Fostering Understanding in Our Community

Part 3: Black Lives Matter: How to be an Ally - A faith-based perspective


 

 

 Moderator

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett - An internationally known Religious Studies scholar and Professor of Religious Studies at Cal Poly

Panelists

Rev. Rob Keim - St. Barnabas Episcopal Church

Pastor Rick Uhls - San Luis Obispo United Methodist Church

Pastor Paula Hulet - Estero Bay United Methodist Church

Rabbi Rick Litvak - Congregation Beth David

 

WATCH: Part 3 

 

Transcription

Cornel Morton:

Good evening. My name is Cornel Morton. I serve as President of the Diversity Coalition San Luis Obispo County. I'm very pleased to welcome you to the third dialogue in a series devoted to Fostering Understanding in Our Community: Black Lives Matter, How to be an Ally. And tonight's theme is faith-based, a faith-based perspective.

            I should mention very quickly that tonight's dialogue is open to everyone, including people of conscience who practice no particular faith. For those of you unfamiliar with the coalition, briefly, the coalition was formed following a cross burning in the yard of a black family living in Aurora Grande back in March of 2011.

            A cross-section of our county's citizens came together to support the family and as a result, formed the coalition in an effort to continue the work of promoting equity, social justice, and advocacy for marginalized and [inaudible 00:01:14] throughout the county aimed at promoting respect for all members of the county, especially working closely with local schools, to support students and teachers in diversity education and cross-cultural competencies.

            Very quickly, I'll mention as well that our final program in this series will occur on September 9th at 6:00 PM. And the theme we've chosen is what values we all share. And so we'd like to, of course, invite you to participate as well in that program.

            Now very quickly, I'd like to move to introduce our panel and our moderator for tonight. I'm going to start with the Reverend Rob Keim. Reverend Rob Keim is the priest or pastor of Saint Barnabas Episcopal Church in Aurora Grande. Prior to becoming a priest, he spent 20 years in corporate finance or large companies, including Merrill Lynch, Procter and Gamble, Hewlett Packard, and Cisco Systems.

            Rob is a certified master gardener, sings with the slow master chorale and performs with Central Coast Gilbert and Sullivan. Outside his church, Rob's primary work is to make our world a better place through the interfaith efforts to establish and run the Peace Academy for the sciences. Rob and his husband, Jeff, have a grandson who turns one year old later this week. Thank you Rob, for being with us.

            Now I'd like to introduce Reverend or Pastor Paula Hulet. Pastor Hulet is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. She holds a bachelor of arts and social welfare from the University of Illinois and a master's in divinity from Claremont school of Theology. Her community service has primarily focused on hunger, death penalty reform and social justice.

            In Morro Bay, she helped organize hunger walks for the San Luis Obispo Food Bank and served as a board member of People of Faith for Justice for a number of years. Currently, she is an associate director of Yes We Can Peace Builders actually. Peace Builders is dedicated to the education of individuals and communities to make nonviolent living a part of their everyday lives. Welcome.

            Now I'd like to introduce Rabbi Richard Litvak. Rabbi Litvak is Phi Beta Kappa religious studies graduate of Vassar College. He received his master's degree of Hebrew arts and letters and rabbinical ordination in 1977 from the Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion, the rabbinical seminar of the reform movement of Judaism. Rabbi Litvak is rabbi emeritus of Temple Beth El in Santa Cruz, California, a pulpit he served for 40 years as senior rabbi.

            This is the third year Rabbi Litvak's position as the part-time interim rabbi of congregation Beth David in San Luis Obispo. Throughout his rabbinic, Rabbi Litvak has been known as a recognized leader in the fields of social justice, activism and interfaith relations. He is also a licensed marriage and family therapist. Welcome, Litvak.

            Pastor Rick Uhls is a United Methodist pastor who has been appointed to the San Luis Obispo UMC since August of 2012. He holds a bachelor's degree in political science from UC Riverside, a master of divinity degree from Fuller Theological Seminary and has done advanced studies in church leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC.

            Pastor Uhls has led seven work trips as part of the Arson Rebuild Project, which helped to rebuild African American churches in the south that had been destroyed by arson. He has also led 16 youth work teams as part of the Sierra Service Project on Native American reservations in Oregon, Nevada, California, and Arizona.

            And lastly, our moderator, Dr. Stephen Lloyd Moffett. Dr. Moffett is a professor of comparative religion at Cal Poly and a frequent public speaker on the central coast. His academic focus includes a wide variety of topics, including monks in early Christianity and Hinduism, the mythical life of Cesar Chavez, the church in modern Greece, the spiritual experience under psychedelics and psychosis, Islam in America and the spirituality of wine, which is the topic of his latest book.

            We're excited about tonight and we are very happy that you've joined us. These programs are important part of our community's dialogue, and we welcome your comments and your ideas. You'll be sent an evaluation form or a feedback form, let's call it, after the program. The coalition continues to serve as a dialogue resource and educational resource for all in our community.

            We're also very happy tonight to have Sarah Hart and ... I'm sorry, Stephanie Hart and Sarah Levinway with us. They will be our interpreters for this evening, and we want you to thank them as well. So with that, Stephen, I'm going to turn it over to you, and we're underway, my friend.

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett:

Great. Well, thanks Cornel, for all the work you do in town and the Diversity Coalition for encouraging our community to have these difficult conversations. Thanks also to all of you who took time out of your Wednesday evening to be a part of this conversation.

            I have to say that when you look at Black Lives Matter, like much in our current environment, it is complex and a challenging topic. And I can assure you that all the panelists that we have here today are conscientious thinkers. We all may not get every nuance right, but I can tell you that their hearts are in the right place. And that's a good place to start when we're having these conversations.

            Now, as a scholar of religion, I have to be the first to admit that race and religion can be a difficult topic to put our minds around. On the one hand, historically, America has been one of the most religious nations in the world, but we also have to realize that we have one of the most overt and damning histories of slavery, segregation and ongoing discrimination.

            Moreover, the religions of America have been used more often than not to justify this mistreatment of African Americans. I mean, we have to just admit the God that many Americans worship is complicit in the systemic racism that has defined the black experience and that the churches have way too often been silent in the face of that.

            But on the other hand, if you look at the great leaders who've pushed America forward with racial justice, they've also been motivated by religion. I mean, the leaders of the racial justice movements from the early days of Frederick Douglas and Sojourner Tuth to Martin Luther King and Fannie Lou Hamer, they have all seen their faith as what has motivated and been the bedrock of their activism. And many of the great allies in American history from the Christian abolitionists to the Jewish civil rights activists, they were inspired by their faith to get involved. And so we have to admit that without these people of faith, the progress would have been far less.

            Whether religion is the cause or the solution to systemic racism is determined in part on where you want to look and in part your own personal experience with religion. But I think all of us have to deal with the legacy of race and religion in America.

            When I look at the last 60 years or so, the landscape is no less murky. On the one hand, we have to fairly recognize that we've made a lot of progress due to the civil rights movement and there's so much more to do, but America has evolved in really meaningful ways. However, on the other hand, the most segregated hour in the American week is 10:00 AM, and their faith communities continue to be divided largely on a question of race.

            And why is it that this increasingly diverse society is not reflected in the pews? Why is it that churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples have ample volunteers for bake sales to support the homeless but few people show up for dialogues on racial reconciliation or march for change?

            Now, locally, these challenging discussions are the more relevant in part because my academic institution, where I sit right now, Cal Poly, embodies many of these same tensions. On the one hand, Cal Poly is the most religious public university west of the Mississippi. Many, many of my students take their faith so seriously in a way that you just don't see at other public institutions in California.

            But on the other hand, Cal Poly is the least diverse public school in all of California. And despite its progress as an institution, it seems to have fallen behind where many of the students wish it could be. At times, it's hard to tell whether Cal Poly is standing up or standing in the way of racial justice or maybe doing both.

            And here we turn to the Black Lives movement itself and religion. And let me bring up what I think is a real tension here. Many faiths dogmatically hope that there's a benevolent creator who cares for all humans regardless of class or color. But in the other hand, when that message that God loves all people has not and does not translate into the actions of the people who claim that God and we arrive at a moment like we have now when we must be reminded clearly and unequivocally that black lives matter, well, how do we hold these two important creeds in our hearts and our minds and our actions together? What is the role and responsibility of people of faith within the Black Lives Matter movement?

            And this is our overarching question tonight, and I encourage all the participants, both the panelists and all of you who are part of this community conversation to have compassion on each other as we strive to explore all these questions together. Here's the format. We are going to have some opening statements by our panel. Listen, we're going to keep these short. Panelists, remember, around five minutes or so. And then we will begin the conversation. We are hoping to have a really robust and meaningful conversation with these thoughtful people about the Black Lives Matter movement and particularly the communities of faith in relation to it on the central coast.

