Are Robert’s Rules of Order Racist?

Actually, is everything racist? In a word: yes.

This happens to be a weekend of conversations, trainings, and reflections on dismantling White Supremacy (Wait. You don’t have those?) Kidding/not kidding. This weekend is the virtual 22nd White Privilege Conference.

[Note: This is not a diversity training event or even anti-racism training. The WPC is more about changing the culture.]

My colleague JC (not Jesus Christ in this particular reference) mentioned to me that the congregation he serves is going full bore ahead on assessing the inherently racist practices of their congregation. And then he mentioned Robert’s Rules of Order.

Are Robert’s Rules of Order inherently racist? Is it possible that this Mainstay Of Order, this Ultimate Authority of Parliamentary Procedure, this Revered Guide to All Things Decent might in fact perpetuate White Supremacy in our culture?

Umm – yes?

A little background:

There was a Robert and his full name was Henry Martyn Robert. He was born in South Carolina in 1837 but his family relocated to Ohio because his Baptist preacher father was so deeply against slavery. In fact, his father became the first president of Morehouse College, the famous HBCU which is also the largest all-men’s liberal arts college in the United States.

(So far, nobody sounds racist in the white Roberts family.)

Henry Martyn Robert was an army officer and being orderly was his favorite. He published his Rules in 1876 just 11 years after the end of the U.S. Civil War. According to this wonderful source, Mr. Robert was a 25 year old Army engineer stationed in New Bedford, MA when he was asked to moderate a meeting in the Baptist Church he was attending.

Meetings can be lively, heated, even rancorous affairs,
and church meetings,
as anyone who has attended them can attest, are no exception. Source

Amen.

The experience of moderating the Baptist meeting made Mr. Robert offer this comment: “One can scarcely have had much experience in deliberative meetings of Christians without realizing that the best of men, having wills of their own, are liable to attempt to carry out their own views without paying sufficient respect to the rights of their opponents.”

Amen again.

He wrote his Rules in San Francisco while stationed there and to no one’s surprise, church meetings could be testy in San Francisco too. And so were work meetings. And so were secular community meetings. Mr. Robert wrote a guidebook hoping “to enable assemblies of any size, with due regard for every member’s opinion, to arrive at the general will on the maximum number of questions of varying complexity in a minimum amount of time and under all kinds of internal climate ranging from total harmony to hardened or impassioned division of opinion.

And here’s where White Supremacy seeped into the mix:

  • Formerly Enslaved Blacks and Free Blacks had not been allowed into White Spaces in the late 19th Century, and in the 20th and even the 21st Centuries, People of Color have not been welcome in White Spaces . . . like business and other meetings. Therefore Robert’s Rules have traditionally been the realm of White People, generally speaking.
  • Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (i.e. not the dominant culture) have been historically stifled, undervalued, and invalidated by the system which keeps those in the dominant culture unchallenged. Therefore BIPOC people might be invited to participate in a gathering, but their contributions are not taken as seriously.
  • When the system/culture has taught BIPOC to stay quiet and humble (You are so lucky White People have included you) and there is a single person with the power to decide who gets to speak and for how long and how often, it’s possible that some voices will be less likely to speak – unless the Moderator of the meeting is skilled at including everyone.
  • Plus there is a long list of other characteristics of White Supremacy Culture that keep this culture dominant. Read Tema Okun’s list here.

We give thanks to the Lord for people like Henry Martyn Robert for his attempt at reigning in chaos. And at the same time, as Nelba Márquez-Greene is credited with saying first, “White Supremacy is not the elephant in the room. It’s the room.”

Yes, Robert’s Rules contributes to our racist culture. Almost everything contributes to our racist culture because White Supremacy is the air we breathe, the ground we stand upon, and the burden we carry. And so we try to understand it and dismantle it, not in order to create chaos, but to establish what God has ordered: that all human beings are created in the image of The Divine. I’m thankful to congregations like my colleague’s willing to grapple with this because it’s holy work.

[What’s not holy work: arguing about chancel flower arrangements, sabotaging the Pastor’s authority, bullying parishioners, taking money from mission to fix the air conditioning, telling neighborhood children they aren’t allowed on the church playground, making new people feel left out in meetings, assuming everybody knows church language, loving the church cemetery more than Jesus, believing you own the church building because you are a third generation member . . . . . . . .]

Have a good weekend, friends.

Beyond the “To Do” List

I’m a list maker. A good day is when I get ten things done by noon. Boom. Boom. Boom. A couple of zoom calls. Some emails. Phone call check-ins. A load of laundry or two. There’s a deep sense of accomplishment when I conquer The List.

