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On Tuesday, September 12, at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, a sizeable crowd gathered to hear from an esteemed panel of public intellectuals and activists, moderated by professor and activist Rev. Dr. Nekima Levy-Pounds. My understanding of the purpose of this conversation regarding Charlottesville and Race in America was that the voices we needed to hear were those in communities most directly affected by racism in the United States. The panelists were:

  • Dr. Melina Abdullah, Professor of Pan-African Studies at California State University; Black Lives Matter organizer, Los Angeles
  • Lawyer Luz María Frías, CEO of the YWCA Minneapolis; noted thought leader on race equity
  • Rev. Brian Herron, Senior Pastor of Zion Baptist Church in Minneapolis; Board Member of the MN Council of Churches
  • Dr. Keith Mayes, Professor at University of Minnesota; expert on African American history

 

As the only white panelist, I was surprised and honored to be included. I was offered a rare opportunity to participate in an honest, unfiltered, transparent conversation about racism. I expect that the conversation we heard on Tuesday night rarely occurs in public settings in Minnesota. As white people, we were afforded a glimpse into the real discussions that occur often in black-only or people-of-color-only settings. Until we can get to these really honest assessments of racism and its systemic power, which has very personal effects, it is difficult to move forward. In order for this to happen more often, white people need to sit in places where we are not in charge or acting as the experts. Rather, we need to listen and learn … and commit to changing our perceptions and actions as a result of these encounters.

 

In the Q&A portion of the evening, a gentleman from the audience, attempting to measure my credibility, asked me what color Jesus was. I just smiled to myself. I have been preaching and writing about the Afro-Asiatic Black Jesus since leaving seminary at Howard University School of Divinity in the 1980s, where I learned the truth from black biblical scholars. It is when we white people place ourselves in contexts where our voices do not dominate that we learn more truth about racism. That truth can transform who we are and how we respond.

 

Most of the event was filmed on Facebook live by the Twin Cities’-based music group Mint Condition. It can be viewed at: https://www.facebook.com/mintconditionmusic/videos/10155478073022110/.

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The last two weekends remind us that religious intolerance and white nationalism are potent forces that use the methods of fear and terror in the United States. We live in troubling times, evident in the bombing of the Dar Al Farooq mosque in Bloomington, MN, and the full-scale attack by white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the KKK in Charlottesville, VA.

We applaud the courage and conviction of faith leaders who led counter protests in Charlottesville and witnessed in solidarity in Bloomington. While many elected officials have spoken out, we grieve the fact that the White House has remained silent on the mosque bombing and has only spoken reluctantly and without moral conviction about Charlottesville.

We are in a season that requires us to speak and act with a moral courage and a Scriptural conviction that rejects hate, overcomes fear, embraces love, and seeks justice. As people of faith there is no place in our hearts, places of worship, or nation for any form of bigotry and injustice. In the days ahead let us commit to engage in personal introspection, congregational reflection, and collective action. Some of us need to confess and repent. Some of us need to cry and heal. We all need to pray and act.

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Early on August 5, 2017 a fire bomb was thrown into the Dar Al Farooq mosque in Bloomington, MN, during the first prayer of the morning. We renounce this cowardly act of hate which appears meant to terrorize our Muslim brothers and sisters. The Minnesota Council of Churches has a special affinity for Dar Al Farooq, where we recently celebrated an Iftar dinner during Ramadan as a part of the Taking Heart program that we coordinate in partnership with the Muslim American Society of Minnesota.

Amid this tragedy, we express our solidarity and support for Muslims in Bloomington and the Twin Cities, as well as Muslims across our state and country who are experiencing bigotry and these kinds of attacks. An attack on a mosque is an attack on a synagogue is an attack on a church. It is an attack on all faith communities. As the Minnesota Council of Churches, representing one million Christians in Minnesota, we stand with you!

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The Minnesota Council of Churches’ mission is to manifest unity in the church and to build the common good in the world. The Minnesota Council of Churches consists of 25 member denominations from Mainline Protestant, Historic Black, Traditional Peace and Orthodox traditions representing about 1,000,000 Minnesotans. For more information, visit www.mnchurches.org.

As you might have read in the Star Tribune, I began my tenure two weeks ago. Rev. Peg Chemberlin and I spent the week conferring and transitioning. I celebrate her 22 years of leadership at the Minnesota Council of Churches that spanned nearly 1/3 of the Council’s 70 years of work for social justice in Minnesota. She has created a significant legacy that I hope to build on. I am excited to be here. I am returning to Minnesota from Chicago where I served as Executive Director at Community Renewal Society, an ecumenical faith-based organization that worked for racial and economic justice through church-based community organizing, policy advocacy, and investigative journalism. I look forward to reconnecting with many of you as well as developing new relationships and partnerships. We must develop real unity among people of faith in order to create a powerful force for social change. I invite your support and prayers for the journey.

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In response to requests for our retiring CEO’s retirement speech. (Her last day will be mid-July).

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Thank you, distinguished leaders, many of you colleagues for many years, family and friend I’m very honored by all of this and all of you.