            Let's begin that process. And I'll begin with Reverend Rob Keim and hand you floor to share with you some of your thoughts to kick off this community conversation.

Rev. Rob Keim:

Sure. Thank you to all of you. Thank you to the Diversity Coalition for inviting me to participate. Thank you to Steve for all of that energy that you just exhibited. I hope I can feed off of some of that as well. I want to begin by acknowledging that I am both a privileged white man and a racist. And I think this is something that we need to be saying in our churches and it's something that I try to say in my church.

            My parents somehow were able to put three children through private universities. When I wanted to work on Wall Street after college, my dad helped me get the interview that got me that job. When I was laid off from a corporate job about 20 years ago, I got an 18 month severance package that allowed me to change careers and go to seminary.

            When I left the rally, Black Lives Matter rally in Arroyo Grande two or three months ago, I walked through the police SWAT line as a white man, not feeling too uncomfortable doing that. I am a man of privilege. As I said, I'm also a racist. I have preconceived notions every time I see someone, but it's not only my individual acts that cause me to be a racist, but I am part a racist society.

            Sometimes in church, we talk about sin with a little S, which is the sin that we do individually. And then we talk about sin with a big S which is the systemic stuff that causes us to sin. And I think there's the same thing with the racism with a little R, what I'm doing individually, and then there's racism with a big R, which is what systems am I supporting. And I should say, it's not only systems that I'm supporting or being part of, but it's those systems that are not actively working against.

            The other thing that makes me a racist is about a month and a half ago, I was playing with Ancestry.com. This is a website that helps you do your family tree stuff. And I was looking at census records for some of my fifth great grandparents. Now, granted, I have 128 fifth great grandparents, but I found in one of their households in 1810, there were three slaves in the census record. In 1820, there was one slave. And by 1830, there were no slaves, but slavery by this time was illegal in New York State. Yes, New York State in the north. There are a lot of different things that make me a racist, so I would ask for those of you that are here today, if you find that I need to be corrected, I welcome that. Please let me know. I'm trying to learn.

            Now, I'm the priest or pastor of Saint Barnabas Episcopal church. We're located on the southern edge of our Arroyo Grande up above the Mobile gas station that's on Traffic Way. We have about 250 people. We are 95% Anglo-Caucasian white. That does not represent the south county, but that is who we often are in the Episcopal church. And in the Episcopal church because of our heritage, we love our Britishness. We love those rituals that you find in British ceremonies and we bask in them and they become a central part of what we do in our worship, but also how our spiritual lives are guided.

            And there's both pros and cons associated with that because those that are not comfortable with this Britishness, this whiteness, aren't going to be as comfortable being part of our community. We have about two million Episcopalians. And I should point out that the Episcopal church is not just in the US but about 80% of the Episcopal church is in the US. We like to think of ourselves as halfway between Roman Catholic and Protestant. If you came to our church service, you would recognize a lot of the rituals from a Catholic service, but we have a lot of the theology on the Protestant side. We like to think of ourselves as Roman Catholic plus, though some people would say Roman Catholic light.

            We are probably 80 to 90% white in the Episcopal church. We are usually people of privilege. We tend to be more on the progressive side around social justice issues. We have had African American and non-white clergy for many, many, many decades. We've had female clergy since the '770s. We've had gay clergy for several decades as well. And starting about 15 years ago, the Episcopal church was in the news lot because we had our first openly gay Episcopal Bishop in New Hampshire. By now, we have several openly gay or lesbian bishops. We tend to be on the progressive side, at least here in the US.

            The Episcopal church is part of the broader Anglican communion of about 85 million people around the world. The Anglican communion was created ... Henry the Eighth did some nasty stuff about 500 years ago to break his church, the church of England off from the Pope and it was for power and control and probably for some other reasons, as well. Every time the British empire went around the world where they established colonies, they also took their church with them including here to the United States.

            We have about 85 million Anglicans of which the Episcopal church is only two million of that. Most Anglicans are actually in Africa. There's been tremendous growth over the last couple decades so that within the Anglican communion, I don't know the numbers, but I'm guessing 60 to 70% of people are of color and like I said, are in Africa. One of the points of tension that sometimes happens then is the African churches actually tend to be the more conservative parts of the Anglican communion while in the US we tend to be the more progressive side.

            One other thing about the Anglican communion, you may recognize our presiding Bishop, Michael Curry. He performed Harry and Meghan's wedding. Is that two or three years ago now? It's been a couple of years. And so you may recognize him from doing the sermon at that wedding, and you may also know Archbishop Desmond Tutu for his works against apartheid and for a lot of the reconciliation that happened within South Africa.

            My specific parish has a statement on racism that I want to read it to you briefly. We believe that our Christian faith and the teachings of Jesus require the rejection of racism in all its forms. We are instructed by the scriptures to see all human beings has created in the image of God and equal before their creator. The United States has a [inaudible 00:21:28] history of racial violence beginning with the enslavement of Africans and the genocide of Native Americans. We stand with peaceful demonstrators in affirming that black lives matter and that systemic racism must be dismantled. As faithful followers of Jesus, we are committed to work toward achieving dignity, equality, mutual respect, and compassion for all human beings.

            That is the position of my particular parish and the Episcopal church in general also has statements like that as well. But in my parish, we're not all progressive. We do have some people that are conservative. We do have some people that do not believe that Black Lives Matter should be focused on. And one of the things that we try to do in the Episcopal church and one of the things that I try to do personally is around being the bridge. We can be the bridge with people with whom we may not necessarily agree even with Black Lives Matter.

            I came to this belief that we can be a bridge in two different ways. First of all, as a gay man, I went to Fuller Theological Seminary for my [inaudible 00:22:39] rec and found it to be a wonderfully supporting place. But I also discovered at that time that I was going to need to switch denominations if I was going to be openly gay. And I switched into the Episcopal church, which meant while I was at this evangelical seminary, I was also going to CDSP Church Divinity School of the Pacific, which is the Episcopal seminary in Berkeley.

            One of my experiences in going to these churches at the same ... excuse me ... seminaries at the same time as the evangelical seminary, we would say, "This is the way good Christians do something. How can they do it any differently?" And then at the Episcopal seminary, of course they would not say it the same as the evangelical seminary. They would say it differently, but they would also say, "How could Christians do it any differently?"

            One of the things that that forced me to do was to figure out for myself where I was in my own spiritual journey and what I believed. Also as the gay Christian, I knew that our churches were wrong at times, horribly wrong at times. And so these two experiences led me to see that we do have different beliefs within our churches. We may want to steer our churches in certain directions, but we want to stay in the big tent. We want to stay in the middle to a certain extent so that we can bridge the differences.

            In the first 10 years of being a priest, I had experienced with two bishops, one in San Francisco who would see an issue in charge to the hill and look back and see the folks weren't following him. He'd charge the next hill. I think he learned over time to bring people along. But the other experience that I had was from our prior bishop here in the diocese here, which she would see issues, watch what was going along and she would bring people along in the middle. And that taught me something value and something that I'd been trying to do at Saint Barnabas as well, which is we can be the bridge, and that's something that I would encourage all of us to do.

            Steve, back to you.

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett:

Wonderful. Thanks Rob for sharing and all the work you do. Pastor Paula, the floor is yours and share with us some thoughts to get us thinking.

Pastor Paula Hulet:

All right. I want to thank everyone for having me as part of this. And I thought I would tell a story. It's a story about a monastery, and I have to advise you, I don't remember the source of the story but it's one that I've told over the years. And so I'm going to ask for the indulgence of those of you who are not Christian or are not a person of faith, because I think the story has something to offer all of us.

            Sometime ago there was a monastery just outside a small town. It was tucked away in the hills. And this monastery was a very active place. Brothers shared their produce and milk and cheese with those in need in the local town. Their doors were always open for travelers or for a person in need. Townspeople use the grounds for Sunday picnics, special celebrations and more.

            But over time, things began to change. The locals came by less and less. The monastery began to show signs of neglect. Weeds grew up in the walls. The walls were crumbling and the barns were collapsing. And within the crumbling of the facility, there was much grumbling. The brothers seemed to be unhappy. They complained about everything. They complained about the place, they complained about the food, the routine, and each other. Rather than being willing to help each other out, they were always ready to point an accusing finger at one another.

            Now, the Abbott was pretty much beside himself and he prayed daily for wisdom and how best to change the ways of this failing community. Now, every year a rabbi happened to come to stay at one of the outbuildings on the monastery grounds. He would stay for weeks studying, meditating and being in prayerful reflection. At his wits end, the abbott decided to pay the rabbi of visit. The abbott explained what had been happening and expressed a sense of helplessness in changing what he saw as a hopeless downward spiral.

