December 16, 2000
OVERCOME AMERICA'S RACIAL DIVIDE
In the most
bitterly fought, narrowly-won Presidential election, 92 percent of
African Americans voted for the man who actually won the most votes, but
not the election.
George W. Bush did more to reach out to blacks than previous Republican
presidential candidates. Yet millions of blacks and Hispanics see the
election of Bush as Exhibit A of racism in America.
Exhibit B are
8,000 hate crimes per year in the U.S., nearly one per hour of every
What can be
done? Politicians can do little to change the hearts of people.
That's the job
of the church, synagogue or mosque which can help members learn about
other races, cultures, and religions and examine stereotypes of others.
For example, ask yourself this: would your life be different if your
skin was another color?
on the day that Gore conceded the election and Bush told the nation, ''I
know America wants reconciliation and unity,'' a remarkably diverse
cross-section of religious leaders gathered at the Washington Cathedral
to release an unprecedented declaration condemning racism as ''a problem
of the heart and an evil that must be eradicated.''
Led by Sanford
Cloud, Jr, President of the National Conference for Community and
Justice (NCCJ), the group issued a Joint Statement on Racism which says,
''Racism contradicts and offends the most fundamental beliefs and values
of our faith traditions...
uniqueness, dignity and worth of every person derives from creation.
Each individual is equally precious, illuminating life,'' said
Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Native American leaders.
''People of faith must not allow racism to persist.''
faith leaders pledged ''to examine our own biases and positions of
privilege...to model the repentance that turns us away from racism and
leads us to work toward reconciliation,'' and to ''promote
understanding, inclusion and mutual respect and thus build communities
across the divides of race, ethnicity and culture...''
The statement is
the centerpiece of a series of actions promised to President Clinton by
NCCJ's Faith Leaders Initiative at a White House summit last April. ''We
were specifically asked to explore how to design, model, implement and
measure actions that would work toward eliminating bias and bigotry,''
(formerly known as the National Conference of Christians and Jews)
developed practical materials that could help any congregation. One
outlines ''10 actions to make America a more inclusive and just
society,'' such as ''Become an ally of people other than those of your
race, ethnicity or religion'' by confronting racist comments or
One church which
did that is First Presbyterian Church of Fremont, OH. Its pioneering
work is cited in a ''Directory of Faith Based Promising Practices for
Nagel was troubled by animosity between gangs of whites, blacks and
Hispanic migrant workers in his rural area of northern Ohio. From the
pulpit he asked if anyone was was willing to ''defuse this waiting time
was the only parishioner who raised his hand. Nagel gave him the names
of minority leaders in Fremont, and suggested that they form a ''Study
Circle'' using a format developed by the Studies Circle Resource Center
of Pomfret, Conn. Each person told his or her story of how prejudice had
affected them and their families. It took weeks.
each other out, the group decided to create Citizens Upholding Racial
Equality (CURE), an advocacy group for anyone suffering from
discrimination. When CURE complained there were too few minority
teachers, the school board hired more.
African American father complained that his son was the victim of racial
profiling, arrested three times while driving, though he had broken no
laws. CURE met with the police chief and there have been no more similar
Orie McDonald, a
vice president of the NAACP, says CURE ''means a lot to me. We have let
the community know that we are out there watching, a watchdog which is a
very positive group. We have addressed discrimination, especially in the
workforce. We have brought people together, sat down and addressed
issues and arrived at solutions where both parties can agree.''
confessed, ''I have become a better person. CURE has made me aware that
I was not being very sensitive. I had to stand back and listen.''
of CURE is the emergence of Voces Unidas (United Voices) in the Hispanic
community. It has registered hundreds of Latinos to vote, created a
recognition banquet for high school graduates and raised scholarship
To get ideas for
what your congregation can do, see
http://www.nccj.org on the web.
Copyright 2000 Michael J.