11/29/2008

The Unintended Consequences of Unexamined Racism: Canon Edward Rodman on the Litany offered for rather than by.

The Rev. Canon Edward Rodman, Professor at the Episcopal Divinity School has published an open letter regarding 2006 General Convention Resolution A123, which had to do with a day of repentance concerning slavery and the church's benefits from the same.

The letter stands on its own, but suffice to say it is a difficult letter to receive because it reminds us that prayers offered for others sometimes (perhaps often) betray the prejudices and position of those praying more than the true voice lifted by those who seek justice, or mercy or some other benefit of God's grace. More, it is a reminder that the work to end racism is not over. Here is Canon Rodman's letter. It is an important read.



An Open Letter to Various Leaders in The Episcopal Church on the Evolving Implementation of the 2006 General Convention Resolution A123


It is with some trepidation that I feel called to write this open letter at this time. I would ask you to indulge me by taking the time to read it in its entirety so that any things that you may have heard or assumed about my various public statements on this issue can be viewed in their full context. This letter is intended to affirm, educate, chastise, and invite us to a deeper dialogue toward the beloved community. Before I begin I should make certain biographical comments, for those who do not know who I am, so that you can appreciate that this comes from a working knowledge of much that has brought us to this point on this issue.

I am a sixty-six year old Black Episcopal priest, who has served his Church as faithfully as I have been able since my ordination in 1967, prior to that I was a history and political science major at Hampton Institute in Virginia, and one of the founders of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. Hence I can claim a forty-eight year history as an advocate for social justice and an unyielding opponent of all forms of oppression. During my career I have had the pleasure of helping to found the Union of Black Episcopalians (originally UBCL), the Episcopal Urban Caucus, the Consultation and enabled the first three iterations of the National Church Anti-Racism Program. Much of this was made possible by the good graces of the several bishops of the Diocese of Massachusetts (Anson Stokes, John Burgess, Ben Arnold, John B. Coburn, David Johnson, Barbara Harris, David Birney. and M. Thomas Shaw) who permitted me to exercise my ministry as Canon Missioner in these arenas for the national Church on an unpaid seconded basis except for the years 2000 to 2003 when I was a paid consultant to the Anti-Racism Committee. They also encouraged me to provide the leadership on behalf of the Diocese of Massachusetts on many local struggles including prison abolition, the Boston School Desegregation Crisis and other struggles for justice too numerous to mention here. I am currently a professor at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts where I work in the area of Pastoral Theology, Urban Ministry and Anti-Oppression Studies. I say these things not in pride but in order to establish a foundation of credibility and commitment that I have been blessed to have been able to maintain over these many years.

Having said this, I wish to be very clear that I affirm, support and commend the current leadership of the Presiding Bishop and her staff, as well as that of her predecessors in their willingness to stand tall on this issue and commit their time and the programmatic resources of the Church to see that we remain faithful to the task of combating the sin of racism. In whatever follows, I hope that this ringing affirmation is crystal clear and informs the rest of this letter as a teaching tool and an invitation to deeper dialogue. I should note here that since my election to Executive Council in 2003 by the General Convention, I have felt a strong obligation to be faithful to those who voted for me in the full knowledge of my strong sense of commitment and willingness to speak truth to power. One by-product of that election was to resign as the paid consultant to the Anti-Racism Committee, so that there could be no conflict of interest and equally important, exercise an oversight function on this an other social justice programs that are too often under threat, misunderstood or ignored by too many in the Church. And, it is in this capacity as an elected Executive Council member that I write today, in the full confidence that I speak for many on these matters. What now follows is the education which I promised at the outset.

