The Wyoming Interfaith Network recently held its 2020 annual meeting. The theme was “Restoring Hope-Combatting Racism Through Interfaith Work.” Because it was on Zoom and neither speakers nor attendees had to travel across the state, it was the largest WIN meeting in memory and had a cast of wonderful speakers from parts of Wyoming and around the country.
We heard heart-felt pleas for racial justice from across the religious spectrum, witnessing of racial, religious, and social minorities about their experiences in the Equality State. It wasn’t pretty. One social justice organizer spoke of receiving death threats.
The first Native American ever elected Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA) spoke. Elona Street-Stewart said, “It is critical to trace our steps back to the moral principles and covenants of the promised hope.”
An interfaith panel traced our steps back to the “Golden Rule,” a shared conviction of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Baha’i, Native American spirituality, agnostics, and atheists. “Do not do to another that which you would consider evil if done to you.”
WIN adopted a resolution calling on every Wyoming faith community to educate their people about white privilege. This is arguably the most consequential work of these times. Robin Diangelo writes about white fragility in her book by that name. Using a Christian image, Diangelo recently said that the “2nd Coming” is the day white eyes are opened to the privileges afforded them by the color of their skin.
Many white people recoil at the notion they are privileged. They say things like, “I had it hard. I worked for everything I have. I was given no privilege.” But, the racial divide can’t be bridged until white people understand that whatever barriers they faced in life, none was created by the color of their skin.
Most of our congregations are all or nearly all white. Ask them to imagine God knocking at their door. “You open the door and, in your amazement at who you find standing there, you blurt out, “Oh my. Are you calling me home?”
God smiles and says, “No, just to the Reservation. You weren’t supposed to be born white. You were destined to be Northern Arapaho, living on the Wind River Indian Reservation. I’m here to take you home.”
The Creator of all humankind continued, “I realize that means your life expectancy will be severely reduced and babies born to you will be twice as likely to die at birth. Your access to healthcare is diminished and you’ll be far more likely to suffer heart disease, diabetes, chronic liver disease, and COVID-19. You’ll live far below the poverty line and not be able to find a job. The adjustment to the reservation will not be easy.
“I’ll make it right. How much reparations will we have to pay your grandchildren for you to live the life Wyoming created for Native Americans or, for that matter, immigrants, refugees, other people of color, gays, lesbians, bisexual, or transgender people? Name your price.”
Isabel Wilkerson’s book “Caste,” tells of a professor posing a similar hypothetical to undergrad students. “How much money would you require to live the next 50 years as an African-American. “Most said they would need $50 million, or $1 million for every year they would have to be Black.”
That’s what is meant by “white privilege”?
White privilege allows some to cling to the illusion that their life experience is no different from people of color. It blinds us to the fact that humans are advantaged or disadvantaged, out of the starting gate, before leaving the womb, simply because of the color of skin God gave them.
White brothers and sisters, it’s not your fault. No one is blaming you. The American caste system was created long before your birthday. All that’s being asked of you is to educate yourself so you can be honest.
To paraphrase Jim Wallis of Sojourners, it’s bold to think the word “faithfulness” could become more important than the word “white.” Let us be bold.
-Rev. Rodger McDaniel