In April 2016, the Episcopal Network for Economic Justice (ENEJ) conducted a three-day symposium, featuring a keynote address by Southern Ohio’s Bishop Thomas Breidenthal, site visits to neighborhood centers hosting worker justice organizing and community investment activities. Hosted by Christ Church Cathedral the conference also featured workshops on asset based community development (ABCD), community investment, racism, and reflections led by theologian Walter Brueggemann and activist scholar Peter Block. We are posting two blogs that capture some of the content of the symposium.
Episcopal Network for Economic Justice
American Racism: Dream Versus Reality
By: Ariel Miller
“Black children with toy guns are shot while white men carry guns openly or concealed in grocery stores and churches. In 15 of the U.S.’s 60 largest cities in 2015, police killed only Black people.”
Speaking to a packed room in a breakout session of ENEJ’s April symposium on Community Building, Prince Brown, PhD, laid out the terrible dissonance between white America’s dream of its own goodness and the violent reality which began four centuries ago with the slave trade and continues to find new forms with impunity.
“U.S. history spans 250 years of legal slavery, 100 years of legal discrimination – Jim Crow, and 50 years of protected class status,” he said, and then immediately debunked even those short decades with the current realities of the criminal injustice system.
The U.S. has the largest imprisoned population in the world, holding 25% of all the world’s prisoners, Brown reminded participants. The epidemic of police killings of unarmed black men continues, with indictments almost never:
“The beat officer becomes the whole ‘justice’ system,” Brown grimly explained. “He apprehends, judges, and executes, and the courts say he is justified.
The violence by white against Black Americans takes myriad forms, from the intentionality of poverty in ghettos to the miserliness leading to the poisoning of the Flint water supply.
“Black people have been deprived of the product of their minds as well as of their labor,” Brown added. He offered resources for illuminating the dynamics and tools of racism in the U.S.:
The Souls of Black Folk, by WEB DuBois, as timely now as when DuBois wrote it over a century ago.
Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ 2015 book addressed to his young son “because this was the year you saw Eric Garner choked to death for selling cigarettes, because you know now that Renisha McBride was shot for seeking help, that John Crawford was shot down for browsing in a department store. And you have seen men in uniform drive by and murder Tamir Rice, a twelve-year-old child whom they were oath-bound to protect.” (p. 9)
With Coates and DuBois, Brown is striving to open the eyes of fellow Americans who are “white” so that they can see the violence that was founded in “capitalism, which was about transforming black bodies into cotton, sugar, rice and indigo. What are we to make of a society whose most esteemed founding father was a slave-owning philosopher of freedom?”
Brown recommended Jim Wallis’ America’s Original Sin, Derrick A. Bell’s classic law text Race, Racism, and American Law, and urged conferees to see American culture through African-American eyes by reading James Baldwin’s Nobody Knows My Name.
Unlike Coates, who can find no solace in Christianity, Prince agrees with DuBois that “religion as the sole refuge allowing enslaved people to survive.”
“African-American theology has always been liberation theology,” he added: “Christianity in the light of the experience of the poor.” Churches should equip their parishioners to see facts, through programs like Cincinnati’s Christ Church Cathedral’s recent four-week course on mass incarceration.
“Support Black Lives Matter,” said this dedicated scholar and loving parent of two sons, “because people are starting to demonize young black men.”
Ariel Miller is a professional writer and Christian activist based in Cincinnati. Her resume includes directing the Episcopal Community Services Foundation for the Diocese of Southern Ohio.
The Call for Transformation
By: Vicky Partin
After my November training as a facilitator for Asset Based Community Development (ABCD): Called to Transformation, I came away from Denver refreshed and encouraged by the possibilities of engaging the Beallwood neighborhood in a new way. This time the members of BAND (Beallwood Area Neighborhood Development) would ask all new questions.
After the Economic Justice Symposium in Cincinnati this April, I came away refreshed and even more encouraged about the possibilities. This time I have some new language to share for building relationships and watching the people take action.
BAND, a grassroots organization in Columbus, Georgia, is not a faith-based nonprofit, but they open and close every meeting with a prayer. They are spiritual and religious.
Bishop Thomas Breidenthal reminded us that our Christian energy ignites us and causes us to want to bear each other’s burdens. We need to ask the residents what their real burdens are and how our combined gifts can bring the social change they hope to see. Such talk, said Peter Block, can lead to an “economics of compassion” and free up “idle capital” in the church partnerships. Most churches and some BAND members have “idle capital” stashed away. Together we can ignite some Christian energy and compassion, for many residents in Beallwood dream of starting their own businesses.
Walter Brueggemann shared stories from the “Jesus movement” where the Lord spent time with tax collectors, and Paul spoke of redistributing goods and the pursuit of happiness rather than the pursuit of “more stuff.” Otherwise we are living in an economy of “extraction”. As baptized believers we are not allowed to extract in the neighborhood. The fruits of the spirit listed in Galatians are all about sharing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, and self-control. It’s all about relationships, not about extracting from others.
Pastor Damon Lynch III told encouraging stories of people transforming through the ABCD model of nurturing assets rather than “fixing” needs, focusing on the whole community where people are seen as citizens rather than clients.
I came away with some new language to offer my friends in Beallwood. I will not hesitate to say this can be a Jesus movement. The people know what they want and need, and they can fix it. We all have access to “idle capital”. The glass is half-full and we can ask questions and nurture the gifts of the people. This is not easy work as Peter Block stated. It can be lonely work, but as Jesus people we need to see where our energy ignites us.
Vicky Partin is Vice President of ENEJ and retired as Lay Missioner with Chattahoochee Valley Episcopal Ministry in the Diocese of Atlanta, where she now serves as Diocesan Jubilee Officer.