Many of you may be surprised to know that this is the third such letter that I have written to the leadership of the Church over the last fifteen years. The first was in 1993, when as the convener of the Black Leaders and Diocesan Executives Think Tank (BLADE) in support of the Office of Black Ministries, calling into question the serial termination of nearly all the Black male executives on the staff of the national Church in less than a year. It precipitated a frank meeting, with then Presiding Bishop Browning, in which I attempted to educate him on the appearance of institutional racism that these terminations exhibited on their face. While I was unable to convince him of this fact at the time, subsequent events enabled him to respond more positively to my second open letter in 1995 on the subject of "A Lost Opportunity,"which can be found in the Episcopal Urban Caucus publication, To Heal the Sin-Sick Soul. The presiding officer's prompt response to that letter led to the creation of the Anti-Racism Training Program which was a necessary programmatic response to the House of Bishops Pastoral Letter on the Sin of Racism and the several General Convention resolutions which had committed the Church to a three triennial year cycle focused on this issue. This was extended at the General Convention in 2000 and the formal committee on Anti-Racism was established with an appropriate staff person being hired to oversee the effort. In the previous three years it had been done on an ad hoc basis with a $100,000 contribution from the Diocese of Massachusetts, and my seconded time. There is a long story which I will not bore you with in this letter of institutional resistance and personality clashes which would make a wonderful novel but are beside the point of the primary objective of the training. Sadly because of the controversies over mandatory versus voluntary participation in training, in regard to who should take the training and how it was to be administered, (there was no such conflict when I did the training for the Presbyterian Church), obscured the fact that the objective was to bring about change on all four levels of our corporate life, i.e. individual, interpersonal, institutional, and cultural. It was to that end that Resolutions A 123 and A 127 were brought forward to the General Convention in 2006 and whose implementation is in no small measure an objective test of the effectiveness of the training and other actions to bring about an authentically welcoming and anti-racist institution. The jury remains out on this latter question, but, the circumstances surrounding the first public effort to implement a key portion of Resolution A 123 is instructive while A 127 remains unattended.

And, now I will give the chastisement. It is not my purpose to cast aspersions or to make accusations, what I do know is that the resolution clearly called, in part, for a public apology by the national Church at the National Cathedral for its complicity in, and the benefits derived from slavery in the United States of America. This did not happen, and there is yet to have been rendered a satisfactory explanation for the change in venue. Many have urged the presiding officers, in light of this fact, to consider some major event at the General Convention in which a better expression of the intent of the resolution could be made manifest and the several dioceses who have attempted to do the historical research as requested by the resolution in other sections might have a national platform to educate the church on their findings. This may in turn inspire others to do likewise and still others in the spirit of this resolution and A 127 to examine the Church's less than glorious relationship with Native Americans, Hispanics, and Asians. Let us hope that this will occur. What did happen was a two day event at the historic St. Thomas African Episcopal Church in Philadelphia on the 3rd and 4th of October 2008. Many of us had great difficulty with this decision inasmuch as it created the curious dynamic of those seeking to apologize to those who had been aggrieved inviting themselves to the house of those who had been offended. This and other "curiosities" were more than amply addressed by the Reverend Doctor Harold Lewis and the Honorable Byron Rushing in their remarkable presentations on the first day. It is their talks which need to be widely circulated in the Church, both in print and on DVD, as they address the critical issues of the legacy of slavery and how we might approach the future, in light of the fact that the first step was being taken by the Church in publicly acknowledging its sins of omission.

Had the program ended there, it would have been a great success on its face, because those to whom the apology was being offered were able to articulate in some detail those things for which the apology was needed. Sadly, on the second day a service was planned in which there was to be a liturgical expression marking this event and providing an opportunity for our current Presiding Bishop to lead the service and address the issue. She did her job with grace, clarity and amazing insight and honesty, however, the decision was made to begin the service with a litany which was neither historically correct nor appropriately structured to acknowledge that one group of people was apologizing to another group of people who for all of the history of slavery and most of the history of the Episcopal Church have been separate and unequal, and the people of color specifically excluded from the Councils of the Church. Hence a litany which did not permit the group aggrieved to respond or to acknowledge their presence, especially in their own house, was the ultimate insult and example of racism to many of us who could not understand how people of color were to participate in a litany which correctly chronicled the sins but of which we were the involuntary subjects or as Tonto said to the Lone Ranger, "what do you mean WE.” Of equal importance the litany did not recognize nor give legitimacy to the history of protests begun by Absalom Jones and carried forward by Alexander Crummel and all those lay and clergy leaders who endured exclusion from the House of Deputies and General Convention until the 1930's. Also, the litany did not acknowledge nor give legitimacy to the many white Church leaders, known and unknown, who protested slavery, established the colonization societies, and dutifully took messages to the General Conventions from the Conference of Colored Church Workers during the long period when Black folks had no voice much less a vote. Finally, it did not give the Church the credit it is due for its support of the many Black educational institutions founded by Black Episcopalians and nurtured to this day through budget allocations. As Maya Angelou has so eloquently said, "History with all of its wrenching pain cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage need not be lived again." It is to the profundity of this dictum that we must rededicate ourselves as we go forward.