Jesus didn’t die for my lists though. Jesus died for people and our relationships with each other.

And relationships take time. No boom, boom, boom.

I’m on the planning team for a secular national conference in 2022 and on the design team for my denomination’s next General Assembly and I offered (a very weak) opening drive at the Pastor’s Masters Golf Tournament on Easter Monday. And I serve 93 congregations in North Carolina as their General Presbyter. Every one of these roles is about relationships.

Yes, there are lists of duties to check off as we plan for conferences and assemblies. But our work is mostly about relationships.

Dr. Eddie Moore, the Executive Director of the The Privilege Institute sent out an email yesterday to those of us planning the 2022 White Privilege Conference in Charlotte reminding us that:

If we’re not working on relationships, we’re not organizing/planning the WPC/WPS.“*

Relationship building is not a marketing strategy. It’s about human and divine bonding.

When we enter our local diner, we could just order coffee, pay the bill, and leave with our delicious beverage. Or we could remember the server’s name and address them by name next time. We could notice them and connect with them if the opportunity arises. I’m a Myers-Briggs Introvert and still I need to do this. It builds community in my neighborhood.

If we don’t know the names of people in our local community – the person who delivers our mail or the one behind the cash register at the grocery store – why not? Do we notice the people sitting alone? Do we notice the dog walkers? The bikers? The homeless guy on the bench?

I’m not saying we should walk up to strangers and invite them to become our new best friends. I’m talking about paying attention to people. Notice their faces, their book, their t-shirt. I was in one of my local coffee spots yesterday and there was a new person behind the counter where I placed my order. “Hot mocha.” And the manager who was also behind the counter said, “She likes it extra hot.” He had remembered. Made my day.

We in the Church mess up a lot. We try to help where no help is needed and we fail to help when suffering is obvious. It’s easier to talk incessantly about strategies and schedules than talking about our own brokenness or the brokenness of our community.

Jesus died to bring resurrection to each of us. And when we get that, we want to share that possibility with others. But we have to work on relationships first. And it takes time. But it’s so worth it in terms of changing the world for good. We can’t really follow our calling if we don’t want to know the people we are called to serve alongside. Have a warm and meaningful Wednesday.

Image is of LaChrista at one of my favorite coffee places. She goes by LC.

*WPC/WPS are The White Privilege Conference and the White Privilege Symposium. Check them out here.

What Good Have We Witnessed?

We are inundated with examples of witnesses who have seen terrible things with their own eyes.

There are the bystanders – including at least two children – who witnessed the death of George Floyd according to their sworn testimony last week. There are witnesses throughout the world who have witnessed war crimes and unspeakable human misery.

Many of us saw the film footage of a 65 year old Filipino woman being knocked down and kicked in NYC in front of at least three live witnesses who did nothing to help her.

Individually, we have witnessed the death of loved ones, the heartbreak of broken relationships and the disappointment of broken dreams. And . . . we have witnessed so many beautiful things too. Miraculous things.

I remember the words of the apostle Paul from Sunday’s Easter worship in describing the resurrection appearances of Jesus:

“Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” 1 Corinthinans 15:8

So what beautiful life-changing things have your witnessed?

I remember when Rob Bell (during his Mars Hill Church years) was interviewed on a random Sunday while being interviewed by a secular reporter. The journalist was trying to understand why so many people would gather in a former shopping mall to worship God in the 21st Century. Why would anyone do that? And Bell said something like this, looking from behind the curtain with the journalist before worship: I don’t know why they are here except that couple over there lost a child a few months ago, and yet can still put their shoes on in the morning. And there’s a woman who endured abuse all her life sitting over there and she finds purpose and joy in working with neglected children now. And that person over there is trying to recover from a life of addiction.

In a world filled with the traumatic experiences we have witnessed, who will speak up about the miracles? If we don’t believe we have witnessed miracles, we are not paying attention.

Maybe it takes some concentration. We are so used to the world’s tragedies that we forget that there are glorious moments of healing and grace in our midst.

There are the parents who celebrated the 15th birthday of their daughter last weekend although she is forever six after dying during a school shooting. Somehow, they inspire other human beings to rise up. How is that possible? And yet this is something I witnessed on Easter morning.

There is the person thoroughly betrayed by her partner during a particularly vulnerable time in her life and somehow has the strength to offer life-saving community to people who have no hope.

There’s the child who is somehow a miraculous prophet while enduring treatment for cancer while bringing her estranged family together.