I came to this job believing that God had invited me, believing that God would be with us and guide us. I want to start by thanking the God of the universe who deeply longs for the reconciliation of relationships in all of creation, the creation of God’s own making. What a wonderful privilege to be able to spend my time following that longing and to be part of that journey with you all.

I came to this office in 1995 when Bill Clinton was president, it was said that in his campaign headquarters there was a sign that said, “It’s the economy stupid?”  We have sign at the MCC that says, “It’s the relationship, stupid.” No, we don’t really, but I have told that story to every one of my direct reports. Relationships, that is what our calling demands — that each of us become a means of reconciliation.  And here you are so many wonderful relationships.

A second story about relationships which I will take with me – when a certain MN Governor, had done an interview from Playboy magazine. You may remember he made some rather harsh comments about religion.  Well, we started calling his office right away, kindly asking if we could meet with him and share some of the good things religion does in his state. No reply, we tried again, and again, emails, letters, calls. After a while got a reply; they would see what the could do. Months went by, we called and emailed. Finally, we got the call that he would meet with us if we could get the leaders of many of the state’s faith groups and we did. Off we went to the Governor’s mansion to meet with him. It was a cordial meeting we spent most of our chits talking about the justice issues so important to us.

That was May 2001, four months later we would get a call from the Governor’s office on Sept. 12, …2011 asking if we would be part of a planning committee for an event at the capitol focused on the tragedy of Sept. 11.

We were included in that planning, the faith community was included and we got to help shape and mold that event so that it would be more about hope than about fear or anger. Relationship investment pays off.

A few years later the 35 W bridge collapsed and we got a call from the Gov’s. office, a different Governor was in the position at the time, Gov. Pawlenty and former Mpls Mayor RT Ryback called asking if we would pull together a service for the community in the midst of that tragedy.

The place was packed; the balcony was full of reporters. I am quite sure it is the only time in my career that I have been quoted in the Bagdad Times.  After the event one reporter said to one of our staff, “Wow, you pulled this together in three days?” She replied, “No it took more like ten years.”  It’s the relationships. They take time but nothing worthwhile gets done without them. It’s these relationships.

It is the relationships we have had with the Muslim community that have made a difference in our response to things like the threat of a Muslim ban and increased hate crimes. We offered the Blessed Ramadan signs as resistance to the targeting of those of another faith.  As a witness to what the Christian faith calls us to do. Last year a Muslim woman wrote me and said, that sometimes her children ask her, “Why do they hate us?” She said when I saw the Blessed Ramadan sign I could tell them, “Not everyone does.”

 

It is in the relationships that we have built together over the years, that a legacy is built and I trust that legacy will continue.

The MCC board of directors had an election today and I am delighted to tell you that a new MCC CEO has been elected. We want to give my successor  time to speak with the board he/she is now serving. But we hope to announce the new hire tomorrow or the next day. I was gratefully encouraged by this hiring and by the outstanding choice the board has made, I know God is blessing the MCC in this process. And I pray and request that you all would offer a warm welcome and offer continued relationship to my successor. You will have a fine leader and a wonderful colleague with whom to build on our shared; legacy, a legacy of deep relationships.

My parents first taught me about relationships. Please welcome my mother, Donna Bean. In everything they did it was the people and the relationships that mattered. And my sisters and brothers have all taken that on, along with their wonderful spouses; welcome them please: Valerie Wagner, Rich Wagner, Chuck Bean.  Thank you for valuing family relationships and thank you for the relationships of care, convening, leadership and so much more you three do so well. And to my daughter, Anne Cammack, and her partner, Nate Mueller, my thanks for continuing the family relationship in our little Sesame and for your patience, Anne, low these 31 years with a mom who was ‘there and gone’ so much. I trust, beyond my pessimism, that the costs of my work are outweighed by the benefits and that you two and the baby will have a better world for those efforts.

And my husband, Mark Greenawalt, thank you for our relationship of almost 40 years. I am thankful that we found each other again and I am thankful that you did not give up on me – this is the relationship that makes all the others work as well as they do. You are my anchor to sanity, my comfort in trying times, my sounding board, and often my main source of hope – you have the patience of a saint – and you continue to help me see myself and the world in new ways. What a gift you are.

To the great staff of MCC, so many here today – current and former staff – you have given yourselves to this work with such conviction – it inspires many – May you have wonderful days full of Good News boards ahead of you for years to come. To Doug, a perfect yin to my yang all this years, thank you fro your commitment and persistence. To the hard working committees and commissions – you ground this work soundly and have each offered so much.  To the board of directors, who believe that we are indeed called to manifest the God-given unity of the Body of Christ and that we are, indeed, called to live the will of God on this earth, as in heaven, to build together the Common Good. Thank you. An honor to be with you and to work for you.

And finally a special thank you to the leaders on the board, the heads of communion – our bishops and communion executives. Thank you for letting me walk with you in this incredible journey – a journey to not only preach the good news, but also to demonstrate  the good news. Thanks to all of you for your support, commitment and participation in the journey.

I am looking forward to the next chapter in my life and will be watching with joy from a long distance the continuing wonderful work of the MCC. God’s richest blessing on you all.