RACIAL AND FIRST NATIONS EQUITY
J. McRee (Mac) Elrod 25 June 2006
MY TENUOUS QUALIFICATIONS
I stand before you as Chair of the Canadian Unitarian Council's
(CUC) new Racial and First Nations Equity Monitoring Group. In view of the fact that the mandate of the
group is also to include ethnic and linguistic minorities, my qualifications
for this post are tenuous at best. Any
ethnic background I may have is all pre American Revolution according to my
genealogist mother. The French which got
me laughed at on the streets of
My First Nations contact is three generations ago. Granny told me of her favourite
Uncle having to leave
While I lived in an Asian country and spoke their language, my
experience in coming to
My experience with Black communities is American rather than Canadian - pastoring small Black churches and sitting at lunch counters during the Civil Rights Movement.
The Black experience in the States which I knew is very different
In some areas of the US, there are now other sizable minorities,
e.g., Spanish speakers in California and southern Florida, where there is some
tension, but nothing like the problems found in urban Black ghettos where
family life and the church are not the binding forces they once were.
Desegregation led to the Black middle class fleeing former centres
of Black culture such as
Having a Black daughter did lead to meeting descendants of the
Black settlers on the East coast were much earlier, starting with
freed slaves who fought with the British during the American Revolution, and came
The Black community in the States is much more
culturally homogeneous than in
Most agree that those who most suffer from racism in
According to my Jewish friends who live there, antisemitism
remains strong in
There have been episodes in
There is much to do to make
WHAT IS A MONITORING GROUP?
What is the role of this new monitoring group attempting to, address if not redress, this situation? One of the ways we Canadian Unitarians address social justice issues is by a congregation proposing a Social Responsibility Resolution (SRR) to CUC Annual Conference Meeting (ACM). (To be a Canadian Unitarian, you must be able to speak in acronyms.) A proposed SRR goes through a year or two of study country wide, with input from different congregations, before a draft is presented to an ACM. Once accepted, it becomes the position of the CUC, and forms the basis of public statements, letters to government, and press releases on that topic. These letters and statements are proposed by monitoring groups, usually those who proposed the SRR, and shepherded it through the process of study and acceptance.
SRRs have been accepted on both racial equity and First Nations justice, but both monitoring groups had become inactive through burnout. Since the aims of the two groups are compatible, the two have been merged into one.
WHAT APPROACH MIGHT WE TAKE
The "Welcoming Congregation" program in the States and
Even in the
There is the additional problem of JWT's negative terminology. It seems better to me to articulate what we are *for*, rather than what we are *against*. Those who oppose abortion find "pro-life" a much stronger phrases than "anti-abortion". "Anti-anti-Em" (for anti-racism, anti-oppression, and multiculturalism) which is a buzz phrase in the UUA, seems a weak and frivolous term for something so very serious, and its common usage among U*Us alone reason enough to use different terminology.
"Anti-" terminology reminds me of Unitarians who, when asked what Unitarianism is, respond that "Well, Unitarians don't believe ...". Better to state the principles we value, rather than those doctrines we have left behind. Better to state our social goals, rather than those elements in society we oppose.
WHAT TASKS SHOULD THE NEW MG UNDERTAKE?
Now that the two groups on racial equity and First Nations justice have been combined, and their silence in terms of producing public statements on behalf of the CUC ended, what else should the new Monitoring Group be doing?
Discussion have identified two possible additional areas of activity in addition to public statements:
First, producing material for a workshop to be placed on the CUC website for congregational use in considering their own openness to multiculturalism. We have been given permission to base it on the UUA's "Beyond Categorical Thinking" (BCT), selected because it seems less US centric and doctrinaire than JTW. BCT was designed for search committees to help them look beyond gender, race, sexual orientation, physical ability, and class in selecting a new minister. The search committee who had the excellent outcome of finding Rev. Jane had this workshop.