To conclude, I would like to offer you an invitation in the form of a quotation that I used to open my remarks at the conclusion of the Friday educational event, they were penned by the noted peace maker Vern Neufeld Redekop in his seminal book From Violence to Blessing. In the introduction to his chapter on reconciliation he makes the following observation:

"Reconciliation means to stop imitating the entrenched
patterns of past violence, and to imagine, imitate and
create life patterns of well being meeting the identity
needs of Self and Other."

I firmly believe that we are all struggling mightily to live into this understanding of reconciliation and that we have enough time and effort invested in it to not allow this little bump in the road to set us off track and deter us from keeping our eye on the prize. One of the reasons that I delayed writing this letter until after the election was that I was hopeful that Barack Obama's one person anti-racism training program would prevail, and as he noted, it now gives us a chance to make a change. Regardless of how you feel about the election or the growing fears that the alarming economic crisis are raising, now more than ever the Church has to stand up and continue the internal dialogue and the external struggle to combat racism. History teaches us that in these critical moments of transition and the promise of change, the desire to return to the fleshpots of Egypt often keep us prisoners of our fear rather than having the Gospel eyes to see the Red Sea being parted. The inevitable backlash to his election and the potential scape-goating resulting from the fear and the reality of economic stress must be challenged at every point they arise. Now more than ever we must attempt to live into every way that we can find the profound truth of my favorite saying "Let there be peace among us and let us not be instruments of our own or others oppression."

Thank you for reading this and let us march on until victory is won. Please feel free to share this letter as broadly as you feel it is appropriate.

Peace,
Ed Rodman

Thanksgiving/Remembrance Day 2008

26 comments:

  1. Father, can you provide a link to the litany in question?

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  2. Bob of Fremont30/11/08 8:25 AM

    The election of Barack Obama, in my mind, puts to rest once and for all the myth that racism is still rampant in America.

    Too many people make a living off keeping the myth alive and it's simply time for Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, et al, to get a real job and give this "racist America" theme a rest.

    If the election of an African-American with an arguably Islamic name (I know, he's a Christian of which I have no doubt) is not proof America has moved forward, please tell us, what is proof?

    People who live in the past and as victims are doomed to remain in the past and to remain victims.

    Time to move on.

    Bob of Fremont

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  3. I hope this is not just someone who is unhappy that he wasn't included in planning the service (sounds like he has a history of being at loggerheads). I'd like to hear the other side, and what went into planning the service in question.

    But it certainly wouldn't be unheard of for the best of intentions (an apology on behalf of the Church) to be performed in a ham-handed and insensitive manner as he says it was.

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  4. As momentous and wonderful as Barack Obama's election is, it is foolish for us to assume that this means the end of racism in America.

    Here is what I hear and see besides the celebration:

    Hushed jokes about turning the White House black; the palatable fear of many whites that a black president will somehow take from white folks (usually discussed in terms of tax hikes for the rich) and give something to blacks; and the persistence of rumors which equate Obama's name with (a distorted view of) Islam even to the point of turning his popularity into proof that he is the anti-Christ.

    Racism is alive and well. The inability of the organizers of the Philadelphia event to properly acknowledge who was wronged, who fought against entrenched racism, and give voice to our sins in perpetuating racism are all indicators that racism has not gone away.

    Already it is clear that Obama will need to work twice as hard, be twice as reconciling, twice as competent and make fewer, smaller errors just to be accepted as an adequate president.

    The litany described in the open letter shows that one of our chief problems in this country and church is that we still don't how to talk about race, our history of racism and the implications that this history has on our present and our future.

    The election of an African-American has changed the equation but it has not solved the problem nor absolved us of our sin.

    Andrew Gerns

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  5. Bob of Fremont, there is more to winning the game than scoring a point, and tho goal is not to "move forward" but to arrive at a result of justice.

