Faith Matters: My pilgrimage to explore racial identity

  • Rev. Kate Stevens of the United Church of Christ at her Charlemont home. December 6, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Rev. Kate Stevens of the United Church of Christ at her Charlemont home. December 6, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Rev. Kate Stevens of the United Church of Christ at her Charlemont home. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Friday, January 12, 2018

“The battle is and always has been a battle for the hearts and minds of White people in this country. The fight against racism is our issue. It’s not something that we’re called on to help People of Color with. We need to become involved with it as if our lives depended on it because really, in truth, they do.”

— Anne Braden

In the gospel of Luke, Jesus preaches at his home synagogue from the book of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind and to let the oppressed go free.”

All people of faith must wrestle with the chasm between the original blessing that we read about in Genesis and the current realities of division, prejudice and various forms of oppression. Imago dei is the concept that tells us that we were all — men and women — created in the image of God. We are God’s beloved children — Jew or Greek, slave or free — all are created in the image of God. Yet we live in a world where racial identity is not just noticed but weighed and valued. This ranking of one racial group over another flies in the face of our belief in God’s inclusive love.

This country was founded on principles of equality, justice and democracy. But this country was also founded on the practices of genocide (of native peoples) and racial oppression (in the form of slavery, Jim Crow and mass incarceration). Today, we continue to see a system of white supremacy that says white people are superior and people of color are inferior. This contradicts our own faith traditions.

I am undertaking a pilgrimage to explore what this “good news” means in today’s context. Specifically, I want to learn more about racial history, racism and cultural identity (including whiteness and white privilege). By early January, I will have begun a three-month journey to the US Southeast — Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky. I will end this pilgrimage in my childhood city of Pittsburgh, Penn., to look more carefully at my own racial identity and to examine what it meant to grow up white in a very divided city.

I want my pilgrimage to be one of deep listening. I want to better understand the construct of race and how it is related to the larger concept of cultural identity. I want to keep asking why we have racism and how US racism is unique. And I want to continue to discover and observe programs that make a difference, that work to counter the systemic racism that is currently injuring our nation.

I feel called to this study and this pilgrimage not because it is my role as a minister to help those who suffer and are oppressed. I do this because it is about my own healing and my own faith journey. It’s my way home. And I hope to be able to share my insights and my ongoing questions when I return.

The good news is that we are all beloved children of God but as Fannie Lou Hamer says, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

The (second) Poor People’s Campaign

April 4, 2018 is the 50th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. He was killed in 1968, just months after announcing the Poor People’s Campaign. The Poor People’s Campaign, or Poor People’s March on Washington, was an effort to gain economic justice for poor people in the United States. It was organized by Martin Luther King Jr. and carried out under the leadership of Ralph Abernathy in the wake of King’s assassination.

The campaign demanded economic and human rights for poor Americans of all backgrounds. After presenting an organized set of demands to Congress, participants set up a 3,000-person protest camp on the Washington Mall, where they stayed for six weeks in the spring of 1968.

In honor of this anniversary, the Rev. William Barber, among others, is organizing a Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival beginning Mother’s Day 2018 and culminating in a large gathering in Washington, D.C. in June. See the Poor People’s Campaign website or Facebook page to learn more.