Categories selected for inclusion in the CUC workshop are race, ethnicity (including language), and First Nations. Excluded are physical ability and class as being outside our mandate, and sexual orientation as being well covered by "Welcoming Congregation".
In making this selection, there was considerable discussion around class. I've noticed no difference in treatment of members among us based on economic well being or job title. But our services do anticipate a certain level of cultural awareness. Those with that awareness are happy among us, regardless of socioeconomic status. I suspect this congregation includes both the wealthy, and some on welfare. One of it's most popular members cleans houses. The fact that he has a charming Scottish accent, and looks good in a kilt, probably adds to his popularity. How we could make our services more acceptable to the less culturally aware, of which he is certainly not one. while keeping our present members, I'm not sure.
Some claim that our classism is at the root of our racism. I find that remark problematic, in that it seems to say we assume minorities are all lower class. There is no shortage of well educated and cultured people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. I suspect it is more cultural dissonance (and the off putting JTW in the States) which keeps our congregations largely white. Most non whites in congregations I have known are from "mixed" marriages (Black/White, Jew/Gentile, Asian/Occidental) who find a greater acceptance of their union among us, than in either of their original faith communities. But as one single Black friend put it, I feel like a Black atom in a white sea in your congregation. We welcome input on this question.
The workshop, now titled "Welcoming/Celebrating Congregational Diversity" is nearing completion. (That name came from this congregation's renaming of its Welcoming Congregation Committee.) We discussed whether congregations should have visiting leaders (as us done with BCT), or have members conduct the workshop, with training at regional and national CUC meetings, as is done with Our Whole LIves (OWL), and was done with "About Your Sexuality" the earlier program OWL replace. We've opted for leadership training rather than visiting firemen. The initial leadership training workshop will be held Thursday May 15th prior to the CUC ACM Vancouver 2007.
Second, some concern has been expressed that our only goal should not be to induce minority members to join us. Ethnic groups may have value for their members we can not hope to replicate. Ways of interacting with other groups is an important area to explore. Perhaps we could draw on the experience of members of this congregation in organizing the First Nations Art Exhibit held in this space, for example
Harold Rosen has given us permission to update his six session "Rainbowmaking" course for this purpose.
Some thought is being given to whether the CUC should offer a credential to congregations completing WCCD and "Rainbowmaking", as is done with "Welcoming Congregations".
The Bible has been used often to defend the indefensible, from slavery and segregation to denying women equality before the law. But the message I draw from from our Jewish and Christian heritages is quite different.
There are stories, from each of those two heritages, which speak directly to the question of ethnicity.
We are told that Moses' sister Mirriam made fun of Moses' wife because she was Black. In punishment, she was turned white, and was expelled from the tribe; which leads one to wonder what colour she was to begin with.
We are told that when Jewish men after their return from exile were commanded to put away their foreign wives, they were reminded of the story of Ruth, the grandmother of David their greatest king. When after the death of her husband, her mother-on-law Naomi suggested she return to her own home. Ruth the foreigner's declaration of love and loyalty to her mother-in-law is one of the most beautiful passages in all of Scripture ... "where you go, I will go ..."
We are told that the first baptized Gentile Christian was an
Ethiopian eunuch; the modern day equivalent would be a gay Black. I once had the pleasure of walking by a
painting of that event in the
From Exodus telling us that we know the heart of a stranger because
we were strangers in
A more recent story tells of a diplomat, dressed in a frock coat and striped trousers, in an elevator with a South Asian lady wearing a sari. "Your ethnic dress is lovely" said the diplomat". "Thank you", said the lady, "so is yours". We are as much an ethnic group as any other. We just happen to be the majority ethnic group in this time and place.
Your input is very much wanted. What might we do to be more inclusive? How might we relate to other ethnic groups in our society without appearing as smug and patronizing as that diplomat? How might we influence the public policy of this new Conservative government?
And now may the flame of our chalice help to warm our hearts, and make us truly welcoming to the stranger among us.