Recently I was invited by a community advocate to a PUAH meeting (Portland United Against Hate). As a minister, being involved in community work is an important calling that Jesus has given both Lori and I. However, it is easy to become involved in so many works/organizations, that one can neglect their calling to minister to the people in our own congregation. After reviewing the material, goals, and mission statements from PUAH, I decided to pray more about my involvement. Lori indicated this was an important work to join and some of those in the community, whom I volunteer with, also felt it was important for a faith leader to support.
The first meeting was troubling. This is a group of community providers who are developing a way to gather and document incidents of hate language, harassment, and threatening activity in our community. I have known that gendered violence and harassment is on the rise (I learn this from my colleagues in the community abuse work we do) but I forget that many other forms of hate language continue to grow in our community. The following statements made at the meeting, were troubling:
- Portland has some of the highest incidents of hate crimes per capita in the US.
- Since the political primary elections incidents of hate crimes has increased dramatically
I guess it “sorta rocked my white, male, privilege, religious” world that day (these are my words not the group’s). Actually, I didn’t say much at the meeting—I just went to observe and see if this is where God leads me. I would suggest that the Holy Spirit hammered me through the reports, testimonies, and discussion. Yet the group was hopeful, positive, and believed things could change. They have various plans of action and opportunities to work together.
I’m typically not a target of any hate crimes, racism, harassment, etc.. I’m not stupid and know that this happens. I have read the history books, listened to friends (who are no longer friends because of their hate language), and read the news. I get that racism, hate crimes, harassment, and threatening language exist today. I am not so naïve to believe that Portland is immune from this—actually everything I have read the past couple years teaches that we are many times worse than where I grew up in the south.
Yet when I hear stories from people who have swastika’s painted in their neighborhood, graffiti at a school restroom, repeated phone calls for them to “go back to your country or else…,” and other forms of harassment it stings. I admit, it doesn’t sting me as bad as it must hurt the recipients, but it does sting. But it is not about me—it’s about others.
Even more, this was one of those, “They didn’t teach us about this in grad school/seminary moments.” Rarely are ministry students taught to stand up and proclaim the Gospel of judgment against racism, hatred, harassment, and this form of community violence. Rarely are we encouraged to get involved with the community and lead as Christian examples in a world facing darkness. We don’t typically read books from people who do this or attend lectures from those who are modern prophets. If you count the Hebrew Prophets—we read their books but we seldom discuss their social justice aspects.
No—I wasn’t prepared for this. I have had to learn it one testimony at a time. While on a Spring Break trip to the coast this happened in our city. Reading it made it clear to me what I need to do.
For those who want to suggest it is an isolated incident, something rare, or an issue of “get thicker skin,” I would suggest that I am hearing many stories like this. It doesn’t surprise me. It will, as always, sting to hear the stories but I am grateful for people who are welcoming and open to me listening and working with them.
It’s not enough to write, blog, or post about it—the community needs people who will get involved and help, listen, and support—while confronting hate face to face. The community needs faith leaders who can offer justice, hope, love, and loyal partnerships. I guess it’s time to get to work.