    It is as if someone stole a million dollars from you, and then after piles of hard work, you finally return a few thousand, and plea that see, we have moved forward, can we please lay to rest that remaining amount?

    The proof that America is no longer a racist society can be seen when blacks and whites are treated with equal justice across society.

    For an example that we are not there yet, you may turn to the very thing Ed Rodman was complaining about!

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  6. At great risk I wonder how easy it is to apologize for that which we have not done, to those who have not been slaves. Symbolism over substance? Again and again? After 150 years of progress by those who have become more than their ancestors ever imagined?

    When shall the Italian government apologize to those of us with English ancestry for their ancestors' roles in the subjugation of Roman Britain? Ridiculous, unless the right voices continue to wither the public down on the issue.

    One feature of liberal/progressive America is seen in the need to identify with a cause or injustice rarely, variously, or not at all directly experienced.

    When will we instead stand FOR reversing the very real and unaddressed injustice of offering/funding few "choices" for those who feel there is no choice but abortion? If we are a "pro-choice" Church, where are the choice alternatives for life for the mother and the unborn? Abortion stops a beating heart. Where's our funding of orphanages?Instead, we keep focusing on a symbolic issue argued about among affluent people who have become accomplished. What an injustice!

    The embarrassing and inadequate apology to the Lord and the hundreds of thousands of unborn that we have forsaken will surely we waiting for us as a Church.

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  7. Bob of Fremont30/11/08 7:45 PM

    People like the priest in this story feed off of "white guilt." I for one, feel no guilt. I have not owned slaves, my ancestors didn't own slaves and some even fought in the Civil War to free slaves.

    This silly notion that today's whites have to "apologize" for something they themselves had nothing to do with is maddening.

    It serves neither the apologist or the apologee (if there is such a word) to move forward.

    I've heard people say they were sorry Christopher Columbus discovered America. Really? Only a pointy headed academic, living in the sheltered world of academia would ever say something that stupid.

    One cannot unring a bell, especially when the bell was rung by people three generations prior to people three generations prior. Might as well apologize for cavemen killing dinosaurs.

    It needs a rest. I voted for Barack Obama, not because he was black but because he wasn't a Republican. My expectations for him, especially after George W. are very low. Not because he's black, but because he's part of a political party structure that has ensured we will be deadlocked and gridlocked for many years to come.

    Time to move on, get over the race thing and listen to saner voices, those like Bill Cosby, who point out that opportunity is there for all.

    So if you feel like you need to apologize, knock yourself out.

    Bob of Fremont

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  8. Does anybody know what the letter's author means by dating the letter "Thanksgiving/Remembrance Day 2008"?

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  9. I hope that we (TEC) can read the Rev. Canon Ed Rodman's letter and give it the thought that it deserves. Hopefully, then we can respond in a meaningful way to his, and I'm sure many others, concerns.

    I think that our white privilege sometimes blinds us to the racism that is alive well.

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  10. A very helpful and informative post. I would love to see DVDs or read the texts of the talks mentioned, as well as peruse the litany, as BillyD requested. I gather the talks are not available yet, but I hope you'll post them (or a link to them) if they ever do get transcribed.

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  11. Yes, the stain of racism continues to mar the vision of America as first conceived by our founders. Yes, 'white guilt' is not healthy either as something to be induced or as a transformative response.

    All that being said, Canon Rodman's piece is very important component in the complexity that is at the heart of race-relations in this country.

    He is a wise teacher, courageously using his own life as a text book. I am deeply grateful for his witness and his ministry and life.

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  12. Bob of Fremont, to Ed Rodman: SHADDUP!

    [Just curious, BofF: don't you have an African bishop, or Primate? What would HE say about your "racism is SO over" argument, I wonder?]

    We still have a long way to go, to true racial reconciliation...

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  13. Racism is alive and well.

    That's certain. Andrew, I hear all you hear and worse. We have a long way to go.

    I grew up in a racist environment, and I doubt that I will live long enough to be completely rid of the poison.

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  14. WOW! I am astounded. This is a very revealing post with its responses. There is obviously so much more that divides us than merely issues of the last 30 to 40 years.

    I have stared racism directly in the eye in the USA, and did not blink.

