Sep  2015 01
Say "Yes!" to the AME Bishops this Sunday

This is the boat of passage, the Regina D’Italia.SCENE 1 When my paternal grandparents, Emilio and Emilia, immigrants from Southern Italy in the first decade of the 20th century, moved to Cicero, Illinois, the Bohemian homeowners association asked them to move out while invoking the “N” word (my grandfather, who was a barber, met their epithet with the threat of a barber’s knife, and the incident ended without physical violence).

In U.S. society in those days, Italians were seen as a different “race” from Northern Europeans, and some commentators thought Southern Italians were an inferior race as compared to Northern Italians.

SCENE 2 I grew up in Brookfield, a near-western suburb of Chicago. The Chicago area at the time was either a “city of neighborhoods,” or highly segregated and deeply divided, depending on your point of view.

By sometime in elementary school, we knew the ethnicities of nearly all the surnames in our classrooms. If there were any families with other than European roots, they kept their histories quiet.

At home, we learned where the boundaries were between black and white communities—meaning the streets persons from either side were not welcome to cross, or said differently, we should not expect to be welcomed by the people who lived across the boundary.

So, “stay in your own neighborhood” was the strongly implied and sometimes spoken message. Even in high school, there were very few students of color. I did not know black people on a first-name basis until college.

SCENE 3 My three older children went to racially integrated schools in Joliet, Illinois.

The two younger ones were part of a very small white minority in Dalton and then attended some of the best public schools in the state in racially, ethnically, and economically mixed Oak Park.

My three older children have experienced friends from racial-ethnic groups different from their own nearly all of their lives.

SCENE 4 In 2008, my wife Cheri and I adopted Eliana from Guatemala. Eliana already resembles the majority of children being born in the U.S.

If I should live to see 2044, she will officially be part of the majority of the U.S. population—the majority being non-white/non-Caucasian.

SCENE 5 The mainline Protestant churches of the U.S., or the old mainline as we are sometimes called, are white by large majorities. What will the denominations with which I’ve journeyed—United Methodism and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)—look like in 2044?

SCENE 6 In the 45 years I’ve been attending the adult worship services in local churches, I might be able to count on one hand, with several fingers left over, the number of occasions that the preacher addressed the topic of race.

Oh, there have been many times in college (1973-77), and at Annual Conference (United Methodist) and General Assembly (Disciples) worship sessions that race was addressed. But precious, precious few in the local church.

SCENE 7 This Sunday, Sept. 6, with the fresh memory of the horror of the church murders in Charleston, the bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in a press release wrote:

[W]e will join with many of our faith partners and declare Sunday, September 6th as a “Day of Confession, Repentance, Prayer, and Commitment to end Racism”. We will ask every church, temple, synagogue, mosque and place of worship to focus on race and ask every pastor, Rabbi, Imam, and others to preach on race and be reminded and that out of one blood, God created all of us to dwell together in unity.

SCENE 8 The lay and clergy leadership of congregations actually do on Sept. 6 what the AME bishops have asked.

A great deal has changed regarding race relations since my grandparents immigrated to the U.S. But not enough.

Christian churches ought to be allies in the work yet ahead of us, in religious communities and in society—the work of realizing communities that value and protect human dignity, the work of loving our neighbors as ourselves, and the work of extending our sense of family values to include all families.

 

Browse more posts by: Gary Peluso-Verdend, Phillips President
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