Sacred Conversations are Usually No Earthly Good!
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Rev. Graylan Scott Hagler, Senior Minister of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ & National President of Ministers for Racial, Social and Economic Justice Of The United Church of Christ has submitted the following commentary for UCCtruths to post:
Sacred Conversations are Usually No Earthly Good!
October 9, 2008
By: Reverend Graylan Scott Hagler,Senior Minister, Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ & National President,Ministers for Racial, Social and Economic JusticeOf The United Church of Christ
This past May 18, 2008 The United Church of Christ, a denomination known for its liberalism called for a “Sacred Conversation on Race” to take place in its pulpits across the nation. This call to the congregations was made in the aftermath of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright-Barack Obama controversy since both were affiliated with The United Church of Christ. Some United Church of Christ ministers called a meeting in the Washington, DC area to discuss this initiative by the denomination. The gathering was revealing to say the least. Most of the fifty odd ministers who were present were predominantly white and attested to their liberalism and openness to other races, and how each of the ministers had somehow in the past stood up for a person of another racial group at some traumatic moment. The black ministers in the room each testified to the fact that they needed not “A Sacred Conversation on Race,” but straight talk on racism which was the issue that impacted their lives negatively. As usual this created tensions between the black and white clergy participants where the whites perceived that they were being “put down” for their past stances and their proclaimed liberalism, and the blacks felt that the issues of racism were being ignored for the sake of a feigned peace between the races and to advance the desires of a denomination to have a “marketplace” identity.
Indeed this was not the first time in recent history that The United Church of Christ attempted to use an issue to stake out a position in the fiercely competitive world of church growth and identity theology. The denomination in the previous five years created a “God is Still Speaking” public relations campaign that focused on its openness to people no matter of their sexual orientation, gender, race or disability. This is a message to be applauded except the ads implied that The United Church of Christ was more superior and forward thinking than any other denomination. Many denominations took exception to this, and even some of the television stations slated to air the ads pulled them. This campaign however put the church further into debt, and as a consequence of the hemorrhage of funds the director of the campaign was fired – a black man!
Over the last ten years The United Church of Christ in its national office has tended to have less blacks and other people of-color in its employ. In hard economic times the old adage held true even within the church for blacks and other people of-color, “the last hired and the first fired.” Furthermore black male clergy on national staff in the church is at an all time low. All of this serves as a backdrop to the church’s “Sacred Conversation on Race.”
In May when The United Church of Christ clergy met at that church in Washington, DC, the decision was made that black and white clergy would meet over the ensuing months to discern how we might make this conversation relevant, and to take it beyond the publicity stunt that the denomination intended. In those ensuing meetings however the white participation dwindled to less than a hand full, and it became apparent that though the denomination wanted “A Sacred Conversation on Race” and prides itself on liberalism even its ministers did not want to deal with the issues of racism or the institutional racism that plagues this church and many others like it. But just as the prophet Jeremiah proclaims, there is "remnant" people that will make a stand in easy times and in times that are not too easy, and will lift up a message that needs to be lifted, even in spite of The United Church of Christ’s attempts to sanitize and homogenize people and issues. Therefore beginning in October and spanning over the next three weeks, this handful of United Church of Christ clergy, black, Hispanic and white, will host “town hall” gatherings in a white, Hispanic, and black congregation so that people can engage in a culturally diverse setting and have a real discussion on racism. Hopefully we all may grow in the process out of these frank conversations that may anger people at times, but will hopefully help to build a context where people out of their diversity might truly come together and combat the “isms” that separate and often destroys possibilities of ever coming together as a church, a people and a nation.