Centering Marginalized Voices as Spiritual Practice

Image: Jennifer Hosler for Messenger

From Pastor Belita Mitchell and team, Harrisburg First Church of the Brethren:

Harrisburg First Church of the Brethren ‘Black Lives Matter’ Statement

 As followers of Jesus we stand in solidarity with our black brothers and sisters enduring racial violence and systemic oppression. We denounce anti-black racism resulting in police brutality, mass incarceration, and unjust legal systems that disproportionately harm black and brown people. We denounce the evil “principalities and powers” at work in our world that seek to kill, steal, and destroy people made in the image of God. 

As a congregation we commit to doing justice and peacemaking in the way of Jesus. For the times we as a church have been complacent about the suffering of others, we confess our complicity. By God’s grace we repent and courageously align ourselves with the Spirit’s activity and the Messiah’s reign on earth. And in obedience to God we seek to set things right where every valley is lifted up and every mountain is made low. Jesus teaches us how to struggle against oppression through his example of standing in solidarity with those who were considered ‘the least’ and ‘the last’ in his society. And because Jesus affirmed that poor people’s lives mattered, that Samaritans lives mattered, and the lives of those crucified by Rome mattered, we affirm that black and brown lives matter too, and are precious to God. 

As a congregation we commit to deepening our faithfulness to Jesus through holy listening, through intentional learning, and through discerning congregational public action. As a congregation we commit to creating intentional inter-generational space where the stories of our black and brown brothers and sisters are received with love. In line with God’s upside-down kingdom, we will encourage marginalized stories to be centered while inviting those in the dominant culture to step back and be slow to speak and quick to listen. Specifically, we will make space for this congregational practice immediately after we return to worshiping together in our building.

  • As a congregation we commit to deepening our understanding of the history and present systems of racism in the United States, as well as the complicity of the western church in the legacy of white supremacy. We will study the history, our present society, and the theological implications of racism and its ties to the church. Specifically, our congregation will begin with Jemar Tisby’s “Color of Compromise” video series. We will follow that up with ongoing learning. 
  • We will grow in our understanding of what it means to be an intentionally and actively anti-racist church. Finally, we commit to taking public action because we are called to do justice, love mercy, and to walk humbly with God. Just as Jesus spent most of his time out in the streets of Galilee serving and living in solidarity with the poor and vulnerable we too seek to take action that makes the Jesus story visible to those who have their backs against the wall.
  • Specifically, we commit to ongoing discernment as a congregation about what public actions, community partnerships, and organizing efforts in our neighborhood we will participate. We know that faith without works is dead and discipleship requires a love willing to respond to the suffering of others. We pray for a prophetic witness that pleases God and participates in seeing justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream. 

Harrisburg First Discernment Team & Pastor Belita Mitchell 

(Harrisburg First CoB is located on Hummel St in Harrisburg’s South Allison Hill neighborhood which is comprised of the largest concentration of low-income families between Philadelphia & Pittsburgh.) ~

You can watch Jemar Tisby’s “The Color of Compromise” series too!

 

“When we truly know justice, we will truly know peace.” ❤️

 

 

*Installments of the peace-building series can be found here:

Belita Mitchell

Know Justice, Know Peace

2020: Not Done With Us Yet

Look at this: future universities will have entire specializations in the study of the 2020s.

Turbulent times with great disparity in who is affected are likely to lead to social unrest. Medically, financially, socially, emotionally, and legally, marginalized groups have been dealt an incredibly disproportionate blow by the events of this year.

The killing of George Floyd was a tipping point. We all have a choice now. Will you contribute to peace? How are you using your voice?

How can I contribute to peace?

By contributing to justice. By combating injustice. By helping when you can help. By educating yourself. By understanding the context in which we all–not just any one of us–live. By helping others to understand as well.

Reverend Belita Mitchell (First Church of the Brethren in Harrisburg) on peace-building in 2014.  First video in a series*.
“How are justice and peace related in your thinking or your experience?” (5:00)

If you are someone in a dominant social group, there is no need to burn or break anything to make yourself heard. Authorities and media attend well to peaceful protests from White people.

2020 Minneapolis Anabaptists

In fact, you don’t even need to take to the streets. Just speaking up when you hear unjust or racist words spoken is incredibly helpful. (Here is a very helpful and practical list of ways to speak up against bigotry in many settings.)

When we truly know justice, we will truly know peace. ❤️

*Additional installments of this series can be found here:

Belita Mitchell

It’s Very Good; It’s Not Okay

It’s very good to support women and be anti-sexist; it’s not okay to use racism in critiquing sexism.

It’s very good to support BIPOC and be anti-racist: it’s not okay to use anti-gay prejudice in critiquing racism.

It’s very good to support LGBTQ folks and be anti-heterosexism/transphobia: it’s not okay to use classism in critiquing heterosexism/transphobia.

It’s very good to support financially marginalized people and be anti-poverty: it’s not okay to use ableism in critiquing classism.

It’s very good to support the disability community and be anti-ableist; it’s not okay to use ageism in critiquing ableism.

It’s very good to support the agency of children and elders and be anti-ageism; it’s not okay to use fatphobia in critiquing ageism.

It’s very good to support body positivity and be anti-fatmisia; it’s not okay to use sexism in critiquing fatphobia.


 

You can mix these up all you want and they still apply!

If we are pointing out someone’s problematic behavior or words, we must remember not to use problematic words of our own to characterize them.

If we do, we’re not just criticizing that person, we are playing into stereotypes and making life harder for vulnerable others who are not that person. We are engaging in bigotry ourselves!

For useful, practical ways to call out problematic behaviors and words, check out this helpful guide from Southern Poverty Law Center.

 

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What to Say Around the Table

For many people, the holidays are a time of increased anxiety and depression because of ongoing family conflict. Often people struggle to find ways to respond to outrageous or subtle expressions of prejudice or bigotry. Responding to the prejudice of family members and neighbors is even harder if you experience anxiety, PTSD, or your family is a mental health risk! It can help to make sure you are feeling stable yourself, and to be prepared beforehand.

First of all, remember to take care of yourself. You deserve protection, and you are allowed to set boundaries about how family members treat you! You are also allowed to withdraw and rest when you need to, to ask for help with tasks, to say “no” to unwanted activities, and to take care of bodily functions such as eating and going to the bathroom. That may sound obvious to some, but if your family has some dysfunction, those may be things you need to practice allowing yourself.

Secondly, try reading through this list of six steps (below) to speaking up. It will help you to frame your responses and to feel stable in your understanding, which will reduce your anxiety about a possible confrontation even if no conflict occurs. It also explains how to point out unacceptable behavior without name-calling or escalation:

Six Steps to Speaking Up Against Bigotry

If you are interested in broadening your skills in speaking up, here is a comprehensive list of a variety of situations and topics for which you might need a concrete and useful way to respond:

Responding to Everyday Bigotry

Have a peaceful and healthy weekend!