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The Rachel Dolezal story: one pastor’s reflection

The Rachel Dolezal story: one pastor’s reflection

Late last week, the story broke in the mainstream media of Rachel Dolezal, who has since resigned as president of the Spokane, Washington chapter of the NAACP after her parents claimed that she had been misleading those around her for years by misrepresenting her race.

The Guardian reports that Dolezal is in a legal battle with her estranged birth parents, and has continued, since their claims were made public, to defend her self-identification and representation in television interviews:

Dolezal disputed accusations that she had deceived people about her identity, saying that the issue was “a little more complex than me identifying as black or answering a question of are you black or white”…

Dolezal later appeared on MSNBC, where she was asked whether she was “a con artist”.

“I don’t think so,” she replied. “I don’t think anything that I have done with regards to the movement, my work, my life and my identity. It’s all been very thoughtful and careful.”

Yesterday, the Rev. T. Denise Anderson offered a blog in the RevGalBlogPals “The Pastoral is Political” section, reflecting as a black woman offended, confused, and hurt by this other woman’s actions, and as a Christian pastor .

But good grief, if anyone needed a pastor/caregiver/spiritual director/therapist/all of the above, it’s this soul right here.

And so, how do you pastor this person? More specifically, I wonder how I would pastor this person.

To be honest, I don’t feel the need to extend the proverbial olive branch/hand of fellowship and reconciliation to someone who participates in violence against people like me (creating and putting on a caricature of what I am for one’s own personal gain is violent — and sick). But as a pastor, I can’t ignore the hurt. I could, but I don’t want to. I guess we pastors are wired that way. Or maybe part of me begs to understand why.

Read the whole of her thoughtful and thought-provoking blog entry here. What is your pastoral perspective on this complicated and confounding story?

Photo: Rachel Dolezal via FaceBook. Posted by Rosalind Hughes


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Dan Rafferty

Isn’t this all about choice? In one sense there is a very committed part of our society which says that one of our inalienable rights is the freedom to choose. As part of that stance, personal choice free from government edict or others judgements is absolute except when another may be harmed and/or not consenting.

Freedom to choose is a grand thing until it’s a NIMBY type intrusion and takes “advantage ” of a system which is “elitist” or exclusionary in its own way.

The environment around her was out of the norm. Not many white couples adopt that many African American children. In a sense she was immersed and made a volitional choice. She did not choose a gender or sexual orientation; she chose a race.

Is it possible that this young lady has started or is in the forefront of another civil rights movement? Should the freedom of choice as to race not be afforded the same absolute rights of the others affirmed in the last almost 100 yrs?

We must be careful with that answer. Remember Bill Clinton was referred to as the first Black President. First Nations people are arguing over percentages. The Irish passport can only be conferred on up to grandchildren of Irish immigrants. Bill is obviously White: First Nation people are of Asian immigrants and the Irish?? Well…we’re Irish… and probably Roman, Spanish, Norman and Saxon.

Philip B. Spivey

The webmaster poses this question: “How do I pastor to this person?” First, I would listen, and listen, and listen to her before I cast wild assertions about her mental health; no one is qualified to assess that.

Second, I would recognize that this current racial kerfuffle is just the tip of a 400-year-iceberg of white male patriarchy in the United States. To wit: Had Ms. Dolezal been a Black woman passing for white, it would have never reached this blog. Likewise, had Caitlyn been Jenner’s birth assignment been Caitlyn and she chose to become Bruce, I doubt very much whether he would have wound up on the cover of Esquire magazine. I’ll leave it to the reader to deduce for themselves why I believe Rachel Dolezal and Caitlyn Jenner are in a double-jeopardy-risk for derision and scorn.

In the meantime, I would counsel Ms. Dolezal to seek refuge in a sacred space with her Jesus or other Higher Power. I would counsel her to comfort her soul by surrounding herself with the people she loves. In time, after the pain and shame have lessened, I would counsel her revisit her discernment and calling as a Black women. Has she missed something or have we?

JC Fisher

“had Caitlyn been Jenner’s birth assignment been Caitlyn and she chose to become Bruce, I doubt very much whether he would have wound up on the cover of Esquire magazine”

Leaving aside the Esquire thing, I doubt Chaz Bono would agree that going the other way is all La-Dee-Da. [And Chaz was nowhere near famous, pre-transition, as Jenner was. Trust me, if Kim Kardashian were to become Ken, there would be a media hullaballoo!]

