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Presbyterian Church (USA)

In Current Events

Is it Really All About the Benjamins?

By the Rev. Mary Susan Pisano

Have you heard of Freedom Rising?  Chances are, if you’re a pastor, it’s rolling around in your head, probably in the category of “things I need to find out more about,” or “things I might need to get involved with if I have the time.”  If you are a person in the pew, the chances are much lower that you’ve heard of this overture from the PC(USA).  We’re sorry about that and we’re also hoping that this article can help improve that situation.

At the 222nd General Assembly (2016), an overture was passed that was intended to address the “worsening plight of the African-American male.”  This overture was a reprise of a similar piece of legislation that was constructed in the late 1990’s, a direct enquiry into racism and what it had produced both in society and in the Presbyterian Church.  As with many social programs, there was a lot of enthusiasm initially for this work, and an intention to do good.  But as time went on, enthusiasm waned and the number of committed people dwindled.  The challenge of racism was more complicated than anyone had recognized and it didn’t help that there was seldom money available, even for a project this old and this dire.  There wasn’t even much recognition that in this country, racism is fundamental to many, if not all, of the other social ‘problems’ we have.

For many, February 26, 2012, was the night that racism and what happens because of it, returned to our consciousness because the murder of Trayvon Martin was the beginning of a series of murders of African-American men and women that became high profile cases as a result of the power of social media.  This serial murder, perhaps even genocide, wasn’t anything new to our African-American brothers and sisters, it was now being captured by people with cell phones and posted to social media sites in real time. “White” america was finally being forced to look at itself.

What had languished and then died in the late 1990’s was resurrected.  In Pittsburg, it was Eugene ‘Freedom’ Blackwell who began the conversation and crafted the overture.  Here in Cleveland, it was Joanne Wallace from St. Mark’s, Rev. Mary Susan Pisano and Laura Van Dale, who knew these two women, that their passion was undeniable and put them in a room together with a couple of others to form the Race Action Network.  Mr. Blackwell brought his document, with the concurrence of the Presbytery of the Western Reserve among others, to Portland where Presbyterians got to work and an overture was crafted.  

It is exciting to know that when you are passionate about an issue and you can get a number of other Presbyterians to agree with you, things might get done.  Sadly, that is only partially true.  While the overture passed, the PC(USA) declined to allocate any budgetary money for the overture and so the participating cities have been required to start from scratch financially.  Work as important and pervasive as anti-racism work does not necessarily need money to begin, but if the Presbyterian Church as an institution hopes to have any long-term impact on the eradication of racism, it will take more than the crafting of overtures and the assembling of task forces.  

Jesus teaches us a lot about money and most of it is stuff we don’t want to know.  In the book of Matthew, just after the Beatitudes, He says this, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  This suggests to me that what we do with our money, how we think about it and where we spend it and use it, tells the world what kind of people we are, what we value.  Do we value our African-American brothers and sisters?  Can we, in a modern translation of the above Bible verses, put our money where our mouth is?

Learn more about Freedom Rising and download informational materials, including bulletin inserts and flyers, here.

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