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“The Minnesota Council of Churches expresses great concern that another black man has been killed by police in Minneapolis. Such acts traumatize entire communities and demand that we ask the question: do black lives matter in Minnesota? As people of faith and followers of Jesus, we call for full transparency in the investigation of this police killing. We call for more systems of accountability in policing statewide. We also join those envisioning alternative ways for addressing violence and providing safety in our communities. We offer our prayers for the family and friends of Thurman Blevins, Jr. We offer our partnership to those who want to create a more just Minnesota.” – Rev. Curtiss DeYoung, CEO

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While our CEO was on vacation, the director of MCC Refugee Services spoke at a press conference last week organized in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s upholding the Trump administration’s Muslim ban. Here is his statement:

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My name is Ben Walen, representing the Minnesota Council of Churches, where I direct the refugee resettlement programs.

The Council’s 25 member church denominations have repeatedly spoken in opposition to the President’s Executive Orders on immigration and refugees, from the first one in January 2017 – a blunt tool of religious discrimination against Muslims. As the Executive Orders went from 1.0 to 2.0 to 3.0, they were written to hide their intent – but they remained grounded in religious animus toward those of the Muslim faith.

In January 2017, Bishop Bruce Ough of the United Methodist Church gave the following statement in response to the first Executive Order.  It remains true today:

Jesus was explicit in his teachings. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus says, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me” (Matthew 10:40)

Refugees and immigrants arrive among us, not only with their needs, but also bearing gifts of energy, resourcefulness, love of liberty, and hope. These gifts have always contributed to the renewal of our society and the church.

Above all, these strangers bring to us the Christ. When we welcome a stranger, we welcome Jesus, and when we welcome Jesus, we welcome our creator. Refugees, immigrants, those yearning to be free—these are the ones whom Jesus spoke about when he said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:35).

Repeatedly Jesus tells his disciples: “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25).

The original Greek language is far more poetic, powerful, and prophetic. In finer translations of the Greek language, we hear Jesus saying: “Whoever seeks to build a wall around their soul shall destroy it; whoever tears down the wall (around their soul) shall bring their soul to a living birth.”

The very soul of our country is at stake. When we abandon strangers who are at risk of bigotry, xenophobia, and violence, we not only destroy their hope, we destroy our own souls. When we fail to assist the refugees fleeing danger, we not only place them in harm’s way, we do harm to our own souls. When we build walls of concrete, or walls of divisive rhetoric, or walls of fear, or walls of immoral immigration policies, we build a wall around our own souls.

We call upon people of faith to say “no” to the walling off of our country and our hearts and say “yes” to their hope—our hope—for new life. Let us unite and work together to bring the soul of this country to a living birth!

You may have seen this article in the Mankato Free Press on Monday: Columbus Day could become “Indigenous People’s Day” in Mankato.

MANKATO — The second Monday in October, a federal holiday honoring Christopher Columbus, would be Indigenous Peoples Day in Mankato under a resolution the City Council will consider in coming weeks.

Dave Brave Heart — backed by about 30 community members — brought the request to a council work session Monday night. Brave Heart first offered praise for the city’s recognition in recent decades of the conflict-ridden history of Mankato’s founding and its efforts to promote reconciliation with descendants of the Dakota who first made the river valley home.

We were happy to join other partners, including the School Sisters of Notre Dame, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, and the YWCA in endorsing the change. Our letter of support reads:

To the Mankato City Council:

The staff and clients of the Minnesota Council of Churches support the adoption of the resolution calling for of the second Tuesday of each October to be recognized as Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the City of Mankato.

 
Those we serve in our work, and many of us on staff, came to the U.S. with refugee-status. We understand the pain of being persecuted for our beliefs and not being protected by our governments. We can identify with the Indigenous Peoples who were forced to flee their homes and leave behind their way of life. The Minnesota Council of Churches has had a Refugee Services Office in Mankato since 2012. As we have learned about the history of the Mankato community, and the longer history of the Indigenous Peoples who first inhabited this region, we
are humbled by the resilience and strength of the Indigenous Peoples.