            The rabbi listened. He listened carefully to the abbott's lament, and then he made the following suggestion. He said, "Call your brothers together and tell them the Christ is coming. Christ is coming to one of them." [inaudible 00:27:38] by this idea, the abbott went back, called the brothers together after morning prayer and told them what he had learned. He told them Christ is coming. Christ is coming to one of them. The brothers were amazed. They wondered aloud which one of them would be so blessed.

            And so as they pondered this idea and kept wondering, "Is it me? Is it him or whatever?", the abbott began to notice a steady decline in complaints. Brother Thomas no longer complained about the quality of the work done by brother John. He no longer saw him as lazy, but a person who needed just a little bit of support. Brother Abe no longer complained about how the chef ruined his vegetables when he cooked them.

            As the complaints began to subside, a growing sense of respect for one another for their gifts and their partnership began to take place. And along with the changes in their hearts, a change took place in the way they cared for the monastery. Walls were repaired, fences mended, gardens groomed, and extra produce was once again brought to the town center to be shared with those in need. And so it wasn't long before the town people came back to the monastery for Sunday picnics, for weddings and celebrations.

            The brothers never learned which one of them was visited by Christ. What they did learn was that each of them saw Christ, saw the divine in the other and in themselves. Allyship can only happen, Positive growing relationships can only happen when we are willing to acknowledge the divine in each other and in ourselves.

            Now, you may not use the words Christ, spirit or God. You may think in terms of the connection we have with the earth, or you may think in terms of namaste or [inaudible 00:29:42], an acknowledgement that your humanity is made complete, that you recognize and appreciate the humaness you see in the other. Whatever you might call that special something that we each have in us, it really doesn't matter. It matters that we acknowledge it, we embrace it and we respect it. Thank you.

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett:

Thanks Paula. That was actually very rabbinic in style, telling a story with that deep point. And it's a good segue to our next participant in the panel, Rabbi Rick, who is involved with congregation Beth David here in town. So Rabbi, the floor is yours.

Rabbi Rick Litvak:

We were asked to share a little bit about ourselves and our own journey and allyship. And so I'd like to use the few minutes that I have as we begin the panel to share a little bit about myself and my growth and education, I guess, as an ally. I was born to a Jewish family in St. Joseph, Missouri, which is ...

Rabbi Rick Litvak:

To a Jewish family in St. Joseph, Missouri, which is in the northwest corner of the state of Missouri, which is a border state, with a small African-American community and a small Jewish community. Both of our communities were quite aware that we were minorities and that we were the object of prejudice, but there was a large solidarity between our communities. The words over the entryway to my temple were from the prophet Isaiah, "My house shall be a house of prayer for all people." Growing up in the reform movement of Judaism, I learned that the prophets, with their call to fulfill God's will for us, involved transforming society to in poverty and discrimination of all kinds, and to create a fair and just society. So I began to experience, as I grew up in the '60s, my temple being very involved in the civil rights movement.

            And then my family were particularly involved, my father was a lawyer, and he became the vice chairman, as it was a volunteer position, of the Missouri Human Rights Commission, which was the commission established by the governor to help enforce the early laws against discrimination, particularly against African-Americans, the Black people [inaudible 00:32:53] in housing and in employment. In July 29th, 1963, he testified before the Senate in Washington on behalf of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which was the first major civil rights act in America. So I grew up in an activist household where the fight against injustice, and especially the fight against racism, was a part of our Jewish ethos. In the community of a synagogue, a temple, where that was an important way in which we expressed our faith, and that our faith called us to do in fulfillment and fidelity to it.

            I wanted to learn more as I grew up, and I had a chance to spend about, when I was in college, two months living with an African-American woman who was the head of a community redevelopment agency in Harlem, in the heart of Harlem, 119th street and Lexington Avenue. I lived with her and would go out into the community, and I saw that vibrancy of Black culture and also the terrible legacy of slavery and the degradation of people's lives, of poverty that was a result, and a great deal because of racial discrimination. I was inspired by my family to participate in marches, and throughout my life, to support and be involved in different organizations that have had, like the Southern Poverty Law Center for instance. That brought to bear specific work in the system of American legal system and legislative system in order to try to regress some of these discriminations.

            As I worked with my congregations, both in Santa Cruz and in now in San Luis Obispo, we've always had the social justice work as a very significant part of our religious life. But at the same time, I have tried to be a student and to continually learn, to read, and to become educated by African-American leaders about how to be an ally. When I grew up, the goal of having a race blind society was the great goal to end discrimination against people because of the color of their skin or their religious faith, and later their sexual orientation. All of those things were the great, I'd say, cause of allyship. But then in more recent years, I have come to learn that being race blind really is, in many ways, a perpetuation of racism by not looking at the deep and long and extensive legacy of slavery in America. That is at the core of the American history and American society. To not see the specific debilities, prejudices, effects of prejudice that people have in The black community was to not really understand and not be a full and good ally.

            So in our community, in our synagogue, we have several projects. One of them is to educate ourselves, reading in our social justice book club, a lot of the books now about the African-American experience and Black Lives Matter. And now to see what Rabbi Sacks, the chief rabbi of England, wrote a book called The Dignity of Difference, and to see that allyship is now in terms of specifically understanding white privilege and the specific legacy of slavery as being enormous, and that it's not really an issue of becoming race blind. It's recognizing how pervasive the prejudice of race is, and racism, and dealing with that. So I try to learn as an ally from Black leaders and from literature, as do the people in my community, and I'm looking forward to learning some things tonight in this dialogue.

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett:

Thank you, Rabbi Rick. Before we have our last panelists, I want to remind everybody that this is a conversation with everybody. So the question and answer forum is up. We will integrate your questions together and have a conversation. We just have one last panelist, and that is Pastor Rick Uhls from the Methodist church down the street here in San Luis Obispo.

Pastor Rick Uhls:

Great, thank you. I'm really excited to be a part of this panel, even as I am painfully aware of how white it is. Seems a bit ironic given that we're a part of the diversity coalition, but I'm glad to be here. When I think of faith-based perspectives on allyship, a starting place for me is confessing that the Christian Church, in many ways, is a really late comer to the discussion. Generally, I believe that of the three dominant monotheistic faiths, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, that if we had been historically successful living out the tenants of our faith traditions, we would have eradicated racism long ago like it was a virus. But clearly those of us who are people of faith have not successfully lived out the faiths that we profess.

            In my own denomination, we began in the Anglican church. John Wesley was an Anglican priest who started the Methodist movement, never really intended to start a new denomination. He was an adamant abolitionist and could not tolerate slavery, and thought slavery in the Americas was the most abhorrent kind that there ever had been. He actually baptized a couple of Black folks when he was a missionary here long before he became a successful evangelist.

            But in our own faith journey, the Methodist church has a pretty cloudy past. In 1844, we had a Bishop named James Andrew who was told he could not exercise the office of Bishop until he freed the slaves that he had inherited through his wife's family, and the result of that was not that he freed his slaves, but that the church split into north and south branches of the denomination. It wasn't until 1939 that the north and south came back together as one church. But in doing so, we put all of the Black congregations in a completely separate conference, so it was completely segregated. It wasn't until 1956 that Black congregations could affiliate with the conferences of the geographical areas in which they existed.

            Recently on some of the work that our United Methodist Church has been doing to have this dialogue, we've heard from some of our Black district superintendents, which is the next hierarchical step down from the Bishop. They tell stories about how they've gone to the churches as the superintendent, and they were stopped at the door, white churches, and asked what their intent was in coming to their church. It wasn't until they had to inform them that they were the new district superintendent that they were allowed in. One of our bishops in our conference, Mary Ann Swenson, was the Bishop here for 12 years, and she told the story as a child growing up in Mississippi of her church having two sets of ushers. They had one set of ushers that was to assist people on the inside of the church, and the other set of ushers was outside to make sure that no Black people tried to come inside. Their job was to tell any Black folks that tried to come up the stairs to go down the street where they would find a Black church.

            So where do these things get personal for me? Well, my father was a Presbyterian pastor. He was the pastor of the all white congregation in Alamosa, Colorado. His task was to work with Reverend Medina, the pastor of an all Mexican-American congregation, to merge the two churches. The result of that was that numerous threats were made against him and Reverend Medina, and that if he didn't stop that work, that both he and the rest of his family, that would include me, would be killed. I didn't learn much of that until much later in life. In 1968, when Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated, I was eight years old, and my dad took me with him to a march in our community. He told me that we had to go, that evil people had killed someone who was doing God's work, and that we had to go support those who were protesting.

            We've all got skeletons in our family closet. Some of us have more than others. As an adult, I learned that both of my grandfathers were members of the Ku Klux Klan, a bit of family history I would have preferred not knowing. I think it was 1998 or 99, I went to a missions conference where a woman named Beverly Shamana, Black pastor from our conference who would later be elected Bishop, was speaking about the plight of Black churches, mostly in the South, being destroyed by arson at the rate of 10 to 12 a month. I couldn't believe it. So I called her up and said, "Beverly, where can I send a check?" And she said, "I don't need a check. I need a team leader." I said, "No, no, no, I don't think you understand. I just want to send a check so I can help support the work." She said, "No, I need a team leader." Long story short, the result of that is I started leading teams to rebuild these churches that had been destroyed by arson.