There’s the person who has absorbed systemic racism all their life and somehow has the strength to offer grace to ignorant people (like me.)

What beauty have you witnessed? What healing have you observed? We have a responsibility in the name of Jesus to tell others what we’ve seen and heard, not in a way that shames the sorrowful or minimizes someone’s pain. But there is hope and maybe we can offer some.

When has God appeared to you? I’ve seen God in so many parts of life. I know you have too. Let’s share that Good News.

Hanging from a Cross

‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ Matthew 5:10

Obviously and gratefully, I have no idea what it feels like to literally hang from a cross.

There have been times I’ve felt betrayed, broken, and gaslit (even by the Church) and there have been excruciating times when I’ve felt alone with the exception of Jesus. Those days are an important part of my call story.

And there is so much betrayal, brokenness, and gaslighting going on in the world, that Good Friday feels upspeakably holy this year and every year. We have a God who knows what it’s like to feel betrayed, broken, and gaslit. This God is not like any other god.

I mentioned my appreciation for the movie Promising Young Woman last week and I was struck by the depth of the betrayal Emerald Fennell was able to create on film. It’s the feeling that Nina Fisher must have felt when she was sexually assaulted and no one believed her, except for her friend Cassie. And Cassie felt that betrayal as if it had happened to her.

Cassie becomes an avenging angel, in the words of Fennell. In fact, the Biblical imagery is intentional. Cassie is often filmed as if she’s hanging on a cross. Sometimes it appears that there’s a halo above her head or angel wings are at her sides. (You have to watch the movie more than once to catch these little – forgive me – Easter eggs.) Cassie continues to be kind even in her misery. Until she’s not. She makes a sacrifice and yet the end is not the end.

Sort of like the Jesus story.

What I’m not saying is that Cassie is Jesus. What I am saying is that each of us has the ability to live our lives supporting the unsupported and trying to live with integrity. What I’m saying is that there are privileged people among us who have gone through life unconcerned with the fact that the other people around them are human beings, not disposable things. At this moment there are people in places of power who have done heinous things without repercussion. They have the power to make their problems go away, to make the troublemakers go away.

The powerful of First Century Palestine wanted Jesus to go away because he knew the truth about them. Even if they were the respectable temple leaders, he knew what was actually in their hearts.

As Emerald Fennell has said in interviews, “there is no position more powerful and vulnerable” than hanging from a cross which is why the opening scene of her movie shows Carrie in such a position. The vulnerability comes from being on full display for the world to see your weaknesses. And yet great power comes from revealing such vulnerability.

If you don’t believe me, look at Jesus.

For those all over the world who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake today, we pray to the LORD.

Image from the opening scene of Promising Young Woman starring Carrie Mulligan as Cassie.

Love Has a Spine

Do yourselves a favor and read Beth Moore’s analysis of The Cleansing of the Temple by Jesus.

Is it fair to say that Jesus, the sinless Son of God, acted in anger in this scene? Somehow I can’t picture him braiding up a whip and flipping over furniture because he was mildly annoyed. What sets divine anger—and even ultimately divine wrath—apart from human anger is that it cannot be extracted from his love. God cannot set it aside His love because it is not only what he does. It is who He is. It is his very essence. We’re simply too quick to forget that love has a spine.  

This might be the most important lesson of Holy Week: Love has a spine. Too often in the 21st Century Church, the followers of Jesus have no spine:

  • We know that we should be standing up to bullies (especially church bullies) but we fear the bullies will turn on us.
  • We know that we are called to stand with the poor, but it’s easier to sit in our own comfort and look away.
  • We know that it’s right to stand beside our siblings whose very existence is threatened, but we were taught to avoid conflict.

Where is our backbone, Church? Clearly Jesus became angry witnessing the poor being cheated and the disenfranchised being abandoned. Jesus wasn’t always “nice” or accommodating like many of us try to be.

But Jesus didn’t cleanse the temple to spark mayhem. It was about love. Love. Has. A. Spine.

Why don’t we?

For the sake of the Gospel, we need to find our spines and stand up, stand with, and stand beside the people Jesus died for. Because of love.

This Could Be the Day

This could be the Day God moves us to change the world.

Meet Darnella Frazier. When she was 17 years old, she was taking her 8 year old cousin down the street to buy snacks. But before they reached the store, she found herself witnessing what many of us consider to be a murder. She took out her phone and recorded the killing of George Floyd. And her video changed the world.