    It is utterly ludicrous to me that someone could make such a meaningless, blathering statement about lynchings; extreme poverty; segregation; Jim Crow laws; anti-miscegenation; denial of housing; denial of education; denial of skilled employment & equal pay; voter intimidation, manipulation & suppression; and a national social and economic caste system, as 150 years of progress.

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  15. Allen,

    May I say this in the gentlest way possible - you live in a bit of a Virginia cocoon, I think. I was raised in Montgomery County, Maryland; things happen here in Virginia that are unacceptable in other places, and many are quite subtle. Some of them are not - says the observant, pretty white woman who has friends of all shapes and colors.

    And please do not paint the more liberal end of TEC as pro-abortion. AT the very least, there are times when you either kill the mother or kill the unborn child, a truly sad choice. But underground abortions are likely to kill both. You are listening to a bit of right-wing Anglican propaganda on the TEC stance, check the prayer book. The one with the womb is not the sole being without a say in whether she lives or dies, Allen, which is why it's all part of a complete package of morality. I don't think I could have ever had an abortion, but nothing is black and white.

    I do wonder why you stay in this church that angers you so.

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  16. Overheard by the late Molly Ivins in a cafe in Weatherford, Texas in the not-too-distant past:
    "Yep! Rush [Limbaugh] is right. Racism is over in this country. the n******s are gonna have to find something else to complain about!"

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  17. Thanks for sharing this. Without knowing what specifically was said or done in Philadelphia, this seems to be one of those "best of intentions" that hit some wrong notes. And, from what I gather from Rodman's letter, the purpose is to call those wrong notes to attention, so that the dialogue can continue in a more open, honest way. Nothing wrong with that.
    Apologies such as this are tricky because it is an ancient wound, and one that has been re-opened and never quite healed up in a way where the scarring isn't evident. What I hope will happen is that those who are trying to apologize will listen first, and listen well, to what those who feel transgressed have to say. And then, when the transgressors do apologize...it is important that the receiver of the apology offer forgiveness (what was it--not seven, but seventy-seven times?). Unless both parties enter into this apology/forgiveness in full honesty, I believe this will be just another hollow, empty exercise.
    Gee, can't wait for when the church has to apologize to the LGBT community!!

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  18. What did happen was a two day event at the historic St. Thomas African Episcopal Church in Philadelphia on the 3rd and 4th of October 2008. Many of us had great difficulty with this decision inasmuch as it created the curious dynamic of those seeking to apologize to those who had been aggrieved inviting themselves to the house of those who had been offended.

    The choice of the venue was a misstep, a misstep that should have been obvious before the choice was ever made. Why not the National Cathedral as the resolution stated?

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  19. Lynn,

    I didn't "paint" anyone. I just wonder why "freedom to choose" seldom if ever has any real alternatives offered for choice. Thus far, I see that our Church is officially part of RCRC, which - to my knowledge - offers few choices except the freedom to choose (?). If we are a "pro-choice" Church it's time to put less money into lawsuits, golden candlesticks, etc., etc., etc. and offer true choices to those who are feel that they must choose to stop a beating heart. Elizabeth shelters, unwed mother homes, adoption/family agencies. The trouble is that we have talented leader-types who just take our mission opportunities and far too often farm them out to whatever the community offers. How about being "ground-breaking" for a change? Don't you hate that we don't do that more often?

    All of this is couched in the discussion on civil rights and the evaluation of who owes what to whom. The past has happened. Blood has been paid - which is the biggest apology that I know of. A society was ruined. Families lost everything for the changes to occur in race-relations. I'm not sure that any apology will ever be enough for those who need to "live into" some great cause that they may have missed out on. But quite frankly, it seems easier to keep sorrow alive than to MAKE history and actually address the worst civil rights blunder and sin of our time: no choices but death and post-mortem counseling offered by our Church.

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  20. There is also the WOW, astounded view that says that racism isn't finished. Right. It isn't.
    Discrimination in many forms still exist, including educational elitism and economic prejudice that has devastated Appalachia.

    But, the General Convention resolution was about our repentance over the institution of chattle slavery. 500,000 dead. Economies ruined. Families displaced and ruined in Reconstruction. Mass exchange of personal property. Countless sums redistributed. Resettlement for those wanting Liberia as a homeland. On and on. Our apologies have extended for a century and a half. The generations of sons and daughters of those involved have become more advanced and affluent, or have been offered opportunities requiring sacrifices and actual responses.

