Unholy Trinity in review

A personal reflection on the Unholy Trinity conference held last weekend in Chicago.

“You cannot be White and be a Christian.”

Is that what I just heard her say? I doubt that I was the only White person in the room who wondered for a moment, then, what I was doing here. The Revd Dr Kelly Brown Douglas, not one to mince words, was uncompromising in her analysis of the racial background of an America where “violence … is as American as cherry pie,” as she quoted from Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin.

For the White church to repent of its complicity in a system where White superiority is threatened by the very existence of Black people, and therefore seeks to eradicate them, means to do something different than “being White,” Douglas argued. The dismantling of violence begins with the dismantling of the myth of White purity and perfection, at the cost of Black lives.

Left -right: the Revd Dr Kelly Brown Douglas; the Revd Julian DeShazier, aka J.Kwest; the Revd Gay Clark Jennings; Natalie Moore

Douglas was one of the “three-note” speakers at last weekend’s Unholy Trinity conference, held at the Lutheran School for Theology in Chicago and facilitated by Bishops United Against Gun Violence, with support from Canticle Communcations; and she was as convincing and convicting as ever.

She was joined on a panel moderated by President of the House of Deputies, the Revd Gay Clark Jennings, by the Revd Julian DeShazier, also known as rapper J.Kwest, and Natalie Moore, a journalist and author deeply steeped in the stories of Chicago’s south side.

Moral leadership does not happen on a continuum, DeShazier argued. Churches cannot wait until things get to a certain level of crisis in order to develop the moral arguments against racism, poverty, and violence. But churches also need to develop the humility to be led by the communities that they seek to serve. It is not enough to do good deeds to or for people. Generosity thrives in conditions of injustice that make it necessary.

Moore went so far as to wonder what it would look like if every congregation with a greater than 50% proportion of White members were required to partner with a local organization working to dismantle racism and systemic barriers – and to learn from them.

Deamonte Lee describes his experience of gun violence and healing from trauma, with the Revd Carol Reese. Photo courtesy of the Revd Kris Eggert, of godbeforeguns.org

The three-note speakers and their panel discussion were the centerpiece of a three-day gathering full of remarkable moments. On the first evening, we had the opportunity to hear from Deamonte Lee, a young man who was shot five times as a 15-year-old playing basketball in the park. Now about to graduate high school, he attended with the Revd Carol Reese, a chaplain at a trauma center in Cook County, to talk about the effects of gun violence on its victims. Reese was one of those offering workshops the next day, on anything from her work with trauma victims, to working with the Movement for Black Lives, to communicating effectively with media partners.

The day culminated in a public witness to the determination to address racism, poverty, and gun violence. Twenty-five bishops (and a bishop-elect) were followed through the streets of Hyde Park by around 120 other attendees from 37 Episcopal dioceses and a handful of other denominations, including a substantial youth/young adult delegation from the Diocese of Massachusetts.

Taking it to the streets on Friday, April 21st. Photo: Gareth Hughes

A local Roman Catholic activist, the Revd Michael Pfleger, addressed the gathering, demanding that the church not fall silent on issues of life and death in its communities.

On the final morning, conference attendees were given the opportunity to network and share resources with one another; food for the journey. As we shared final reflections, Jim Naughton, of Canticle Communications, raised the ghost of Rizpah, whom we had met during one of the contextual Bible Study sessions, led by Dr Dora Mbuwayesango, that punctuated the conference.

Rizpah was the concubine of Saul, and the mother of two sons sacrificed by David to appease the Gibeonites, whom Saul had slaughtered (2 Samuel 21:1-14). She had no power in herself to prevent her sons’ death, but she kept watch over their bones, holding her vigil until those in power were forced to take notice, and finally to honor the dead.

 

Rosalind C Hughes attended Unholy Trinity: the Intersection of Racism, Poverty and Gun Violence: A Conference Facilitated by Bishops United Against Gun Violence, April 20-22, Chicago

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4 Comments
  1. Michael A. Foughty

    Concerning this quote, “the racial background of an America where ‘“violence … is as American as cherry pie,” as she quoted from Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin.”‘ Some younger readers might not recognize the name – Mr. Al-Amin is formerly known as H. Rap Brown, who gained fame in the 1960s as an activist – the SNCC and Black Panthers. He had important things to say in those days. Sadly, Mr. Al-Amin is serving a life sentence for killing an African-American deputy sheriff in Georgia in 2000, while seriously wounding another in the same incident.

  2. Philip B. Spivey

    I wish this narrative was less meandering and reported with a bit more gravitas; these stories deserve to be passionately told. That said, it’s an important statement that, literally, cuts to the bone of American white supremacy.

    Thank you, Rosalind, for taking this uncomfortable topic to the Cafe.

    Anyway we slice it, and the Church is not the only culprit—racism, misogyny, xenophobia and violence is bred in the American bone. Ask any immigrant community since the dawn of our nation; ask our indigenous brothers and sisters.

    The story of Rizpah has a painful modern parallel: Replace Rizpah with the thousands of African-American mothers who have lost sons’ (and daughters) to gun violence inflicted within their communities by law enforcement and by their neighbors.

    These mothers have kept watch over their children’s bones, but they dare not wait until those in power acknowledge the devastation (and do something). That is because these powers have perpetrated the devastation and they choose not to see.

    “Whiteness” is defined by its opposite, i.e., not-whiteness or persons of color. Whiteness, devoid of any particular social, cultural or linguistic context, stands alone and the connotations are odious. This is not about skin color; this about privilege and power over-and-against the rest of the world. For centuries, “whiteness” was presumed to connote “racial and intellectual superiority”; in the 21st century, there are powerful forces seeking to subvert that hideous myth.

    What can the Church do? Stay woke!

  3. Lumping all white people together is as odious as lumping all black people or all Hispanic people together. Or any other ethnic or national group. All struggle for privilege and bash those who have obtained it. Being a nation built on diversity may be the most difficult social experiment ever attempted by the human race.

    • Philip B. Spivey

      Paul: We don’t lump all white people together; history, privilege and assumptions of superiority lump all “white” people together. Ergo, our so-called Populists, Neo-Confederates and White Nationalists make that distinction and have for centuries. Denial of this reality feeds the myth.

      We are not “all equal” in this country; some are “more equal” simply by virtue of ancestry and skin color. Or put another way, “whiteness” has an odious history. It’s time to unpack exactly what “whiteness” is.

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