            I met Mrs. Daisy who was in her early nineties, African American woman, who was the daughter of slaves, and she came to our work site every single day in her Sunday best. Nice dress, Sunday hat. It's a hundred degrees, a hundred percent humidity, and she visited with us while we were working. Towards the end of the week, late in the day she came and she said, "Rick, you need to come over here." I said, "Well, what can I do for you, Mrs. Daisy?" She says, "I need to give you a hug." I said, "Mrs. Daisy, look at me. I'm an absolute mess. It's hot, and I'm sweaty. I smell bad." And she said, "Son, you get over here." Well, my dad had taught me early on when an elder says to you, "Son, you get over here," that you do it. So I did, and there in the middle of this little rural Georgia church, Mrs. Daisy, the daughter or granddaughter of slaves and myself, the grandson of KKK members, embraced in her church.

            Becoming an ally, I think, is an honor bestowed upon one by members of the community with whom we're trying to be an ally for. We do not get to claim that title on our own. The work is to examine what we believe, look honestly at our own past, educate ourselves, be in dialogue with the communities we've harmed, and act in ways that can move us all towards healing.

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett:

Thanks, Pastor Rick, and thanks for sharing so many personal stories in that. A couple of things before we start the conversation. I know the organizers here wanted to get so much different representation and so many different voices, but one of the things we realized that the screen would all be half inch by half inch if we had all the faith communities present. So the bravery of the people who said yes landed them on this screen, and I know the organizers appreciate everybody try. Other quick clarification, [Father Ian Enslow 00:45:50] reminded me that I apparently just said the most segregated hour is 10:00 AM. Not every day, not coffee hour, but actually 10:00 AM Sunday. That's the most segregated hour. So thanks, Father Ian, for picking that up.

            But let's start our conversation. I encourage you to continue to post to the questions and answers, but I think the very first question was by my friend, [Sam Bird 00:00:46:14], and it really brought up something that other people were bringing up, and my own [inaudible 00:46:20] brought up, and this is, "How do we deal with this dual legacy, both of religion being in many, many times, the cause, justification, and at a very minimum complicit and silent, and at the same time inspiring so much goodness to fight back?" So we have this dual heritage, and maybe Pastor Paula, maybe starting with you. How do you, when a parishioner comes to you and says something like, "Oh God, aren't we at fault?" What do you say to that?

Pastor Paula Hulet:

Usually we start having a conversation about things that are around us that maybe they're not even aware of. A recent conversation lately has been about Confederate monuments and flags and why things were done the way they were, and understanding that we have used religion as if it were a commodity to be exploited for personal gain. I think that's the way I would look at it, rather than looking at our faith as something to be truly lived. Because to live our faith the way it is in the Bible, the way Jesus taught it, is really scary for a lot of people, because it would mean we would not be spending our time worrying about the stock market. We would spend more time worrying about whether or not our neighbor has enough to eat. We would start looking at the fact that our faith should not be translated into things that cause nationalism, unless it's something that's working for the good of all.

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett:

Yeah, but I think that's right. We have these conversations. Or maybe I'll pass this on to Pastor Rick or Reverend Rob, particularly with the Christian congregations. I mean, when you look back, I mean, I think there's some people who say, "Man, this church should. Repent of this past." Is there a role for public repentance for that part of the heritage that has been responsible for where we are now? Go ahead, Rob.

Rev. Rob Keim:

Yes. Repentance is certainly something that we need to do. It's something that we have started doing, but it's not something that we've done enough of, often because repentance seems hollow when it's just words and we need to figure out what is our beyond the words. One of the things that our Episcopal churches are trying to figure out is how many of our buildings and how many of our parishes were based on money that came from slavery? We don't have those answers yet, but it is something that we've started exploring, and it's something that we do need to know.

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett:

Rick, how do you think about it as a Methodist?

Pastor Rick Uhls:

I think that's a big conversation that's going on within the United Methodist Church at the moment. The first thing that comes to mind, Steve, is that it depends on what we mean by repentance. If we mean by repentance as doing something to alleviate our own guilt for the past, I don't think that does anybody any good. If repentance is done, and I think it needs to be done, if repentance is to actually change our behavior and make the future something different than our present and our past, then I think repentance has a real powerful purpose in the dialogue at the moment, and something that those of us who have been privileged need to engage in on a regular basis.

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett:

Yeah. So there's something. We're going to go back, again and again, to this idea of what do we do. What is the concrete action? I know Rabbi Heschel, he had this great quote in 1963 in a letter to President Kennedy, where he says to quote him here, "The Negro problem is like the weather. Everybody talks about it and does absolutely nothing about it." I think we will return again and again to this notion of what do we do, because repentance itself might be meaningful and changing a few hearts, but if those hearts don't translate into changed action, where do we go with that? I think-

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett:

Rabbi Rick, please join in.

Rabbi Rick Litvak:

What I was going to say is I think that certainly religion can be a justification of hypocrisy and prejudice, but at least in the Jewish faith and the other Western faiths that are built upon it, we have the prophets, of which I think Rabbi Heschel, who was one of the most influential rabbis on me, he was next one person over from Dr. King and the Selma March iconically, and they were very close friends, and so he has written a lot about this. Not only that, but he embodied the prophetic spirit. One place that I begin are just with the teachings of the prophets particularly, because the prophets were like the self-correcting gyroscope of faith, that their job was to point out the hypocrisy of people, of the immorality, of the injustice, of the smugness and rationalization of those in power who would oppress the poor. Their words were so direct and powerful.

            You fast and try to be ritually pious, and you think that you're being a pious Jew, but you oppress the poor, or you engage in a shady business practices, or you mistreat the stranger. They pointed out that to be religious really was not merely to be ritualistically pious, but more importantly, it was to love justice and mercy and walk humbly with God. And that if you were not doing that, you were a hypocrite at best, and at worst you were deluding yourself into thinking you were pious when you were wrong. You were desecrating the religion. So we read the prophetic books. Every Shabbat we read, not only through the Torah scroll itself, but every one, every week, it's accompanied by a prophetic teaching.

            On Yom Kippur, our day of which we're supposed to be thinking about repentance, the haftorah is from the book of Isaiah in which he says, "Don't just fast. Throw off, free the shackles of the oppressed, and set free those who are persecuted from their persecution. Feed the hungry and clothe the naked and house the homeless, and they are your kin." So that prophetic portion was chosen for the day of repentance, so I think repentance often begins with looking not at a particular selective text that might have been about some institution like slavery in the ancient times, when there are many things that we don't do that were in ancient times today. We don't stone people for-

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett:

[crosstalk 00:54:55] That one.

Rabbi Rick Litvak:

Yeah, for committing a crime. So many different things that we have outgrown as we have progressed, but at the core of the teachings that recur over and over again, 36 times in the Hebrew Bible, it says you shouldn't oppress the stranger or the alien or the others because you know the heart of the stranger and you are oppressed in the land of Egypt. So empathy, that if you begin with the texts that teach the dignity of every person and empathy and piety as a responsibility to a social justice, that's the beginning, I think, of a conversation about repentance.

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett:

Yeah, and thanks for bringing it up, Rick. I always point out to my students that the pinnacle of Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech is a quote of Amos. "Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." That prophetic tradition was so important to them.

Rabbi Rick Litvak:

I often think of him as a modern prophet.

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett:

Modern prophet, yeah. Rob, go for it.

Rev. Rob Keim:

I wanted to build on what Rick was saying about the prophets. Walter Brueggemann is a scholar who wrote a wonderful book called Prophetic Imagination around the prophets and why they did what they did. Part of what he talks about is that the prophets used very vivid, violent language. Sometimes we get called on the table for that vivid, violent language, but what Walter Brueggemann says is that the prophets were using that type of language to break through the numbness of the people because of the way their lives had been going. They had turned to numb.

            I wonder sometimes if we have some of the same thing happening today, where a lot of us are getting numb to some of the things that are happening in the world, and so one of the soapbox that I get on is to not only go vivid, violent language, but to use language of beauty. I think this type of language is prophetic in calling people back as the prophets did, but we sometimes don't remember that they talked as much about beauty, and reminding people how beautiful they are. So when I spoke at Lights For Liberty last year, I reminded immigrants that they are beautiful. When I was at the rally yesterday, I carried my You Are Beautiful banner with Black Lives Matter and Brown Lives Matter on it. My point is, I think our churches have a role to play in helping people break through the numbness, but it's with beauty rather than the violence stuff.