    Chattle Slavery IS over with. New slaveries exist which don't get attention, which I called attention to in my posts here. In a society that values (worships) personal choice, what have we declined and even refused to do?

    We'll get around to repenting of those silences sometime.

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  21. Allen, chattel slavery of Africans in the Americas is over. But the aftermath is still with us. And you appear to be uncomfortable with the truth of that aftermath. You believe a myth about what happened in the USA after the US Civil War; that all wrongs have been righted and whites have paid a heavy price for their past wrongs.

    And so you wade into this conversation and change the subject. Which is always your answer, change the subject. This is a conversation about African Americans dealing with where they are today because their ancestors were brought to the US as slaves. And about the Episcopal Church's involvement and perpetuation of that slavery, corporately and and as individual members. And the Church's involment in perpetuating the sorrows of the aftermath of slavery.

    But you want to come into this conversation and say, "That is all in the past, that is over and as far as I am concerned there is no more to say about it. What about abortion?"

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  22. BoF, I read in another blog a story about telephone polling before your election.

    The poller called a home and a woman answered the call. The poller asked her about who she intended to vote for in the presidential election. She said that she needed to ask her husband. From the background the poller heard the husband call out, "We are voting for the nigger."

    I agree, the election of Barack Obama, in my mind, puts to rest once and for all the myth that racism is still rampant in America!

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  23. Deacon Charlie Perrin1/12/08 2:04 PM

    The classic racism of the south has at least always been open, honest, and easy to recognize.

    What Canon Rodman and many others are trying to point out is that not all racism is the classic and easily recognized kind.

    Much racism (including that of the north) has been and still is far more subtle. Much of it is based in cluelessness and a complete lack of empathy among people of differing experience and background.

    Those who think that racism is over with would be well served by getting to know those victimized by it; getting to know them as close friends and by sharing their experience as best as possible.

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  24. Bob of Fremont1/12/08 6:59 PM

    David, just a word of warning:

    Don't quote anything you obtained from a blog. Give me a name, a date and the name of a witness and then I'll listen to you, but I'm not believing some anecdotal blog comment as truth.

    And just for the record I never said racism was gone, the quote was "puts to rest once and for all the myth that racism is still rampant in America." Rampant, being the key word here.

    It's going to be hard to make the case America is a racist country when its very leader is an African-American. Just sayin'



    Bob of Fremont

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  25. Sorry, BoF. I read a number of blogs and this was a few weeks ago. What the blog provided was a link to a newspaper article quoting the pollers, which I read. But I could never retrace that path for you.

    As far as rampant, that is your word. Neither Father Mark or Canon Rodman used it. You waded into this conversation using it.

    But racism is alive and well in your country and I have experienced it first hand too many times for comfort. I have traversed your country North to South and East to West; Florida to New York, Texas to California, and Chicago to Seattle. By car, bus and train. We loved being in the US, but we never once could afford to let our guard down. And we are only Mexican, I saw it worse for blacks.

    And your president elect is not really an African American by the usual definition, but his wife is. Mr. Obama is the son of a white American and a black Kenyan. He is not the descendent of former slaves. Although he mainly identifies with that culture, my experience with recent African immigrants is that they do not usually identify with African American culture. They do not understand it because they do not have that experience. But, they experience the racism directed toward that culture daily.

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  26. I agree that racism and the aftermath of slavery is still with us. It certainly is discernible in the Great Plains region. I was disappointed in the timing and location of the Day of Repentance concerning Slavery because, well frankly, it appeared to me to be more about something else happening in Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh) that week, not about the struggles of people of color. I realize nothing was said about the other issue, but the timing and location in itself was a statement. I know many view the insistence upon marriage as between a man and a woman as racism. However, conflating the two issues of racism and gay rights does not appear helpful in addressing either.

    I also don't have much faith that symbolic events such as these really help address the real issues of the present. Frankly, I'm not sure our predominantly-white church can really say or do that much about it until we ourselves become more racially diverse. The pentecostal and charismatic churches, which are often mixed-race churches, are in a much better position to address the issues, but probably lack the motivation.

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