21 Jan The view from 30,000 feet
Greetings to my Sisters and Brothers in the Synod of the Southwest and beyond.
As I write this first installment in the Rocha Blog, I am sitting on an airplane headed for Dallas and then on to Albuquerque, home. I am returning from the winter meeting of the Executives of the Synods of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
I must tell you that I do not know of a more diverse group in the entire PCUSA. When we are all gathered, there are, around the table: 6 women, 8 men, 4 ruling elders, 10 teaching elders, an Hispanic, a Black, a Middle Easterner, a Native American and 10 white folk. There are folks that span the age spectrum from those under 40 to those over 80. No one required that we be so diverse. Rather, by the grace of God, it is so. As a result, the conversation is rich in perspective and when we engage in conversation these various perspectives lead to amazing insight. Two of the Synods are not represented at the table because they do not have an identified executive/administrator. Though, when we grapple with issues that affect us all, we invite representatives from those two synods to join us.
This week, we gathered on Saturday, which is unusual. We did so because we wanted to come together in the more formal worship of God with a local congregation to commemorate with that congregation that birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Thus, on Sunday morning we caravanned to First Presbyterian Church, Gulf Port, Alabama. The sermon was inspiring and convicting. Our presence, I believe, added a touch of diversity to an otherwise predominantly older, white congregation. It was good for us all to be gathered together.
On Monday morning, we gathered together, and engaged in a dialogue with the Rev. Tony de la Rosa, interim executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. The conversation about the direction of PMA in this time of transition was interesting and gave us all pause to consider what we, as a Christian community known as the PCUSA, are about. Tony shared his perspective and we, as we always do, pushed back when we felt it necessary and affirmed when we felt it necessary as he shared his thoughts on the what the future may hold for the PCUSA.
Most interesting during our conversation was the recognition that we as “church”, a community of Christ’s disciples, need to consider that the time of the “ecclesial apartheid”of PCUSA should and must come to an end. I would define ecclesial apartheid as the systemic and, at least originally, intentional exclusion of persons from positions of authority and power and its concentration in one class/race or culture. Though before this conversation I was not aware of that terminology, I certainly understood and have personally experienced the effect of exclusion because of the color of my skin and my ethnic background. As you can imagine, many “buttons” we’re pressed by such an assertion and assessment. Thanks be to God, this led to subsequent conversation later in the afternoon regarding what our role as synod leaders should be in helping to bring an end to ecclesial apartheid.
This is, of course, not an easy question to consider, much less to determine how we should respond to such an assertion and assessment. For me, living in this particular part of God’s world, where the historic racial/ethnic constituency is largely Native American and Hispanic, the framework is one of how ecclesial apartheid relates to and has effected this segment of our community. Of course, this is not to say that the elimination of ecclesial apartheid in our beloved Synod would not extend to its effect on our Black, Middle Eastern, immigrant and other marginalized sisters and brothers that are also an integral part of our Synod. For others around the table, it is one of how do we best address this in light of historic relationships with the our sisters and brothers in the Black community or the many and varied immigrant communities or the Middle Eastern community, and on and on and on.
What I came to realize and recognize out of this conversation was that the issue of ecclesial apartheid is a symptom and effect of white privilege…..or as I see it, is the effect of the dominant culture and class’ manipulation, misuse, and too often, abuse, of the non-dominant class to maintain the ‘Upper class” hand.
As a member of the racial/ethnic Hispanic community I understand how that manipulation feels. Yet, as a person who shares in and benefits from many of the privileges of the dominant class, I found myself trying to figure out what my role should be in dismantling ecclesial apartheid, and even beyond that, class apartheid as it currently exists in the society we know as the United States of America. In the PCUSA we spend a great deal of time trying to ensure that all people are at the table, but we do not work very hard at making sure all people invited to the table are also invited and empowered to decide how the table will be set. We have focused on equal representation rather than equity in the sharing of power and authority.
Of course, how one is able to tackle all of this and make a difference is probably beyond any single person or single institution’s ability. So, I come back to our synod, the Synod of the Southwest, and what can I and we, together, do to address the issue. My initial conclusion is that until we all have a grasp of the issue, addressing it may be beyond our reach. And if it is overly broad in its presentation it is equally beyond our reach.
Sisters and brothers, I believe that perhaps one of the best ways to begin is to consider the effect of white privilege on our sisters and brothers in the Native American community which constitutes a significant and import part of our Christian community know n as the Synod of the Southwest. As such, I am firmly convinced that we must engage in educational opportunities to understand the Native American experience in White America and in the Synod of the Southwest.
I believe we can begin by understanding the “doctrine of discovery” that undergirded the exploration and exploitation of the new world and its original inhabitants, our Native American sisters and brothers who are the indigenous people of this part of God’s world. To this end, I hope to press our Synod’s assembly and its leadership to consider how we might begin to educate ourselves so that we can begin the process of reconciliation so that we might do away with the separation from, and misunderstanding of, one another.
So, enough for my first Blog. You can be sure this is not the last you have heard about this subject and as I continue to itinerate throughout the Synod and the church beyond our borders, I hope to learn more and begin to put some meat on these bones of thought and concern.
Justice & Peace,