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett:

Yeah. Paula, I have a question for you. How do you respond when, let's say a young activist says, "Look, I don't need religion." And I see this among a lot of my students who are like, "Yeah, there was a time where you of all people needed religion to you to justify your actions, but I don't need a God to tell me that Black lives matter. In fact, God has been the problem. So why have religion involved in this at all?"

Pastor Paula Hulet:

I always think it's interesting when we blame God, when we forget to look at ourselves and our feelings as human beings. While religion has faith, traditions have had all of their failings. They also have a way of bringing us together and opening our eyes to something new and different. So if someone feels that they are fine on their own, great, but where is your sense of connection and growth in your community that's helping you move on to the next level? I realize not all faith, traditions, not all churches today are going to help with that, but that's really where I feel that's where we're called to do is to help. So maybe you don't see the need for a religion, but I'm going to work beside you as an activist, because we're working for the same common cause. Hopefully through that, there will be that understanding of where the faith plays a role in how we expand and move together.

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett:

So it sounds like what you're saying is, have your group and we will be there alongside of you, and it's all of us together, those people who have faith and those people who do not identify with people of faith, with faith traditions, that together can create change.

Pastor Paula Hulet:

Right, right. It's not an exclusive club by any means. I mean, we need all people working together.

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett:

Yeah. One-

Rabbi Rick Litvak:

I oftentimes say that the tree that can withstand the most difficult climate and produce the best fruit and shade is a tree that has the deepest roots. Of course there are trees that can produce fruit, they're beautiful, but the ones over time that are able to withstand all the assaults of daily life and society, let's say, and produce the most fruit, are the ones that have deep roots. And that there's a reason why in every society there is religion, because it's a part of life that enriches and strengthens and binds together people in connection to a significant collective action on behalf of the good.

            Of, course we live in a very individualist society. I often say that the millennials, that you are a product of that society, but maybe there's some hidden hungers that you have that you don't even know because our society and the way that you have grown up is so individualistic that you don't really even have a chance to know what you might want for nourishment, spiritual nourishment or nourishment of your idealism or nourishment of your impulse to good. Religion has provided that since there been human communities, and so maybe it's at least worth looking at.

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett:

Yeah.

Rabbi Rick Litvak:

... and so maybe it's at least worth looking at.

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett:

Yeah. Well, let me sort of flip the discussion on religion, because you know, both Pastor Paula and Rabbi Rick, were bringing up the communal, and the ability of religious groups to come together to enact change. But, and maybe I'll direct this to Pastor Rick, because I think a lot of the people in the question and answers are asking a series of questions kind of about how to speak to some of their religious friends who might not be a part of liberal denominations, who might not have a history, and then hearing at the pulpit that black lives matter.

            And particularly, one person asked, a lot of their friends say, "I get it. I'm on board with fighting against systemic racism. But I can't support Black Lives Matter, because if you go on their website, they are anti two parent households, or anti-capitalism, they have all these other beliefs that I find incompatible with my beliefs." So, what do you say to the person who says, "Okay, I theoretically agree with the goals of something like Black Lives Matter, but I'm not on board with supporting that organization."

Pastor Rick Uhls:

Sure. Great question, and difficult questions for all of us, at this time. I think one of the things I'd want to be in dialogue with, is maybe twofold. One, that it is possible, in my opinion, to support the Black Lives Matter movement without supporting the Black Lives Matter organization. In my perspective, it's necessary to keep the two separate.

            Because I think it's possible to get people excited and onboard about Black Lives Matter movement, that is inclusive of all sorts of faith traditions, and devoid of some of the political stuff that gets in there when we get to the organizational matters of it. That's at least where I'm coming from on it. I think it would be very difficult to find an argument of, that in order to support the Black Lives Matter movement then you would have to support the organization.

            I see them as two separate things. And beyond that, I think that, and this is an ongoing dialogue I have with young people in our community even today, is that there's a big difference between the Jesus that the Western church has created, and the Jesus of the scriptures. As evangelical theologian tony Campolo said, if the Jesus of the scriptures were to meet the Jesus of the Western church, the two would not recognize each other. And I think it's really hard to look at the life of Jesus, as I would, as a Christian pastor, and see any other option other than supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett:

But then Rick, if I could respond to that, I mean, don't all the evangelical churches or other denominations that are leading their parishioners away from support, don't they claim to be biblical? Don't they claim to be following the Bible? And in fact, don't they often even have Bible in their name?

Pastor Rick Uhls:

Is this about where my internet connection fails? Yes, they do. And clearly I'm in from another perspective than that. I think that, how would I put this? I think that when I see it, and certainly I have family members who were evangelicals, and they would not fit this overgeneralization that I'm making. But I think, when the evangelical faith gets married with the nationalistic mentality, that largely has white privilege, as its base, it's really dangerous territory.

            I'm not so concerned about what it does to the state, but I'm really concerned at what it does to the church. I think I have never been more uncomfortable in my faith than I am right now. And that's because the reality of who I believe God is in the person of Christ, is confronting me every single day on my own racism and my own privilege, stuff that I'd rather not be thinking about. I think many churches are trying to help people just feel comfortable with their own privilege. And for me, that's just missing the mark as far as what I believe the faith says to us.

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett:

Yeah. Rob, I mean, Reverend Rob, this is for you, because you talked in your opening statement about the role of pastors is a bridge. And it sparked a question in me, because so much of our society's becoming siloized, everybody's in their different camps, and everybody is politically separated. Both where they get their news, who they talk to, who their friends are, all sorts of studies show that. How do you avoid churches just following that trend, and you preaching to the choir, even if not everybody can sing?

Rev. Rob Keim:

Oh, it's a great question. I struggle with that one every week. Because part of what I have to do in preaching, and I think we probably all do that, is try to find something that's like shifting the Titanic that maybe start steering in a certain direction, but isn't going to have a person just shut down when they hear something that I said. Two weeks ago, three weeks ago, I mentioned global climate change twice in a sermon. And now I have two books on my desk from someone who says global climate change isn't real.

            So, I think we all struggle with, how do we try to include as many people as possible? 15 years ago, the Anglican communion wondered about a slip over gay bishops. So, over gender and sexuality. And one of the things that I appreciated was somehow we figured out how to stay at table as long as possible. You can think of this table as eating together, or an altar. We figured out how to stay at table together long enough so that we would just get through it and still be all together.

            Because when we can, we in the U.S. especially, can be with our African brothers and sisters who are more conservative, especially around gender and sexuality. Over time, we may rub off on them yet. And over time, they may rub off on us, on things around racism, around economics. We have a lot to learn from our African brothers and sisters around economics, and not being consumers. So, my point once again is there is a virtue in staying together with people who don't always believe exactly what we believe, but we can still find something common.

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett:

Hmm. There's always this tension though, Rabbi Rick, I want to turn to you because people are, "Oh, the Jews. Jews think everything, there are more Jewish opinions on every topic. That's what it means to be Jewish, to have many opinions." So, how do you keep the varieties of ways of thinking together, and what's your role as a faith leader in that? Because here, you have a tremendous legacy of social activism, and racial reconciliation to your past. How do you reach out to your parishioners who would say, "No, I don't want to think about that. I want to think about homeless."

Rabbi Rick Litvak:

Yes. Well, I start with the role of religion and the nature of Judaism and the job of a rabbi altogether, is to comfort the inflicted and afflict the comfortable. And so, if I'm not doing both of those things, then I'm not really doing my job, and Judaism isn't doing its job. So, I think to comfort the afflicted, I think it requires empathy and respect for people who have differences of opinion.

            One of the things that the house of Hillel and Shammai, the two Talmudic schools that disagreed about everything, but they still married within each other's family and they still ate together and they still learned together. But the rulings, more frequently, went to the house of Hillel because his school's practice was to first state a full understanding and repetition of the arguments, and their convincing points of house of Shammai before they shared their own opinions.

            And I think that that sense of how we conduct ourselves, where we live in a time where there are no boundaries about how we relate to each other. And this model, I think of that we find in the Talmud, that it's really a document that has a lot of opinions. And then there's finally a ruling that the community makes, but it's provisional and could be wrong tomorrow. It could be wrong next year. So, to try to both hold kind of true to your own convictions, but also relate to other people with a sense of at least forbearance and ability to try to understand where they're coming from, though not necessarily agree.

            And in that process of holding that kind of, let's say foundation of disagreement, there oftentimes the capacity for people to move in directions that they can't when there's polarization and when there's only what we have now, which is power struggle and strife. So, I think that trying to hold that frame. Which is a spiritual frame, that the people you meet, I might think them wrong, I might even need to oppose them.

            I certainly wouldn't agree with some of the people in my congregation, and they wouldn't agree with me, but to treat them respectfully and try to understand them and to try to listen to them and try to share my thinking, and how I think Judaism is applied in this way and what it means. I think that gives me the best chance of creating. And that's the model from Jewish tradition that has the integrity of the history of how we approach this kind of problem in from a Jewish traditional point.

