I am grateful to be part of a denomination that encourages leadership from everyone whom God has called to serve in a particular way – including women, People of Color, and LGBTQA+ human beings. Nevertheless, many of our congregations find comfort in calling the usual candidates: straight white men.
For the umpteenth time, I’m a fan of straight white men, so please do not misunderstand me. We can support straight white men while also opening up opportunities for those millions of people who are not straight white men. And The Church has a responsibility to do this for the sake of the Gospel.
I am finding that many of us want credit for opening up opportunities for women, People of Color, and LGBTQA+ individuals. (And we want triple credit for calling a Brown, Queer woman, for example.) We want points for:
- Inviting an African American woman to speak at our Women’s Retreat (of White Women.)
- Calling a female Associate Pastor.
- Adding two People of Color to our Pastor Nominating Committee in a predominantly White congregation.
- Electing a Lesbian to the School Board.
- Choosing a Gay Asian man for tenure at our predominantly white high school.
- Finding a White Police Officer guilty of murdering a Black man in his own home.
“We did that once, so we’re good.”
Changing a culture is not a one-and-done activity. Changing a culture involves shifting who we picture in our heads when we imagine The Pastor, The School Board Member, The Mayor, The Doctor, The President of the United States.
I thank Dr. O for treating me to lunch last weekend and sharing this book about a true story of justice in Union County, NC in 1920. A wealthy White woman and her sister decided to leave their 800 acre farm to a Black man and his daughter who had worked on the farm and “were like family.” After Miss Maggie died (having outlived her sister) White relatives contested the will.
What White people would leave their money and property to a Black family in the Jim Crow South? Maggie and Sally Ross would. And they did.
To their credit, the Union County jury voted in favor of the Black family who indeed inherited the property. This is a story of unusual justice in the Jim Crow South.
But it doesn’t mean that racism went away. Yes, somebody deserves credit for doing the right thing? Or do they?
Before we congratulate ourselves for hiring the Brown woman or calling the Gay Pastor or electing the former refugee from Somalia, we need to remind ourselves that this is a long time coming. At this moment my own Presbytery has an African America female Moderator, an African American female Vice-Moderator, an African American Moderator of Presbytery Council, an African American Moderator of our Ministry Resources Committee. This makes me feel proud . . . until I remember that for 300 years, the Presbyterians have been led – almost exclusively – by straight White men. We have some catching up to do in terms of including all the people God includes.
Do we get credit for doing the right thing? To a point. But it’s a little embarrassing to pat ourselves on the back for more than a minute for doing what God has always done.
Image of Inherit the Land: Jim Crow Meets Miss Maggie’s Will by Gene Stowe (2006).