In 2015, we celebrated the 150th Anniversary of Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota. While we celebrated 150 years of progress in how Minnesotans love and care for their neighbors, we had to say that the one area where Minnesota has made little progress is in reducing disparities among our neighbors on the basis of race.
Many of us have seen the data in recent years that, while Minnesota ranks at the top on so many social indicators, we rank at the bottom in closing gaps between white people and people of color.
At LSS, we are kicking off our second 150 years by committing ourselves to using our role in the community to doing our part to move the needle toward racial equity.
We are paying attention to efforts such as the United Black Legislative Agenda, the developing policy agendas of the American Indian community, and others to see how we might use our strong advocacy capacity to support such efforts.
But it has also become clear to us through eight years of Anti-Racism training inside LSS, that the first steps into this commitment are deep listening and working to understand the lives and experiences of people of color and an appreciation of the issues as only they can see them.
The anti-Muslim sentiment we have confronted in Minnesota this past year, the death of Philando Castile in Minnesota, and protests by Black Lives Matter, have served to shed light on racial tensions and disparities which call for better understanding of each other and a move toward constructive action.
We are offering a study on racial equity to congregations called And Who is My Neighbor? as a grace-filled entry into this conversation. This study was authored by Dr. Eric Barreto, professor at Luther Seminary when he started the work, now on the faculty of Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey. Respondents to Eric’s writing are five pastors of color in Minnesota –who don’t always agree with him! This guide also includes a sampler of video aids and experiential exercises on the subject from our own Anti-Racism training. It includes video stories by five people of different racial backgrounds associated with LSS. And it includes an appendix of further reading and next steps for consideration.
A conversation on race in Minnesota in 2016 is not easy – never has been. The subject brings up our deepest held beliefs about who we are and who we should be. It brings up anger, pain, fear, guilt, shame, and even hopelessness. And it is way past time we all pressed into it.
Our hope for the study is that it will cause more Minnesotans to decide to invest energy into reading, learning, listening and understanding why and how racial disparity has come about in our State. We hope more will also decide to become more active in trying to change it.
And Who is My Neighbor? is not the definitive study of race or racial equity. It is not even the first chapter. It is more like a “trailer” that we hope will cause more of our neighbors to want to read, listen, and understand more.
As such, some who have already moved well down the road toward intercultural awareness and activism may desire a discussion of the deeper nuances of how we got here and where to go next. I would encourage people in that category to be a blessing to those just starting out on this journey and to encourage their learning and understanding. I would encourage everyone in this conversation to be gentle and generous with each other.
We will all need to be with each other’s negative feelings, misunderstandings, and naivety on the subject of race - instead of ignoring or glossing over them - if we are to make any progress. Minnesotan’s penchant for being nice is certainly one of the reasons we find ourselves where we are today, not having confronted the issues that divide us from each other.
I earnestly hope that this discussion guide will be helpful to congregations who take on the conversation. I wish you blessings on your journey toward better understanding and loving your neighbor throughout your life.
I pray that we can all ask for forgiveness for all that we have done and all that we have left undone and that, confident in God’s sure and certain forgiveness, we can forgive ourselves and step into a more hopeful, helpful conversation that leads to a Minnesota where our neighbors of color have the same education, jobs, and housing as our white neighbors.
I hope for a state and world that reflects Martin’s dream that all people will be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character as well as Jesus’ intention – “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:10
We will be looking for your feedback and ideas on how else we might be helpful.
Jodi Harpstead, CEO
Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota
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