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett:

Yeah. I love, Pastor Rick, because I study antiquity, the old synagogues, everybody faced each other. Because you weren't going to stop looking at each other's eyes, no matter what you said to each other.

Rabbi Rick Litvak:

Exactly.

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett:

Paula, one of the things that I think, in suffering through some of these questions here, is there are both camps of anti religious people. There are people who deny racism on the other side. I mean, there's all these different camps, but I think one of the trickiest historically is the people in your congregation who say, "Yes, we have racism. This has been an issue, but what about homelessness? What about climate change? Why are we dealing with this one?" So, why is it important for your congregation to deal with the questions of Black Lives Matter? How do you make that case, and how do you show that to them?

Pastor Paula Hulet:

You know, I think it's really easy for people to want to rally behind something where it makes them feel good, without having to look at themselves. And I think that part of the whole thing with Black Lives Matter, and any of the studies that have been going on, is that it really causes us to have to look within ourselves. And if we're not really willing to look within, name our failings, name our weaknesses, then as a faith community, we are not really growing. We are just perpetuating.

            And you know, I am amazed at the number of people who do not even believe that racism is systemic. But then when you ask them how easy it was to get certain things, or if they've ever been denied access to something, they say no. But then if you say, "Okay, well, you can't have that." Then all of a sudden people get upset. And I think with our faith, we need to basically open up that conversation so that we can explore and recognize our own accountability and our own culpability.

            And we need to get uncomfortable with who we are, and what we've done, and how we think, because it's so ingrained within us. And so, there are a lot of people who don't want to be part of that conversation. There's some that are on the periphery, and yet you continue to have that, hoping that eventually you're opening up some eyes and some doors and helping people to walk through some way that they hadn't walked before.

Rabbi Rick Litvak:

I think one other thing that I was thinking about in terms of at least how I approach it. An approach to how we address maybe people within our own faith, that don't hold the same sense of responsibility, and a sense of having to look at our own responsibility for something that we might see as a problem, but not necessarily identify that we contribute to it. We're about to have the high holidays, and the confessional prayers of Yom Kippur, the day of atonement are all in plural.

            And so, you confess all the sins of the community and society. And why do you say them in the plural? Because we're responsible, not just for the ones that we commit, but for the ones we permanent to happen. And that is a kind of what Elie Wiesel, the famous survivor of the Holocaust said that, "In society, not all are guilty, but all are responsible."

            And I think that distinction sometimes help people. When you think, "Well, I'm responsible for this. I should feel guilty for it. I didn't actually do this." You begin to already disidentify with the responsibility. But if you start with, "Well, you see this wrong and how do we at least contribute to permitting it to happen?" That's the beginning of where we think about responsibility in a way that sometimes it's more accessible to people, and sometimes it makes more sense to them, too. So, that's the way I think that provides a bridge across that gulf.

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett:

Yeah. And Rick, I think one of the things that I take away, too, as part of the responsibility of spiritual leaders is to model that discomfort that comes talking about it. I mean, when Reverend Rob starts off with, "I am a racist." I mean, that's uncomfortable when Pastor Rick says, "I am the grandson of two KU Klux Klansman." That's uncomfortable. And so, part of that is, and maybe this will be directed to you too, Rick. But Rob, feel free to jump in. What's the strategies that you use to encourage these uncomfortable conversations, to not talk about a bake sale, but let's talk about our really, many times unconscious, racist viewpoints.

Rabbi Rick Litvak:

[crosstalk 01:20:33] To that Rick?

Pastor Rick Uhls:

Yeah. Which Rick are you're talking to?

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett:

Oh, I'm sorry. Rick Uhls. Pastor Rick. Yeah.

Pastor Rick Uhls:

I really appreciate that question. I think it is whether it has been the spirit leading or my own foolhardy nature or a combination of the two, I would say since the death of George Floyd, and Brianna and all those things that have been in our face over the last few months. I have found myself just being with my congregation during worship, both in my preaching and in my pastoral prayers, being more confessional.

            Where, where is this hard for me? It probably isn't on the agenda of most pastors to get up and share with their congregation, that they're the grandson of two KU Klux Klan members. That tends to be a little off putting for people who are looking to you as a spiritual leader, but that's who I am. It's where I came from. And what I've found is when I can be vulnerable in that way, it helps free up other people to be vulnerable in that way.

            When one of my parishioners says, "Well, don't you think all lives matter as well?" Well, of course all lives matter. And I used to say that, but until it's apparent that black lives matter, then no lives really matter. And so, that becomes a dialogue that we can then engage in, and kind of wallow in our own uncomfortableness together. I would just say, be being vulnerable at confessional seems to beget other people being vulnerable in confessional, at least within my community.

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett:

Yeah. Reverend Rob, do you want to add to that?

Rev. Rob Keim:

Yeah. I would certainly say when I can model something, it almost gives permission to other people, sometimes, to do things. But the other thing that I find is I used to think of ministry as pushing the boulder uphill, nonstop. And I had a wonderful person that helped me reshift my thinking, so that it's really fanning the flames or the embers into flames so that beautiful things can start happening.

            And what that allows me to do is as I stay in touch with people in my community, I can see groups of people that may be interested in different things. And starting about three years ago, we started gathering the most passionate eight to 10 people around social justice issues, and we went through and we identified 12 areas that we could work on. I usually tell people that we need to be the hands and feet and voice, and now eyes of Jesus here in the South County, but sometimes you can't do all 12 of the areas.

            So, we had prioritized four of them, mental health, LGBT, the environment, and migrant and immigrant rights, very prevalent here in the South County. But now all of a sudden there's a wave with Black Lives Matters. And we've shifted, even though that wasn't one of our top four, where we were going to spend our energy. But I'm going to ride the wave that's there, and see how much we can move people along with this wave. So, I think part of my point is, sometimes as clergy I feel like we're, like I said, pushing that boulder uphill, but it's really fanning the flames of the people that are in our communities, and encouraging them to do things, modeling the way that Rick was talking about.

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett:

Empowering them. Well, I want to, at this stage, turn to some active things that the faith communities of the Central Coast are doing as allies, and what you've learned from these experiments. Not just the last six months, but the last 30 years of being an ally. What are the things that you've seen work? And what are the things that you wish you had known prior? And Rabbi Rick, you've been involved this for a long time. What's the wisdom that you share on what it means to be an ally of faith?

Rabbi Rick Litvak:

I think the first thing about being an ally is to come with a learner's mind rather than with a sense of one's own righteousness, or importance, or certitude. To start with the idea that, if I want to someone to learn about antisemitism, probably I would like them to read and I'd like them to talk to Jews about their experience. And so, if I want to be an ally, and I want my community to be an ally, to read, really, and discuss. Not just read, but to discuss and probe and really try to understand that literature, like white privilege or like white fragility, or how to be an antiracist, and to really start to open one's mind to the experience and the guidance of the African American community.

            I know one of the things, since I'm not from the community that I did, which I was very blessed by the black leaders from Race Matters, and from the NAACP. But to share with me and what they thought would be good for the Jewish community to do, to be good allies. And I took that information and I shared it with the congregation and people have been extremely responsive about trying to then take on projects and do things that the local African American community leadership feel that would be good for us to do as allies. So, that's kind of where I think what I've learned is to approach being an ally in that way. And I think it served me and my community well.

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett:

Well, yeah. So, learning is one thing, and I encourage you if you haven't attended the previous two episodes of this community conversation, there are a lot of good resources there. And I know Kendra, perhaps you could put some of those there. I also encourage you if you are a person, particularly of the Christian faith, who wants to know about the history of America and its complex relationship with race. Kendra can put up a few books recent from this year and last year, that are really interesting. Some more academic than others, but there's just a lot of work being done.

            So, education, and Rabbi Rick will attest that Judaism has always been an avenue of education, but so much of faith has been an avenue of education, and thinking about social issues and the problems of our world through a lens of faith has always been part of what education is. How about Pastor Paula? You've been around a long time, you've been working in this area a long time. What's some of the wisdom that you have have gleaned here?

Pastor Paula Hulet:

I would definitely echo what Rabbi Rick said, is that education is really, really important. The bit that we think we know everything there is to know is the moment we realize we should know nothing. We know nothing, and we need to learn more. I also think it's just that willingness to constantly enter into conversation. Whether it's in small groups, through, Yes, We Can Peacebuilders, which is a group that I'm very active in. We meet monthly right now by Zoom, and just have conversation and we'll pick a topic. What is it like to walk in this person's shoes? Or, what are things that are holding you up?

            I think that we just need that sense of awareness. I love the idea o rather than for us trying to come up with solutions, we need to go to those communities who would like our allyship and say, "Okay, what can we do?" I have this whole thing about us trying, a group trying to say, "This is what needs to happen." When it's really, what we want to do is be able to walk beside somebody else.