I once taught a class for adults called “The Meaning of Life” and one of the most memorable conversations was called “The Most Important Thing I Did Today.” This was a class made up of attorneys and doctors and Important Government People and their answers included things like “reading a bedtime story to my child” and “finishing a grant for painting classes for local school kids.” Most of us change the world by working towards small victories that bring joy to a tiny community of human beings.

Today it’s quite possible that an opportunity will arise when God will call us to do something simple yet life-changing. We have the opportunity to uplift a person who’s feeling low. We have the chance to redeem a situation which feels like a failure. It’s the moment when we can either ignore a person in need or step up to remind that person that they matter. It’s the moment when a person feeling hopeless finds hope because we have noticed them.

This is why we were born. God has created us to be like Jesus: healing the sick, befriending the outcast, loving the unlovable. Being like Jesus = showing what the love of God looks like.

It looks like Jesus. This is The Big Thing we are called to remember this week. We are called to express love. It might change the world.

Image source. Pray that the witnesses of the Chauvin trial would find peace.

A Trial Starts Today

One of the most famous trials in human history is remembered this week . . . and it’s not about OJ or Manson. It was the trial of an innocent person who spoke the Truth and it got him executed. It was a quick and ridiculous trial involving a jury of sorts – the Sanhedrin – and judge who was mightily influenced by the popular crowd in his sentencing.

The overwhelming focus this week will skip ahead to Easter brunch and an egg hunt. But please remember there was a trial and it was a joke.

There is another trial that begins today in Minneapolis with opening statements against a former police officer named Derek Chauvin. Please do not call this the George Floyd Trial. Mr. Floyd was the victim whose death in front of millions was clearly unjust whether he paid for cigarettes with a fake $20 or not, whether he was drunk or not.  It’s one of countless examples of justice gone wrong.

There is enormous opportunity in this trial.  There is an opportunity for justice.  There is an opportunity for reflection especially by White People.  There is an opportunity for remembering that when all the White People posted solid black boxes on our social media profile pictures and then took them down and never mentioned George Floyd’s name again, it might be an excellent time to revisit racial injustice in this country.  If we were shocked by the death of George Floyd and never thought about it again after most of the Black Lives Matter marches ended, this is a good time to pray for a just trial.

We have all seen our share of unjust trials.  The trial of Jesus was a joke and yet God redeemed it three days later.  We pray that the trial of Derek Chauvin would not be a joke.  

Please pray for the jurors, the attorneys, the judge, the Floyd family, and Mr. Chauvin this week.  We also pray for redemption knowing that the God of the vulnerable expects us to be like Jesus.

Image is the magnificent cover of the June 22, 2020 New Yorker by Kadir Nelson.

Is Collaboration Female?

Some of us read Carol Gilligan’s In a Different Voice in seminary which notes the differences in how men and women make decisions. Generally- speaking. women make decisions according to their relationships and men make decisions according to what’s right and wrong. [Note: gender studies have evolved since Gilligan wrote this book in 1982 but that’s for another post.]

I remember when, as a parish pastor, our elders approved to have an organization place a huge metal bin in a corner of the church parking lot to collect used clothing.  On the day the bin was delivered, it was accidently placed in a corner of the church parking lot across the street.  The Methodists had our bin!

Whatever.  Both churches were served by female pastors and we agreed that it was just fine to keep the bin over there and it was just as convenient for people to donate clothing in “their” parking lot as in “ours.”

Conflict ensued.  Some of our elders were concerned that “we wouldn’t get credit” for this mission project and when it was pointed out that the purpose of the bin was to serve those who might need the clothing rather than to score points in some heavenly tally, the conflict was settled.  But the feelings remained the same.

To put it simplistically, the women were quick to collaborate and the men wanted to keep score.  [Again: these are stereotypes.  Please don’t troll me.]

The future of the Church is collaboration in mission: with private business, with school systems, with local police departments, with other congregations.  If the point is to make a positive impact in service to our neighbors, then who cares whose idea it was or whose name is on it?  Unless we are keeping score.

If Jesus kept score, we would all be doomed.  

Some say that “the future is feminine.”  I don’t know about that, but I do know that the days of white straight male privilege are slowly (very slowly) fading away.  Weekend assignment: watch the movie A Promising Young Woman by Emerald Fennell.*  To be discussed next week.

Image of (L to R) Actor Carey Mulligan, writer/director Emerald Fennell and actor Laverne Cox on the set of Promising Young Woman.

*Viewer Warning: it might trigger those who’ve been assaulted.

Meddling from the Pulpit

I included this question in yesterday’s post about the shootings at the three Asian American spas:

And why is it okay for someone to register for and buy a gun on the same day in Georgia but it’s not okay to register and vote on the same day in Georgia? 

