Panelists explore religion’s role in racial divide

  • Abrah Dresdale, who has worked on food justice, Jewish earth-based traditions and sustainable food and farming, speaks during a Racial Justice Rising discussion on the intersection of race and religion, held Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017 at the First Congregational Church in Greenfield. —Recorder Staff/Shelby Ashline

  • Asima Silva, a social justice and interfaith activist who is a member of the American Muslim Democratic Caucus, speaks during a Racial Justice Rising discussion on the intersection of race and religion, held Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017 at the First Congregational Church in Greenfield. —Recorder Staff/Shelby Ashline

  • Asima Silva, a social justice and interfaith activist who is a member of the American Muslim Democratic Caucus, speaks during a Racial Justice Rising discussion on the intersection of race and religion, held Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017 at the First Congregational Church in Greenfield. —Recorder Staff/Shelby Ashline

  • Ted Todd, a former Episcopal priest who practices Buddhism, speaks during a Racial Justice Rising discussion on the intersection of race and religion, held Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017 at the First Congregational Church in Greenfield. —Recorder Staff/Shelby Ashline

  • Tim Bullock, a former Southern Baptist who now practices Buddhism, gives a speech during a Racial Justice Rising discussion on the intersection of race and religion, held Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017 at the First Congregational Church in Greenfield. —Recorder Staff/Shelby Ashline

Recorder Staff
Published: 12/2/2017 5:37:39 PM

GREENFIELD — Martin Luther King Jr. once called 11 o’clock on Sunday morning the most segregated hour in America.

His words served to string together five speakers who, during a Racial Justice Rising event at the First Congregational Church Saturday morning, spoke on the intersection of race and religion, and how that intersection has played out in their own lives as a Christian, Buddhist, Muslim or Jew.

One speaker, Tim Bullock, now of Leverett, grew up as a Southern Baptist in North Carolina. He recounted how though he was a member of an all-black congregation, the biblical pictures that surrounded him — of angels and saints on the stained glass windows, of Jesus — all depicted whites.

“Even though church was meant to prepare me for heaven, all the previews of heaven showed no one who looked like me,” Bullock said.

While surrounded by hate crimes and assassinations in the mid-1960s, Bullock left the church, saying it “seemed that we needed to die for that promise of liberation that waited in heaven.” He later discovered Buddhism, which he said was a life-changing experience.

By contrast, fellow Buddhist Ted Todd, who was an Episcopal priest for 20 years, had a different upbringing from Bullock, having grown up in Belmont where he said he encountered no black families until he was 15. Todd noted that his church environment was a comfortable place for whites, but “we have to deal with a biblical record that’s very inconsistent on the matter of race,” with slavery being “a given” and slaves being advised to be obedient.

Speaking from a Jewish perspective, Abrah Dresdale said Jews were historically “separated out as a subhuman group.” While they assimilated to survive, Dresdale said they deeply held onto their traditions, making them easy to target and scapegoat. As such, she said Jews often identified more with people of color, who have had similar treatment by white culture.

Multiple speakers emphasized a contradiction between practicing religion and treating different races and ethnicities unequally.

“How can it be we have people so violently opposed to each other kneeling and worshipping God on Sunday morning?” Todd asked the room full of attendees.

“How could we be Christian and treat humans in a very undignified way?” asked Gloria Matlock, who grew up in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Asima Silva, a social justice and interfaith activist who is a member of the American Muslim Democratic Caucus, showed a graph outlining the nearly 1,000 hate groups in America, and statistics showing the largest sector of hate crimes are attributed to race, ethnicity and national origin.

“This is a real issue, this is not just feelings,” she said. “We’re still dealing with this in terms of personal safety.”

Listeners in the audience commented after the presentation how discussions of racial issues, like those offered by Racial Justice Rising, are overdue.

“It’s about time that this be addressed,” said Shelburne Falls resident Loretta Kearsley, who attended the presentation with her friend Myra Carlow, of Rowe. “It’s not just a local, but a national issue.”

Though Saturday was Carlow and Kearsley’s first Racial Justice Rising talk, the two vowed to come in the future after hearing the speakers, who they described as “excellent.”

Making change

The panel concluded by discussing how individuals might begin to bridge racial divides.

Todd referred to racism as an “endemic disease” that’s unconscious, “almost like we’re born with it,” while Silva considers there to be a spectrum of racism. Speaking from his perspective as a white man, Todd believes the first task of overcoming prejudice is “to get in touch with who we are” and one’s own culture.

“Let us focus on ourselves before we get wrapped up in someone else,” he said.

Silva advised not to negate other’s paths.

“If we truly believe in God, it’s God’s place to judge and we shouldn’t take that right,” she said.

Bullock recommended taking personal initiative, to “not look for religion or leaders or anyone outside of ourselves for the whole world to change.”

“We are all the ones we’ve been waiting for,” Dresdale concluded.

Reach Shelby Ashline at: sashline@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 257


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