Greenfield discussion to explore religion, race

  • The First Congregational Church of Greenfield is the home of Unity In The Pioneer Valley, which meets in the Fellowship Hall. Recorder/Paul Franz Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Published: 11/29/2017 7:51:16 PM

GREENFIELD — The intersection of race and religion will be the focus of a two-hour panel discussion Saturday.

The event at First Congregational Church, 43 Silver St., will bring together five panelists who come from different racial and religious backgrounds to talk about this intersection from their own experiences, followed by audience questions and answers.

The event, starting at 10:15 a.m., is sponsored by Racial Justice Rising, a local social activist organization.

“We think of a religion as a purity in our life, something that we can relate to and guide us with our morals and beliefs,” said Gloria Matlock, a Greenfield musician, teacher and writer who helped organize the event. “But we don’t broach the reality of religions. We don’t want to talk about it because it’s holy; it should be the obvious fact that if we’re of the same religion, then we should all be on the same page. But that’s not the case.”

Matlock, who grew up in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, found herself rebuffed when she moved here and tried attending an Episcopal service. Conversely, when growing up in Ravenna, Ohio, she felt the Mennonite Church there, like the AME Church, was welcoming to everyone.

“Christianity was used to instill obedience in the slaves and keep them oppressed, even when (antebellum Methodist) Bishop Francis Asbury said slavery is evil. How can we oppress people and be Christian?”

She added, “Religion is so sacred, we don’t talk about it. I want people to think about how their religion is affecting lives. I know there’s good in every religion. It’s better to have questions and answer questions than to hide it.”

Tim Bullock of Leverett grew up as a Southern Baptist and joined the New England Peace Pagoda in 1998 to participate in its year-long walk retracing the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade backward from the U.S. South through the Caribbean to Africa. He said the event will be about “how religion has a role in dealing with racism, from my experience with the peace pagoda and Buddhism.”

Last week, Bullock was part of the pagoda’s six-day walk to Plymouth, reflecting on nearly 400 years since this country was first colonized and the effect on Native Americans.

“Talking to people about this history, we see and understand an ongoing problem we’ve yet been able to eradicate,” he said. “It’s conversations we’ve had with each other that we began to get an understanding of how deeply it’s impacted and is affecting us. We see these walks as efforts of connecting the community and community building around these issues, and racism as it intersects with immigration, health, environmental issues. All these issues, including war, all connect with racism.”

Abrah Dresdale has worked on food justice, Jewish earth-based traditions and sustainable food and farming, which she has taught at Greenfield Community College and the University of Massachusetts. She said, “It’s important to have a critical analysis of how different groups have been historically pitted against each other, and in what way has religion and racist ideology been used to uphold the dominant systems of power. I think it’s exciting that we’re looking at it from different perspectives.”

The “potential pitfall,” she admits, is that none of the panelists can be expected to represent or speak for an entire group of people or their faith traditions — especially since each panelist has just 20 minutes to present his or her own thoughts.

Other panelists include Asima Silva, a social justice and interfaith activist who is a member of the American Muslim Democratic Caucus, and Ted Todd, a former Episcopal priest who practices Buddhism and lives in an intentional community based on Rudolf Steiner’s teachings to adults with developmental disabilities and special needs.

Child care is available for people who RSVP to with the number and ages of the children.


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