Hapas, Hybridity, and Harmony: Raising Non-White Kids in a White Congregation

I picked up this article off of Racialicious. Color-blindness used to be the “goal,” until people realized that it wasn’t really doing the work. If people were “color-blind” to me it usually meant they saw me as “white,” or disregarded my tie to the Korean culture. This wasn’t helpful in terms of real connections with people.

Dr. Brandesha Tynes researched the problematic ways “white students and those who rated highly in color-blind racial attitudes were more likely not to be offended by images from racially-themed parties where attendees dressed and acted as caricatures of racial stereotypes.” It’s interesting how much I encounter an expression of this kind of perspective here – that 1) color-blindness is necessarily good, 2) racism is not present anymore, or 3) because-I-attend-a-diverse-school/work/whatever-then-I-am-not-racist-or-have-certain-stereotypes-that-still-drive-my-assumptions.

Though the research utilized a small slice of the student population, it is still incredibly telling. What she discovered confirmed some of my own experiences as well as what I’ve heard from others:

“If you subscribe to a color-blind racial ideology, you don’t think that race or racism exists, or that it should exist,” Tynes said. “You are more likely to think that people who talk about race and racism are the ones who perpetuate it. You think that racial problems are just isolated incidents and that people need to get over it and move on. You’re also not very likely to support affirmative action, and probably have a lower multi-cultural competence.”

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“Prayer is powerful, as is love.”

Rev Danielle The Rev. Danielle Rogers, a young clergy woman, serves St. Paul Community A.M.E. Church in Bozeman, Montana as the associate pastor. But there's a couple of twists. First: her life and ministry in this town have been filled with work against hatred and racism. Second: her senior pastor, the Rev. Denise Rogers, also happens to be her mother.

We hear from this amazing mother-daughter duo in an interview about life, following God's call, and what it's like to be on the front lines against hate.

Right: Rev. Danielle Rogers giving communion after her ordination in 2006

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Sermon on Hate Crimes

This morning, I want to start by having you imagine, for a moment,
the situations in life in which you are supposed to feel the most safe.
Like being in your own home, you should feel safe.
Walking down the streets in your own neighborhood, you should feel safe.
Going to school, sending your kids to school, should feel safe.

Now, imagine what it would be like if none of those places felt safe.
Imagine if, every night you fell asleep in your home,
you faced the possibility that someone might bomb your house
and hurt your family.
Imagine if, every time your child or grandchild went to school,
you had to worry about them coming home with a bloodied face
or maybe never coming home at all.
Imagine if—every time you stepped out of your house—
you knew there was a real chance
that you could be violently attacked by random strangers.
Those are the kinds of fears we might imagine would exist
in a third world country or a war zone.
Those are the kinds of fears that prevent a society from functioning—
they keep people from wanting to speak their opinions
or cooperate with their neighbors
or participate in their government.
Those are the kinds of fears that make us desperate
to bring stability and safety to places like Iraq and Afghanistan.
Without some confidence that people will not be randomly attacked
in their own home or neighborhood or school,
society cannot function.
And that is the reason we have stiffer punishments for hate crimes.

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Guess What She Does

A parishioner invited me along with some other members of the church to attend a meeting for Christian women in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. We were looking forward to a couple of hours together, including lunch, a guest speaker, a bag-pipe performance and fellowship with other Christian women in our region. One of the leaders of the hosting organization came to our table to introduce herself and to welcome us as guests. Her attention rested with me, as I was, among a gathering of 75 or so Christian women, the youngest and the most… Asian. She asked me for my name, and asked me what I did for a living. One of my church folk, as a way to be friendly, invited the lady to guess. She peered at me, and replied rather confidently, “Are you a masseuse?” 

I was taken aback. It took a prolonged moment for me to recover from the weight and implications of her seemingly innocent response.

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All the Single Lady Preachers

My intention was to write about race and racism. I am an African American pastor in a predominately white denomination. I serve a multi-racial, actively anti-racist congregation. This is after all an issue dedicated to diversity. I wanted to lament about my denomination, which sometimes opts for tokenism over true diversity. I wanted to talk about how hard it is to get ordained as a black woman even in progressive denominations. And I probably should have written about the general turmoil I’ve faced as a young black radical pastor in a self-professing progressive as it struggles to maintain spaces of true racial diversity.

And one day I will write about those things in more depth and detail. But today, there is something weighing even heavier on my heart. I’m single.  I somehow entered into this career without a spouse or partner. I dared to be a clergywoman in her 30’s, whose ordination was not preceded or followed by a wedding, or children.

As an unmarried Protestant pastor, I was not aware of how much of an anomaly I was. The image of the preacher and his wife is still the dominant one (and I use the phrase “his wife” deliberately).  Even in the context of the most post-modern and progressive church, the image of the preacher and his/her family still remains strong. The clergy families may consist of two mommies or two daddies or a mommy and a daddy who have thought progressively about marriage. But that structure remains unchanged.

I remember talking to my pastor at the beginning of my first attempt at the ordination process. And he said I was going to struggle as a “single black female.” And beyond the fact that it sounded like a funny movie title, I didn’t take his words very seriously. For me this was a personal issue with no real relevance in my vocational life.

But a year into the pastorate, I’m beginning to see the fullness of his words. 

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A Ministry of Authenticity

As a child, I wanted to be everything. I often told my family and friends that I would grow up and become an opera singer, doctor, lawyer, florist and hairdresser. Yep, all at once. My family wholeheartedly endorsed my decision to be an attorney and some even suggested that I become a news anchor. However, at the age of 14, everything changed. After attending a few Christian summer camps and openly professing my faith in high school, I felt a strong calling to enter ministry. In my heart and soul, I knew what this “calling” felt like, but I did not have the vocabulary to articulate it. So I did what most teenagers do: I stuck with the original “family plan” and prepared myself to go to college. I majored in pre-med.

As you might have already guessed, I took the scenic route to seminary. I changed my major three times, interned at an investment firm, wrote grants for an environmental organization and took the LSAT, all before entering seminary. Like most other people, (remember Jonah?) I just could not seem to avoid God. It was not so much that I wanted to skip out on God’s call – I just did not know how to live out the call. As an African-American, Baptist woman from Southern Mississippi I had limited examples of what ministry for a woman actually looked like. I had no clue what would become of me with my Master’s of Divinity degree. However, I knew deep down inside that I was equipped, called and indeed enough.

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Interpreting The Help or How to avoid being racist in the way we’re being not-racist

Editor's Note: This installment of The Jesus Review marks the first in our month-long, publication-wide focus on diversity.  Its subject, the bestselling debut novel from Kathryn Stockett, has been a book group staple for over a year.  The Help tells a story of Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s, but its subject matter, and its immense popularity, is well worth exploring from a young clergywoman perspective (so you'll know what to say when a friend or congregant foists it on you!)

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