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett:

Pastor Paula, I would like to follow up on that one then, because I listened to NPR recently, and they had a show on the Freedom Summers. And they were saying that one of the black leaders was really reticent about white Northeasters coming down to register voters, because there was this fear. College educated white people from the Northeast are going to come down and take over this movement, and tell us how to be more efficient and effective.

            And so, share with us a little bit more about what you've learned about how to be that sort of servant supporter of a movement. Because I think, especially pastors and those involved in churches are kind of used to, "Let's organize, let's get this done, let's do this." So, how does that translate into real action, then?

Pastor Paula Hulet:

I think a lot of it, when I was active in the pulpit, it was I would bring people in to talk to the congregation from a different perspective, regardless of what the topic was. Climate change, Black Lives Matter, or whatever, to come in and say, "This is our story. This is my story. And this is why I think it's important that you hear it." And then, to encourage the conversation, "Okay. How do we support each other in this process?" I think a lot of it is learning to listen. We're still hung up on wanting to control, that we have forgotten how to listen. And I think listening is incredibly important.

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett:

Pastor Rick, let me turn to you a little bit. What do you do for your parishioner who says, "I am on board on this. Black Lives Matter. We need to stand up, we need to do something. I am going to pray every day about it and we are going to change this."

Pastor Rick Uhls:

Yeah. Well, I'm all in favor of prayer, be foolish to not be so. But I think what I have typically done over the years is tried to remind folks that prayer is a starting point. Unless prayer moves us into action, it's just us talking to ourselves. If prayer is a dialogue, and we're opening ourselves up to the divine-

Pastor Rick Uhls:

... and we're opening ourselves up to the divine and praying about a particular issue. My experience has been that if we're open to the dialogue, that the spirit of the divine will move us in a direction of action and typically when I've known that is a divine inspiration, it's when I haven't wanted to do it. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, when I heard about the African American churches being burned at the rate of 10 to 12 a month, I wanted to send a check. It's like, "I'll pray about it, Beverly, and I can send a check. Where do I send the check?" And she didn't want a check. She wanted people to go. I didn't want to go. Every trip I went on on that was a life-altering experience of realizing that the things I thought were in the past are very much alive in the present, and then to be able to come back to my own communities and look around and go, "Oh my gosh, all we've done is sugarcoat it in a way that makes us comfortable with it."

            But the racism is systemic and prayer's a great starting point, but I believe that unless prayer moves us into doing something about it, we're just listening to ourselves talk and not in that divine human dialogue that I think prayer is intended to be.

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett:

Now, Rob, you mentioned that yesterday you went to the Tianna rally. Share with us your thought process there. I mean, how do you think through when to march and when to spend another hour on your sermon? When to call your parishioners to say, "Hey, have you thought about donating to these organizations we suggest or the church, and when to stand with people on the streets? How do you think through that?

Rev. Rob Keim:

Sometimes it's spontaneous. Happened to read in the newspaper yesterday morning that there was going to be a rally. Happened to have an open calendar for the most part in the morning so could go. Invited a couple of their clergy people to join me and went up. It was a wonderful experience. It was incredibly organized, wonderful speakers, and it was a very special time. There were protesters that were across the street that got loud, periodically, also. And one of the things that amazed me was, some of the organizers for Black Lives Matter and for that rally, went over and talked to some of the protesters. I don't know how to do that. I mean, I don't know how to do that and be coherent or stay calm.

            And so this isn't exactly, well, it's not answering your question, but I just had a lot of respect yesterday for those people that were able to go over there and do that. I don't know if it made any difference, but I was certainly impressed by it. So I wonder within my own head, "Okay, what do I have to be doing to learn some of those skills so that I can be doing that as well?" So that was watching some people model something for me.

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett:

Hmm. Rabbi Rick-

Rev. Rob Keim:

I didn't answer your question.

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett:

No, no. I mean, it's a personal part of it. But Rabbi Rick, I have a question for you about donations because, especially at the time of COVID, our churches or faith communities are struggling and it's a different environment. And so how do you, when you talk to people about how their wallet reflects their faith, do you share with them, "Hey, here are some racial reconciliation groups that could be funded. Here are some concrete things you can do?" Or what's the responsibility of people of faith to not just be the vehicle by which donations get to things, but to encourage people to use their money in ways that reflect the values that you preach at the pulpit?

Rabbi Rick Litvak:

Well, I often talk about what in Judaism is your legacy. That in Judaism, a lot of your afterlife is really the deeds that you accomplish during your life for good. And so to take a look at your checkbook as a important document in, what kind of legacy are you leaving from your life? What is your afterlife going to be? What is, not just your work resume, but your obituary resume and what kind of resume do you want your obituary to be? When you think of it in those ways, really you put it in the context of, what do you want to be the significance of goodness that lives on after you, that you accomplished while you were alive? Judaism, in that way, it's very much not focused on the afterlife, but on this life and the spiritual, ethical legacy that you create.

            I think when you put it in that context, then money and your checkbook is a part of writing that document of your legacy or in part, your obituary. You want it to say, "I stretched and I went beyond what I thought was generous. I tried to help in many different ways and many different peoples, and I tried to respond to the moment." Those are the two things. Everybody's specializes in a mitzvah. That is a righteous deed, and Sadaqua also is the righteous giving. We don't speak about charity. We talk about Sadaqua and it comes from the word justice. And so the principle of Judaism is that God put you on this earth to be a representative God and God's partner to help repair and complete the world. And so how you spend your money and how you give is an important part of whether or not you knew fulfilled that obligation to have gratitude for your life. So I try to put it in the terms of, actually, of spiritual terms, of justice, that how does your checkbook reflect a life of justice, of just giving, righteous giving?

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett:

And you see this a lot. I'm very close with the Muslim community in town. Zakat is-

Rabbi Rick Litvak:

Zakat. The same word. It's the same word.

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett:

It's the same word. Exact same word. And the link between Zakat and the commandment you find in the Quran to create a compassionate and just society, that those two are integrally linked. Your alms giving is an act of justice.

Rabbi Rick Litvak:

It's the same word. It's the same word.

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett:

Yeah. And so you see that's such a focus of the Islamic community throughout the world, but on the central coast as well. Paula, I've also been asked to speak at Unitarian congregations and the [inaudible 01:41:03] here in town, for many years has had a Black Lives Matter banner up and it keeps getting ripped down and they've put it back up. And the conversations, as far as I'm aware within that community, has been about, "No, we need to make a public statement that we are maybe a largely white congregation," which they are, "but to us Black Lives Matter and that promotion is part of it." How do you think through the banner at the church, the placard in front of the house, the T-shirt? What's the role of allies in just promoting this?

Pastor Paula Hulet:

I think that that statement is important, whatever that statement is. When I was pastoring here in Morro Bay at Estero Bay United Methodist Church, we had a sign up that talked about, In My America, Black Lives Matter. It went on and on. It's the one with the flag and I can't tell you exactly what all was on there, and we had someone complain. Because they didn't like the organization that had published the banner. And we said, "This is private property. You don't have to walk through our area. You don't have to look at it. It's important to us." And it got stolen. And it was like...

            I mean, it wasn't a big sign and it's not like we were in a very public location. I mean, we're right next door to a school. But the fact that you can put something up... The Unitarians have, I don't know how many of those banners that they put up, but I think it's really, really important. And you see the difference. It's almost like you can resonate with a household or with an individual because of the fact that they're wearing something or displaying something, and it lets someone know that that's a safe place for them. It's an okay place to be. It's a place where conversation can happen.

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett:

Yeah. Yeah. As you move through that, it becomes an interesting public display of support. But it also can be a very easy way to say, "I've done something and I fulfilled my responsibility now." And so how do you balance, and maybe we'll go to Pastor Rick on this, how do you balance, yes, promote, but also do something? How do you inspire people to make concrete changes?

Pastor Rick Uhls:

I'm trying to figure that out, Steve. I think one of the things we're doing with our congregation, because it's racism in general, I think systemic racism, not that we haven't talked about it prior to the current crisis in which we find ourselves, but I think we've been very sheltered and looking at it as, this has been a problem that's somebody else's problem. And so what we're doing, we've started a book study. Done a few sessions already. It's being led by Pastor Paula and Cornel Morton on white fragility as a starting point. I think that's been one thing that we've been doing. The other is within our tradition. Most Christian traditions have some sort of liturgy about baptism. Before you ever get to what you believe about Christ in our baptismal liturgy, there's a vow to combat racism and injustice in whatever forms it presents itself.