 
We support the important work of reconciliation begun by Amos Owens and Bud Lawrence, and continued by many others past and present. It is important for the City of Mankato to continue to participate in that reconciliation and to build trusting relationships with diverse cultural communities, like the individuals with refugee status whom we represent and serve.

 

The Minnesota Council of Churches strongly supports the designation of Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Indigenous Peoples’ Day will give our community a way to celebrate those original peoples and those, like refugees, who have resettled in Mankato and now call it home.
Sincerely,
Rev. Dr. Curtiss DeYoung
Chief Executive Officer

The Thursday before the Superbowl brought the world to Minnesota, 130 leaders representing many of the world’s faiths met in Bloomington to generate a state-wide multi-faith network as they marked World Interfaith Harmony Week. The event, held at a site of violence against Muslims but also a site of interfaith solidarity, provided instruction, inspiration and initiation for participants in search of hope and connection.

The meeting began with an acknowledgment of the Dakota people “on whose land we meet,” and was held at Dar Al Farooq Center, a facility that was bombed last summer. Acknowledging the violence that had been done on that space, the leaders listed to how one Christian Pastor organized to stop violence when it came to her hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia.

Rev. Brittany Caine-Conley shared a story that began with a hard truth: Peace and harmony come from conflict and discomfort, and are only possible when we confront destructive ideologies. In response to an announced KKK rally in their city, the Pastor (known to friends as “Smash”) said that faith leaders “knew we had to use our bodies to confront the evil words of white supremacists.” Faith leaders and other groups, including area anarchists and anti-fascist activists, held trainings in de-escalating violence and led hundreds of people into the park where the KKK intended to hold its rally. Despite their attempt to hold the space, a police squad escorted the KKK members into the park, ensured their safety during the performance of rituals and chants, and escorted them back out. After the KKK had safely returned to its cars, police  sent tear gas into the park. Caine-Conley recalled the feeling of having to “breathe through my stole” to avoid inhaling the gas.

Brittany Caine-Conley

Pastor of Congregate Charlottesville, Brittany Caine-Conley shared with the gathered leaders her own experience organizing against violence during a series of white supremacist rallies in her city.

Still recovering from the upset of this experience, she and her coalition had to begin immediately strategizing their response to the now-infamous “Unite the Right” rally whose militarized white supremacists, tiki torches, and terrorist violence put Charlottesville in the news last August. The group “needed our faith to be embodied in the streets where the people were walking,” she said, so they invited in the Deep Abiding Love Project to conduct militant nonviolent direct action training.

As the United the Right rally began the gathered white supremacists terrorized some University of Virginia students, the gathered group of counter-protesters formed lines to disrupt walking traffic. Their lines were broken, but re-formed. They tried to be present and get in the way of impending violence during the event. They protected some people, absorbed some painful blows, “and we watched a woman die,” mourned Caine-Conley, referring to Heather Heyer, who died when run over by a car driven by one rally attendee now charged with murder.

Reflecting the fruits of the resistance her mixed-faith group of counter-protesters provided, Caine-Conley described the event as both a failure and a sobering success. Sharing lessons with the gathered Minnesotans, she said “we hurt one another, but we were resilient. Peace doesn’t feel peaceful, but love does always win.”

Gail Anderson, Empathy Works

Gail Anderson spoke about Generating a State-wide Multi-faith Network.

Gail Anderson then spoke on her experience organizing a response to the bombing at the Dar Al Farooq Center that same summer, and shared how valuable it was to already have developed so many interfaith relationships. “If we were going to build something to increase interfaith cooperation, what would it be?” she asked. She named the need for a network to combine efforts to address homelessness, poverty, school violence, and other evils.

The network birthed that morning is going to be a multi-faith, collaborative network of faith-based and interfaith leaders and organizations that assists member groups in doing their work more effectively, serves as a catalyst for increased collaboration, and increases all members’ social impact.

Following Anderson’s presentation, members gathered at tables sponsored by groups like United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning, Jewish Community Action, Healing Minnesota’s Stories, and a dozen other organizations to share interests and nominate people for a steering group and working group to organize the network’s next steps.

Ending with a quote from American Indian author Serman Alexie, Anderson recited to the gathered networkers “I am one more citizen marching against hatred. Alone, we are defenseless. Collected, we are sacred.”

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/.