As a pastor and religious leader, I get it. This is a difficult topic for folks to address, especially folks who are benefitting from the systemic privilege that permeates and informs not only our country, but our religious organizations as well. No matter how much we want to deny, surrender, or turn a blind eye to that privilege, as religious leaders we cannot. Heck, as human beings we cannot... no matter how difficult the process may be.
While considering the words in the above-mentioned blog post, I was filled with frustration and disappointment. Sitting with those complex feelings of "let down", and what arises for me with the sometimes-obvious disconnect between how our church stands for things, and the "mother church" doesn't. Frankly, it's difficult sometimes to talk to the folk about the greater organization because our local group couldn't be understood as any more different once you get past the rites and rituals.
That being said, I'd like to take a look, line by line, at the blog post, share my thoughts on the words as they stand, and why other words would make a difference. What is this "statement" saying to the folk? About the order? About our awareness, leadership, engagement, relevance, and skillset? Perhaps, even more importantly, what's the "statement" NOT saying?
Here's what was published:
"Recent events have brought the blight of racism back into the forefront of our lives once again. Sadly, racism still exists throughout the world and we as a people and a church look forward to the day when it is no longer a threat to people anywhere and everywhere.
Racism has no place in ADF and no place in our world. Let us continue to live by our virtues and follow our vision for a better world, today and tomorrow.
Let us ask the Ancestors for the Wisdom to learn from the mistakes of the Past; the Nature Spirits for the strength of Perseverance in the Present, and the Shining Ones for the Vision to carry forward into the Future."
OK... To begin: By not naming the recent events, this opening line doesn't call specific attention to the specific place and the specific people that were directly affected by the events being danced around. It's important to be specific in times of tragedy, especially when the marginalized are involved. It's important to hear that racism is bad, but it's even more important to the marginalized (the victims of the -ism's) to hear how they're seen, heard, and understood by people who can make a difference.
Secondly, by saying that only now has racism come "back into the forefront of our lives one again", the experience of Black and Brown people, First-Nations people, Asian folx, and all other groups negatively affected by the author's general "blight of racism", are not taken into consideration. It might be shown more on the TV, and headline news online. It might be more in-the-face of liberal white folx who thought all this was over.
People are the victims of racism. People. To those victimized by hatred and ignorance, racism isn't an experience where they say "well, geez... I thought this whole racism thing was put to bed. Darnit... here it is again." For these folx, racism is an everyday experience. It's never left their side. It's never been fixed or repaired. It's never gone away. It's their experience of life as an occupant of the United States. I dare not say citizen because that would assume that they have the same rights and cultural experience as I do (a cisgender, white, able-bodied male). On paper they might... but not in the day-to-day American experience. This country was built on their backs, through their blood, and on their land. To say that racism is here again is to glaringly expose one's privilege, turn one's back on the experience of the marginalized, and reduces Nazi-ism, White-Nationalism, White-Supremacy, Anti-Semitism, and the Alt-right to the simple, blanket idea of "racism".
Next, when the author says that "we as a people and a church look forward to the day when (racism) is no longer a threat to people anywhere and everywhere", what I hear is that there's no real opinion or action plan in place. This sentence is like the Hope that resided at the bottom of Pandora's Box. Hope is the worst of all evils, according to some opinions on this piece of lore, because it gives the sense of something is going to get done, but it disengages the person doing the hoping from the actions necessary to make a difference. "Looking forward" to a day where we don't have to be bothered by racism is the same as Pandora's hope... a whole lot of doing nothing but filling up the wish-bucket with hopes.
In the next couplet of sentences, the first sentence states, "Racism has no place in (the order), and no place in our world." There's nothing wrong with that, per se. It's good, but doesn't have any substance. To me it reads like a friendly reminder, meant mostly for members of the organization, and not as the words of a religious leader who's looking out for human-kind (maybe that's not part of the job). Saying that there's no place for racism in religion and the greater world is kind of a price-of-admission level statement. I keep hearing Professor Snape turning to Dolores Umbridge after being asked about his unsuccessful application for the Defense Against The Dark Arts position... in his existing office as potions-master...
The next sentence: "Let us continue to live by our virtues..." smacks of keep on keepin' on and nothing to see here. Keep doing what we're doing? I'm not seeing how that's been effective.
Finally, the author offers a prayer, each segment directed to one of the Three Kindred (collectively, the gods, the ancestors and honored dead, and the spirits of the land, seen and unseen).
All in all, the whole thing rings of a feel-good statement, not really saying anything except: Racism is bad... m'kay? We hope it's gone one day. Keep praying.
Perhaps a more effective statement would have been like the one I put together below. It isn't only a reframing of what I'd like to have seen from the mother-church, it's what I'd like to say as a pastor of Mountain Ancestors Grove, ADF:
Our love & prayers go out to all those affected by the Nazi-inspired, white-supremacist horrors in Charlottesville, VA, We express the deepest of condolences to the families of human-rights activist Heather Heyer, and Virginia state troopers H. Jay Cullen & Breke Bates. May their memories always be blessings to you, and may they know peace and comfort in the afterlife.
Racism, anti-Semitism, divisiveness, and hate-mongering exist in many places in the world, but nowhere like in the United States of America. A nation informed and influenced by racial (as well as gender) privileging and subjugation from the beginning, the United States, under the current administration, is facing a crucial time in it's history. It is in this time of darkness that ADF stands with the marginalized, and in the spirit of our Virtues, denounces the murder and acts of hatred committed by the Charlottesville, VA domestic terrorists.
Polytheism offers an inherent appreciation and respect for diversity, complexity, and difference. We will never stand silent as our human-siblings are murdered, run over, beaten, bloodied, held back, pressed down, or silenced. We are committed to practicing Wisdom, connecting with local and national groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center (here's a link to SPLC's community guide to address ways to fight hate together) , Anti-Defamation League, Black Lives Matter, learning from their experience, and employing new solutions to very old problems. We offer sacred Hospitality, pledging to be a place of refuge for the spirit, and an inclusive, safe space for all Children of the Earth. We embrace Courage, promising to stand with our marginalized siblings, and if need be, between them and hate.
As a priest of a polytheistic, relationship-rooted tradition, I'd like to offer this blessing of the Nine Virtues to us all:
May we each be a library of diverse understanding and knowledge when Wisdom is needed.
May we each be a Holy Flame, guiding the lost in the light of Piety, and accepting all offerings.
May we each be the Seer's Tools as we look with Vision into the past for guidance, and toward the future for change.
May we each be a Courageous warrior in our hearts, because heart is the root of Virtue.
May we each be honorable in our word and deed, for Integrity feeds the soul.
May we each be blessed with the strength of heart to Persevere, because in the fight against hate, giving up is not an option.
May we each be as a laden table, rich with Hospitality to share with all, making room for every dish from every culture.
May we each be as the EarthMother, blossoming with Fertility of mind, body, and spirit, creating possibility from nothingness...
and may we each be as a scale, continually seeking balance and Moderation, for extremism kills the spirit.
So say we all.