            And mostly then, we move from baptism, we never talk about that again. And I would say over the last five months or so, that is a theme that keeps coming up, to where if we're going to live out our baptismal vows as Christians within the United Methodist church, we need to get educated about what it means to combat racism, injustice, oppression, in whatever forms it presents itself. I think, at least from my current thinking, that it's when we get educated about what the issues are, that there's a natural motivation of people of faith to move, to do some sort of action about it. It's when we're comfortable within our own sheltered little places of existence and not wanting to look at what these issues are that we run the risk of being immobilized by comfort, and my hope as a pastor is to move people continually, me along with them, into our discomfort so that that discomfort will have a reaction and that reaction will hopefully be doing concrete things to right the injustices of our past and our present.

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett:

And vote. Vote. Vote.

Pastor Rick Uhls:

Yes.

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett:

I always say. Rob, I had another question related to this because I'm really of two minds of this. I trot out the data all the time that the most segregated hour in our American week is 10:00 AM Sunday, even if I forget the Sunday sometimes. And there's been a lot of literature about the tragedy of churches that have not racially integrated, and you even mentioned that Saint Barnabas does not reflect the racial characterization of the South County. I get that that is a failure. But one of the things when my partner and I were watching the first episode of this, and Courtney said that one of the things Race Matters does is provide a place where African Americans can get together and just have fun together, and that's a really important part. And so it led me to think, maybe this idea that we're segregated on Sunday mornings isn't such a horrible thing because maybe there is this need to be with like people to recharge, in other words.

            And so I just became torn because for most of my academic life, I thought of this as a complete tragedy that we don't have more racially diverse churches. But I mean, how has your thought evolved on that question, on making that a priority?

Rev. Rob Keim:

Sure. I think there is greater benefit to having the diversity within a community and I think this for a couple reasons. There's a lot of good data out there that shows that churches, religious organizations become irrelevant when they no longer represent the demographics of the community around them. And here in the South County, I think we're about 27 to 29% Latinx. And like I said, we're 95% Caucasian, white at Saint Barnabas so we no longer represent the community that's around us. So over, maybe not the short term, but the medium term, we're going to become irrelevant.

            So that's a reason to shift. I also think that Jesus models for us that we don't want to be just with people that are like us. We want to be with the other. There is a lot of benefit to us and to the other when we're in relationship with one another, and I think God has created so much more diversity in human beings than we usually like to admit, and we need to be in relationship with as much of that diversity as we can. So I understand the comfort in wanting to be people that are already like us, but I think we often will say we need to be creating our parishes to be for the people that are not yet here. And it's a little cliche-ish, but I do believe it.

Rabbi Rick Litvak:

I think one of the things that, just to add a little bit onto this, that people hopefully find interesting and meaningful is that there's a tremendous sense of addressing a topic in the Jewish community that now about 1 in 12 Jews are Jews of color, maybe from Latinx or African American or Asian and different minorities in the United States that we think of as minorities. And so when we talk about Jews, we used to talk about, well, Jews and African American. But the truth of the matter is there are now a lot of African American Jews through convergence, through intermarriage, some from Africa, from Ethiopia. So that that we are, particularly in the reform movement, our president, the rabbi who's in charge, Rick Jacobs, has launched a movement-wide, really, study and then benchmarks of things that congregations are asked to do to really begin to see in which ways that we are not seeing Jews of color or we're not welcoming enough to Jews of color or things that maybe are said to someone of color that might somehow impugn whether they were really Jewish or not.

            And so I think that that's something that most people don't know about Jews and many Jews don't really understand, and we have some work to do and our movement is really doing it, but just the awareness that there are a lot of Jews of color now and how we can really make sure our institutions, our religious, our synagogue are affirming, welcoming and affirming. And so that's something that's happening in the Jewish community.

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett:

Well, I think that's a nice segue because we want to start moving towards wrapping it up. It's that time of night. And I appreciate,, first all the wonderful questions. I hope we got to many of them, or at least combined in the conversation meandered towards them. But I appreciate all the honest questions, all the honest feedback. And particularly, I want to thank all the panelists who volunteered for, or were volunteered for this uncomfortable panel, which has the potential to be so, and it takes both bravery and faith. I think we saw them both on display tonight. So if we can do a virtual round of applause for everyone, that would be great. I want to, before I invite Cornel back up, I want to just go around the horn and give everybody a chance to make one concrete suggestion for how people of faith could be an ally. And to leave us with this notion that there are things that we can do as people of faith to support this movement. So we'll just go in the order that we did the opening statement. So Rob, we'll start with you.

Rev. Rob Keim:

I do think God loves all equally, and that love never changes. I think Blue Lives Matter. We dump a lot on our police that society doesn't take care of, but I used to watch the TV show M*A*S*H*, where you learn to triage and you learn what things are more important or what things are in worst case. And I think with Black Lives Matter and Brown Lives Matter, we're hemorrhaging with our people of color. I think we need to come together as the hands and feet and voice and eyes of Jesus in the world to work on this thing that's hemorrhaging.

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett:

All right. Pastor Paula.

Pastor Paula Hulet:

I really think that for most of us it's of question of reading, listening, reflecting so that we know where to step in, but until we've started to educate ourselves and become aware of our own issues, our own concerns, our own failings and prejudices, if you will, I don't think we can be an effective ally. We need to engage in conversation and we need to do a lot of listening.

Rabbi Rick Litvak:

I think that taking action to really try to remedy, at all different levels and in different ways, the reality of racism in our society, of systemic racism, is so important. I guess the word that stands out for me is, we often think of ourselves maybe as not racist, but not just admit it, maybe that we're have some racism, but the goal of being an anti-racist. And I'm proud of the congregation that [inaudible 00:22:51]. We're doing a project pairing with people in the South, African Americans, that we're writing to through the NAACP to combat voter suppression. And so I think taking acts that really try to stand up and regress something like voter suppression and becoming anti-racist like that project that we're involved in, is really important to be anti-racist.

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett:

Okay. And Pastor Rick.

Pastor Rick Uhls:

I think painful, uncomfortable self-reflection with an openness to see where we individually have gone wrong combined with concerted effort at becoming educated. If you haven't taken the first step, take the first step. If you've been walking the journey a long time, take the next step. This isn't something we're going to fix overnight. This has got to be a lifelong commitment to journeying towards a place where these issues that are before us are part of our history and not a part of our present.

Dr. Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett:

I applaud all the people who watched today, because this is a step along the journey and I encourage you to continue to have those conversations, not just with your immediate neighbors, but reach out to the Catholics in our community, the Muslims, the Sikhs, the Hindus. So many different faiths in our community are working together on this, and I would love to be able to provide a forum for all those different faiths to be here. Because as people as faith, two thirds of the world, at least, identify with some sort of religion. If there's going to be change in the world, you've got to get to the spiritual heart of people and the leaders that we see on the screen today are part of that global movement for transformation, recognizing that the past is quite spotty in this, but hopefully the future will be better. So at this point, let me invite Cornel back onto the screen and allow him to do.... I feel like we should have a benediction or something, an interfaith benediction of something, but in lieu of a benediction, here is Cornel.

Cornel Morton:

In lieu of a benediction. I want to thank everyone for what I believe was a very important and timely, obviously, conversation. I certainly want to thank the participants who joined us across the county and beyond. Thank you so much for spending time with us and for your participation. I'm going to actually start also by thanking our interpreters. Stephanie Hargen, Sarah Levinway, you have helped us to make this program more accessible and that's really important, and so we want to thank you for your time. Thank you, Reverend Rob Keim. Thank you, Pastor Paula Hulet. Thank you, Rabbi Richard Litvak. Thank you, Pastor Rick Uhls and thank you, Dr. Stephen Lloyd-Moffett. Your moderation was outstanding. I really appreciated the kinds of questions you raised and the power and energy of the conversation. I want to just, very quickly, just mention a few things that I heard tonight, and I just put them down as bullet points.

            They include embrace the concept and practice of empathy. That word empathy was used a number of times and I think most of us understand how important it is to actually place oneself, as we sometimes say, in the others experience and speculate about that, experience that internally and understand how, in what ways empathy works. Break through the numbness with beauty. That was a beautiful phrase. What is my role in this community as we address racism, and systemic racism especially? What role can I play? What role is there for me in and outside faith communities?

            Together we create positive change, clearly. Find common ground. This is so important. We are so much more alike than we are different when we really get right down to it and have an opportunity to understand, to interact with one another on personal levels, especially. Comfort the afflicted and inflict the comfortable. What a social justice ethic. Comfort the afflicted and inflict the comfortable. That is a powerful phrase. Continue the dialogue. Come with a learner's mind. Be willing to listen and learn empathically. I also want to mention again, the September 9th program, our last program in this series, the theme, what values do we all share? We would invite you to look forward to that. Again, I'm going to simply ask all of us to continue the good work and thank you so much to everyone who participated, again, our panelists, our interpreters, our folks who tuned in and then stayed with us throughout most of the program and those who left had to, I'm certain, but we also want to thank them. So with that, we will close out the evening and thank you again, all of you.

Five Cities Diversity Coalition dba Diversity Coalition San Luis Obispo County 

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