred Conversation on Race, the Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson, minister for racial justice, is pleased with the engagement this initiative has inspired across the life of the church. "These two years provided opportunities for Conferences, Association and congregations to come together to find ways to continue addressing racial justice issues in communities and institutions," she says.
In May 2008, the UCC's Collegium of Officers invited pastors across the nation to preach on race, "in the hope of inaugurating a sacred conversation in the coming months that is urgently needed in our churches, in our homes and in the halls of power."
Sacred conversations have taken many forms since that call to action. Some were fashioned as multi-part conversations which dealt with issues of institutional racism as well as personal racism. Others participated in anti-racism training to get to the heart of how and where they could make a difference in their own attitudes and behaviors. And, there were those who addressed the matter by dealing with white privilege that contributes to the racism experienced by non-white individuals living in the United States.
All UCC national staff and board members have participated in Sacred Conversation in Race in the past two years and other diversity initiatives for over a decade. Most recently, the UCC joint board meetings held April 15-18 in Cleveland dedicated a day for Sacred Conversation on Race.
Entering the third year of Sacred Conversation on Race, Thompson cites the disciples' Emmaus encounter (Luke 23:13-35) as an inspiration for the continuation of dialog. "Our lives are a journey with places along the road where we encounter the risen Jesus in and through the eyes of all those we encounter along the way," she says. "They were so absorbed in the problems they were facing that they did not recognize Jesus among them. Their eyes were opened as Jesus taught them, and then took bread with them. Our eyes will also be opened when we are willing to be taught and willing to break bread with the strangers who live among us."
Thompson reiterated that work on race and racism is not an event, rather, it is a process that brings individuals to reflection and introspection about who they are and how they treat those with whom they are called to live in communion. She extends that communal sensibility internationally, saying, "There is much to be changed in global racial dialogue which begins with the need to engage this issue of race based on where individuals are, realizing there is work for all to do."
In 2009, the 27th General Synod affirmed the on-going need for these conversations among UCC settings when it passed a resolution brought by the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference that "calls upon conferences, congregations and associations to establish, promote and encourage Sacred Conversations on Race."
Thompson says the next stage of Sacred Conversation on Race involves a call to action beyond the scope of the many discussions that have happened to date. The intersections of race and social issues such as criminal justice, sentencing, medical care, education, immigration and economics are high on her list. "These topics deserve our attention and action as advocates for those who have less than we do, are under represented and experience marginalization based on the color of their skin," she says.
Citing those living in homogenous communities where they rarely encounter individuals who do not look like them and those in mixed communities who see themselves as finished with the work, Thompson says, "There is a need to be ever mindful to be engaged regardless of the experience or the time given to learning and being aware of race."
Acknowledging that conversation alone "does not bring us to a place of finality, but places us on a track of life-long learning and discovery of where we are and how we can help make a difference in seeing racial justice for all," Thompson encourages continued and active engagement in combating the continued presence of racism, discrimination and xenophobia.
"The invitation to engage in this dialogue is an acknowledgement of the legacy and tradition of the United Church of Christ in combating racism and racial injustice, and the desire to live out Jesus' desire for the world, 'That they may all be one.'" says Thompson. "The presence of different voices and experiences in our dialogue enriches the conversation, informs us as we learn from each other, and moves us forward."
Sacred Conversation on Race information and resources are available at <ucc.org/sacred-conversation>. The UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries is encouraging all who have participated in Sacred Conversation on Race to complete a brief online survey.