Philip B. Spivey

JC: That’s exactly my point: Chaz Bono did not appear on any main stream magazine cover as a “new male”. Why? He doesn’t fit the stereotype of what we want to see a male look like.

Female-to-male transitions hold their own social risks. A relative of mine transitioned a number of years ago from F to M; he told me at the time that he was dealing, for the first time in his life, with the many challenges of being a Black man in this country. Major life transitions are never La-Dee-Da; they all carry inherent risks that are unforeseen.

Re: Kim Kardashian: Our fixation — or should I say idolatry—of the Kardashians is so complete and so total that Kim would bring down the house—and get a magazine covers–even if she were sporting the ISIS collection for fall ’15. Some things, and some idols, are bullet proof.

Gwen Palmer

Info keeps coming out, and I claim no final answers. But there’s strong evidence that she grew up in an abusive home [and] identifies with the victims to the point of finding her parental inheritance beyond endurance. Rather than turning her pain into destructive paths, she’s tried to spend her life as an advocate.

This comment has been edited. Please refrain from making comments that involve opinions regarding mental diagnosis. – ed

Jim Frodge

Info indeed does keep coming out and I too claim no final answer. However when she presented herself on an application for a position as being the daughter of a black Oakland police officer that strikes me as being the actions of a dishonest person. When asked about that action her response was that there were no DNA tests establishing who her parents actually are although her birth certificate clearly establishes who the parents are. That action strikes me as the act of a dishonest person. Having sympathy for her and being willing to forgive her acts are the right and proper thing to do. Trying to justify dishonesty serves no good or proper purpose.

Gwen Palmer

Since the link I posted is not approved by the editors, it’s hard to make my point clear, but your take might describe her mind and actions as being willfully dishonest. I only sought to show that there was another strong possibility of a real dissociative mental break. Time will tell, and of course the Charleston shooting has shown the true state of rac in this country.

Paul Woodrum

I’m probably wrong, but I kept getting the sense that Pastor Anderson, a black woman, was upset by Ms Doezal, a white woman, impinging on her gig. You know, the way some male clergy feel about women being ordained.

David Streever

I would move the dial from ‘probably’ to ‘definitely’. Male clergy are not wholesale discriminated against through systemic racism or sexism, nor are they forced to ‘identify’ and be identified as clergy; it’s a problematic comparison for a number of reasons.

Philip B. Spivey

David: I believe you mis-read my post above. I did not say that Pastor Anderson was “expressing a form of white privilege” I stated that Pastor Anderson was outraged by Ms. Dolezal’s passing as an African American.

BTW: “African American” is spelled with initial caps.

As for Ms. Dolezal’s acquiring scholarships, etc. designated for African Americans, I for one couldn’t care less. I haven’t demonized her for wanting to be Black; based on her contributions to the Black communities over the years, I’ve welcomed her aboard.

Brad Howard

If you can choose your sex, why can’t you choose your race? If the church embraces transsexuals, isn’t there room at the table for transracials?

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.


David Streever

The Church does embrace ‘transracials’; transracial is, of course, a term referring to adoption outside of your ethnic background. Why do you think that being adopted by a parent of different race is similar to being incorrectly identified as male or female at birth?

JC Fisher

There’s no evidence that Rachel Dolezal started identifying AS black, until she was denied a position at Howard University.

Transgender people sense they are other than their assigned gender from EARLY ages (even if they don’t act on it for much longer. And note, Jenner began taking female hormones 25+ years ago). Dolezal wanted to be black to be in-the-group, a Transgender person wants to live their inner sense of gender for themselves alone.

Ironically, Dolezal could work for the NAACP, love (immerse herself in) black culture, raise proudly black children—EVEN style her hair and wear lots of Pro-Tan . . . all AS a white person!

Is anyone saying “Bruce Jenner could take female hormones, have implanted 40DDs, and facial feminization surgery (and perhaps, ahem, “later surgery”) . . . but he better keep checking the ‘M’ box”??? [I don’t think so.]

Geoff McLarney
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