Maybe I’m naive, but I don’t see that question as controversial.  It’s a real question.  I would love to hear from someone – especially from a person of faith – an answer to that question that makes sense.

People of faith can disagree and it’s an ongoing topic of conversation among preachers about how we – as students of Scripture charged with proclaiming The Truth – can express what we believe God is saying to us even if we know there are hearers who will – at best – disagree and – at worst – accuse of of meddling/preaching politics.

[Note: Jesus was crucified for political reasons.  Just something to keep in mind as we move into Holy Week.]

As a preacher, I have not cornered the market on God’s Truth.  And yet I can say for sure that God doesn’t want us to :

  • Perform child sacrifice.
  • Burn down our neighbor’s house.
  • Enslave people.

Those beliefs do not seem political unless we go deeper.

  • Are we sacrificing our children by not tightening gun legislation? (Check out this new book Children Under Fire by Washington Post reporter John Woodrow Cox.)  Are we sacrificing our children by permitting abortion?  By aborting fetuses with Down Syndrome? 
  • Are we figuratively burning down the houses of our neighbors when our troops accidently or strategically target civilian villages?  Are we sacrificing safe neighborhoods for fossil fuel expansion?
  • Are we allowing financial institutions to hold students hostage with crushing debt?  Are we participating in unfair labor practices that keep the poor impoverished?

See what I mean?  It doesn’t take much to move into “meddling.”

I believe we are called to speak the truth in love and it’s also true that people will not love us back.  In healthy congregations, people can agree to disagree.  In healthy congregations, people of deep faith can say to each other, “You could be right, but I’m not there yet.”  

In unhealthy congregations, preachers get bullied and gas-lit and assaulted in ways unbecoming of a follower of Jesus.  And sometimes preachers speak in a way that people can’t hear them.

Stories help.  But sometimes people with whom we disagree don’t believe our stories.

How do we preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ when the Gospel makes God’s people uncomfortable?  We love them or at least we try to love them.  And we remember that we follow One who loved God’s people even from the cross.

Image from St. David’s United Reformed Church in Eastham, U.K.

 

The Women in the Spa Where I Get Pedicures

I know quite a few Asian women as clergy colleagues.  They are without exception among the most brilliant leaders in our denomination.  Most of them are Korean American.

There are two young Asian women in my family whose life stories seem similar to mine, but they aren’t.  One is Pakistani American and one is Indian American.

My financial planner is an Asian woman whose wisdom I treasure. She is Filipino American.

[Note: There are 48 countries in Asia.  Each country has multiple cultures and differences.  To identify someone as Asian doesn’t begin to describe their heritage.]

And then there are the women over at the nail place where I get a pedicure. They are primarily Vietnamese Americans. Their name tags say “Angela” or “Jasmine” but I suspect their real names are something like Hyunh or Khanh.  They speak very little English but they know my name when I visit about once a month.  

The photo above was part of a project by Chris Buck for O Magazine in May 2017.  The photo essay – “Let’s Talk About Race” – included women in stereotypical situations according to their race. And then he flipped the stereotype, as you can see in the photo above.

It’s intended to jolt us into reconsidering how we see each other.

I’ve tried to keep quiet and listen after the shootings in Atlanta last week. Nobody needs to hear from another straight white woman about this and yet I wish to condemn this insane hatefulness.

The people killed that day were:

  • Soon Chung Park, age 74
  • Hyun Jung Grant, age 51
  • Suncha Kim, age 69
  • Yong Yue, age 63
  • Delaina Ashley Yaun, age 33
  • Paul Andre Michels, age 54
  • Xiaojie Tan, age 49
  • Daoyou Feng, age 44

Six of them were Asian American women who worked in the spas, and I suspect that if I had walked in for a pedicure, I would have barely noticed their faces much less their names.  I admit that I had no idea that women of Asian American Pacific Islander heritage have been as verbally and physically assaulted as I’ve read about since March 16. 

This tragedy requires intersectional analysis.  This tragedy requires saying out loud that the lives of these women who worked in the spas – with those who were killed alongside them – were children of God created in God’s image.  

I condemn these murders.  And yet I need to do more than write in a blog that such violence and hatred is horrible.

We need to speak up when stereotypes are accepted as truths.  We need to stand up when anyone is treated as if they are less.

And why is it okay for someone to register for and buy a gun on the same day in Georgia but it’s not okay to register and vote on the same day in Georgia? 

Our hearts break for these families and it means nothing if we don’t address the deeper issues.

Image source.