Speaker: Racial Justice ‘Definitely Sacred Work’
By LORETTA FULTON
“You can’t really have faith without social justice.”
That emphatic statement set the tone for one session of the annual Religion News Association conference held Sept. 24-25. Normally, RNA, an organization of journalists who write about religion issues for the news media, meets in a different city each year, except for every four years when it meets in Washington, D.C., just before the general election.
This year, the conference was shrunk from the usual Thursday evening-Saturday night format to a two-day online conference. Loretta Fulton, creator of Spirit of Abilene and retired religion writer for the Abilene Reporter-News, has been a member of RNA since 1998.
The words spoken by Myra Brown came during a panel discussion titled, “Race in Sacred Spaces: How Racial Inequities Have Shaped America’s Religious Landscape.”
Brown is pastor and racial justice team leader of Spiritus Christi Church in Rochester, New York. The congregation split from the Corpus Christi Roman Catholic Church in Rochester in 1999. The 1,100 people who formed the new Spiritus Christi disagreed with some traditional Roman Catholic teachings on women’s roles in the church, celebrating marriage equality, and allowing only Catholics to receive communion.
On the Spiritus Christi website, Brown describes her role in leading the racial justice team in the parish as an “incredible honor and definitely sacred work.”
That attitude toward her ministry came through during the panel discussion, moderated by Deepa Bharath, staff writer for the Southern California News Group. In answer to an online question from an attendee about the role that clergy should play in racial justice, Brown was even more emphatic.
“I think the role that clergy should play,” she said, “is the same role as Jesus.”
Churches haven’t always understood that role, Brown said. Instead, too often clergy believe that the church’s role is just about saving souls, not caring about how those souls live on earth.
Brown stressed that spiritual communities need to throw their hat into the political ring to bring about change in racial justice.
“This is the time for change,” Brown said. “God wants it.”
Another panelist, JaNaé Bates, said the pendulum has swung toward more people of faith joining the fight for racial justice, including the Black Lives Matters movement. Bates is director of communications for ISAIAH And Faith, a St. Paul, Minnesota, based “coalition of congregations and mosques that lets communities in Minnesota more effectively live out their faith in biblical justice and the common good.”
Action, Bates said, is the antidote to racial injustice. She noted that white supremacists flooded the state of Minnesota following the death of an African-American man, George Floyd, on May 25 at the hands of Minneapolis police after Floyd’s arrest for allegedly passing a $20 counterfeit bill. Groups of white supremacists set fire to black-owned businesses, Bates noted, and members and leaders of white churches responded. Some may consider the work of resisting racial injustice to be drudgery, but Bates disagrees.
“The work is not drudgery,” Bates said, “it is joyful.”
Loretta Fulton is creator and editor of Spirit of Abilene