Can We Get Real? Authentic Interfaith Truth-Telling & the Burning of Black Churches

“Why does it take a tragedy to bring us all together?” Rev. Terry McCray Hill of Bethel AME Church in Portland, Oregon asked this question the day after the Charleston massacre. We gathered, standing room only, into the hot, crowded sanctuary of Bethel AME and one by one, stood, naming our faith community to affirm our solidarity. Rabbi, imam, pastor…leaders and lay people from Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Unitarian Universalist, New Thought and many other congregations all stood in support.

In a recent organizing call with Showing Up For Racial Justice, Mrs. Jackie Dupont-Walker, an officer of Ward AME Church in Los Angeles reflected on our efforts. She said that often in our interfaith endeavors, we gather for dialogues, return back to our local congregations and become silos. Mrs. Dupont-Walker challenged us: now it is time for us to get to know each other, to take the risk of telling truth to one another.

How do we deepen our interfaith relationships? Too often we seem to be focused on the short-term task at hand: making a public statement for the press, signing a public petition or endorsement, offering a prayer from our tradition as part of an interfaith celebration.

In my faith tradition, we use the word covenant to describe a type of relationship characterized by thoughtful, serious commitment, established boundaries, and a long-term vision for connection. In a covenant we bring our whole selves; we assume we will hurt one another, that boundaries will be tested, feelings of closeness or distance will change over time.

We rely on covenant to hold and maintain that sacred relationship, and we mindfully invite the Holy to be the ground of our understanding, the bond of our intimacy, the container for our work.

How does your spiritual community understand a long-term relationship held in sacred trust by the Holy?

How might we begin to create an authentic, truth-telling relationship with one another?

As we come together to stand against the burning of Black churches and to fight for an end to racism and all forms of oppression, we have an opportunity to create relationship in a lasting and meaningful way. It may be that it is our not our marches or our rallies or our petitions that will bring justice, but our heartfelt, authentic regard and care for one another.

How do we begin to take risks in telling the truth?

For me, telling the truth looks like this: I acknowledge that the burning of Black churches are not accidental or random acts of hate, but occur within a long historical context of attacks on centers of Black organizing and resistance. My predominantly white church is not at risk, and it is among my own people that the roots of fear and hatred lie.

To answer the question of #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches, I need only look at the white communities that I grew up in, among the comments made in the privacy of home about “those people.” The truth is, the burning of Black churches is my responsibility, happening on my watch as a person of faith, and yet I am nervous about asking my congregation to donate for the rebuilding of Black churches. It’s too easy to feel like it is “other people’s” church, not mine. That’s where I am. What about you?

For a “Faith Response to Black Church Burning Action Kit”, visit the Showing Up for Racial Justice web site.

Graphic created by the author.

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