Understanding Power, Privilege and Justice
"I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another." John 13:34
The call to live as a beloved community is rooted biblically, as Scripture consistently portrays God as recognizing the value and worth of human beings, affirming the inherent dignity of human beings, and calling us to recognize and honor the image of God in one another.
Incidents of racially charged violence across the country -- from Fergusn to Baltimore and in too many cities in between -- and the public reaction and outcry for justice that followed each have once again brought to light the underlying racial tensions that still exist in American society. While many victories have been won in terms of legislation over the past several decades, racial ethnic women and men still face obstacles of prejudice and stereotypes that have yet to be dismantled.
In an effort to begin to work toward dismantling the underlying racial tesnsions and systems that keep racism alive in our sociecty, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) -- and more speficically the office of Gender and Racial Justice in Racial Ethinc & Women's Ministries -- hosted conversations focused on cultural diversty and humility with various groups across the country.
"Conversations like these are a stepping stone for the church -- for individuals, churches and congregations -- to begin to move toward deeper engagement. Each training is different, based on the audience, the location, etc., but the framework remains essentially the same. This allows us to create a space where conversations about tough topics like privilege can be addressed in a unique but open and honest way. It's in the sharing of individual stories that the most impact seems to happen," notes Sera Chung, associate for Gender and Racial Justice in the Presbyterian Mission Agency.
In our creeds and confessions, form of government, and General Assembly statements, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and its predecessor denominations have long affirmed their intention to embrace the wonderous diversity God creates. We also acknowledge that while we have done well at times, too often we fall short of our intentions. While we have taken steps toward achieving God's vision of the beloved community, we know many more remain for us to take. We must constinue to ask ourselves how we can continue to work together to move toward deeper interracial and intercultural engagement with our sisters and brothers in Christ.
Education will be a key component of this effort. With that in mind, the office of Gender & Racial Justice has hosted -- and will continue to host -- conversations on racial and cultural diversity at seminaries and in other locations across the United States, including two recent conversation at Austin Theological Seminary.
One student participant at Austin noted that exploring the concepts and themes in the training helped her look at "the fabric we are all woven from and some of the systemic problems that still exist in today's society in a new way," which helped deepen her understanding of the ways in which people of a variety of races and cultures engaage with one another and the world. Another participant noted that it was eye-opening to understand that everyone we encounter "is coming from a different experience and cultural truth," which makes the importance of approaching intercultural engagement from a place "free from any assumptions or preconceived notions" critical.
Part of what makes Austin Seminary unique is the work that the insitution is doing in the realm of cultural diversity. Through the Education Beyond the Walls program at Austin, clergy, church leaders, congregations, and communities have access to lifelong learning opportunities and fresh, innovative, and expansive theological education -- including courses and trainings that focus on cultural diversity.
"We recognize that the days when schools can function solely in receptive mode are over, and [we] also understand that we can't fully serve the church by only taking in people with a call to ministry and serving them with a classical education, that we need to be more expansive in our mission and our reach. Through our Education Beyond the Walls program and other efforts, we seek to truly meet people called to ministry where they are, in their own journeys. Trainings like the one offered this past fall help students and staff better understand what it means to do jst that as we strive to be an inclusive and expansive insitution... a more welcoming and engaging church."
The conversations on cultural diversity at Auston Seminary have focused on explorations of ways the church can confront racial oppression through prayer, discernment, and worship-based action and on ways we can work together as allies with those who have different experiences than we do.
"Before we can begin to work to change systems of oppression and racial injustice, we must first understand both power and privilege. These two things often determine who is at the table, who has access to tools, resources, and so on, and who can and will make decisions. It is imperative that we begin these conversations and explorations by addressing these two concepts," adds Chung.