Trinity and Beloved Community: A Sermon for Trinity Sunday, 2015

On Friday evening, Corrie and I attended the gathering at the Alliant Center where the Rev. Alex Gee and others introduced “Our Madison Plan” the culmination of more than a year’s work of conversation, research, and planning in the effort to address the racial disparities in Madison and Dane County. As I stood listening in the packed room, I reflected on the challenges that we face as a community. It’s not just race and class that divide us; it’s not just the wide disparities in opportunity and educational achievement. As Rev. Gee pointed out, there is a deep cultural challenge that we face. Although he was addressing the challenges in the African-American community, his analysis extends to American society in general. Continue reading

Resources on Racism in Madison and the US

In our adult forum today, we’re joining the conversation about racism and inequity that has been taking place in Madison and across the country over the last year. I’m posting here some resources that might help us think about these issues in our own lives and in our community.

First of all, white privilege. Peggy McIntosh’s 1988 article, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack” introduced the term: white-privilege

Second,the conversation was jumpstarted in Madison by an article by the Rev. Alex Gee, Jr. That is available here. In the year since its publications, Gee has formed a new orgnizationt, Justified Anger, that seeks to keep issues of race and inequity at the center of our political and cultural life in Madison.

About the same time that this conversation began, the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families released its Race to Equity Report that provided a shocking look at racial disparities in Dane County, WI (where Madison is located). The report is available for download here: WCCF-R2E-Report.

Some books to read:

James Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

If you’ve never read it, or if you haven’t read it recently, Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail is a powerful challenge to whites, especially white Christians, who criticized the nonviolent protests and boycotts in Birmingham in 1963. More than fifty years later, in the wake of Ferguson and Eric Garner, its words retain their power and are as relevant as ever. Read it here: king


Looking for Signs of Christ’s Coming in Ferguson and Madison: A sermon for Advent 1, Year B

Almost a year ago, The Rev. Alex Gee, jr. wrote an op-ed piece in the Madison State Journal in which he described his experience as an African American male in Madison, and called on our community to address head-on the issues of racism, inequality, and injustice in our midst. Since then, there have been a series of meetings, a great deal of press coverage, and new energy in the African American community to speak out on the issues that divide us. Continue reading

National Attention on Racism in Wisconsin

It’s just coincidence, I’m sure, but two national media outlets have run stories on racism in Wisconsin. The first, in The New Republic, focuses on Governor Scott Walker’s rise to power in Milwaukee. It details the deep racial divide between Milwaukee and its suburbs, pointing out that African-American migration came relatively late to Milwaukee (in the 60s). The political consequences of the divide are breathtaking:

During this period, the WOW counties continued to expand. But unlike suburbs elsewhere, they had not grown more diverse. Today, less than 2 percent of the WOW counties’ population is African American and less than 5 percent is Hispanic. According to studies by the Brookings Institution and Brown University, the Milwaukee metro area is one of the top two most racially segregated regions in the country. The WOW counties were voting Republican at levels unseen in other Northern suburbs; one needed to look as far as the white suburbs around Atlanta and Birmingham for similar numbers. The partisan gulf between Milwaukee and its suburbs in presidential elections has now grown wider than in any of the nation’s 50 largest cities, except for New Orleans, according to the Journal Sentinel series.

And this:

It is as if the Milwaukee area were in a kind of time warp. Like the suburbanites of the ’70s and ’80s elsewhere in the United States, the residents of the WOW counties are full of anxiety and contempt for the place they abandoned. “We’re still in the disco era here,” says Democratic political consultant Paul Maslin. This has affected the politics of the state in myriad ways. The nationwide trend of exploring alternatives to prison hasn’t reached Wisconsinit has the highest rate of black male incarceration of any state in the country.

The other story focuses on Madison’s Alex Gee and the efforts here to overcome the deep divide between Black and White. It ran on PBS Newshour last night. I think it’s important to see the connections between the two pieces–not in order to praise Dane County and Madison over against Milwaukee, but to recognize that there are deep continuities between the two situations and the political context. Madison and Dane County may be Democratic and Progressive strongholds but the reality of the racial divide calls into question the progressive agenda and politics of many of our political leaders. Their comfortable electoral majorities have resulted in complacency and building coalitions or working with the African-American has not been in their self-interest. The racial divide may not have been exploited here in quite the same way that it has been exploited in Milwaukee, but the results are the same–deep inequities, an unresponsive political system, and white flight.


Justified Anger: Town Hall on Racism in Madison

I attended Alex Gee’s town hall meeting on racism this afternoon. It was very interesting. A standing room only crowd, traffic jams on Badger Road, politicians of all stripes including Senator Ron Johnson came together to listen to Alex speak about what’s happened in his life since his article in December. We learned about the coalition that has emerged in the African-American community and hopes for real change to some of the wide disparities in achievement, economic status, and incarceration.

In the comment period that followed, we heard from people eager to participate, some ideas on what to do, and the need to engage other people of color in this conversation. We also heard about some of the challenges faced by the African-American community–the problems faced by people who are trying to reincorporate into society after prison; problems of under- and unemployment among African-American women, and the absence at this conversation of people from the under-class. We also heard about efforts over the past decades–reports of inequities and racism in Madison going back to the sixties and people who had tried to initiate change in previous generations.

It was heartening to see so many people come together across the great divides in our city. We are separated by class, economic status, and education, and more often than not, we are also deeply divided by our faiths, including divisions within Christianity.

For more information and to get involved in Alex’s emerging efforts, visit the website:

Christianity and Racism in Madison

Thanks to the Capital Times and to several courageous African-American leaders, there’s an important conversation about racism taking place in Madison this year. Sparked by some shocking statistics–that Wisconsin has the highest incarceration rate for African-American males in the US. At 13%, it’s double the national average. In Madison, the recent Race to Equity report revealed the enormous disparities in Dane County and Madison:

  • the unemployment rate for African-Americans is five times higher than that of whites
  • 54% of African-American residents of Dane County live beneath the poverty line; the rate for whites is 7.8%
  • around  75% of African-American children live in poverty; the percentage of whites: 5.5%

In December, Alex Gee published an impassioned plea: Justified Anger. In an article that included stories about his own experiences with racial profiling (including in his church’s parking lot), he concluded with a ringing challenge to Madison:

I challenge the entire community to become concerned and involved. I challenge African-American pastors to make their voices and concerns known and hold community forums with politicians to demand action.
I challenge white clergy to address racial disparity and discrimination from their pulpits, challenge parishioners to think and act differently and help sound the alarm of the injustice and inequity in our community. I need those pastors to explain how these systems are perpetuated by the silence of “nice” people.

Gee has invited the community to a town hall meeting to discuss racism and inequality in Madison.

Maria Dixon (Patheos) takes a wider perspective. Looking at the tradition of Black History Month, she challenges American Christians to have the serious conversations about race that are necessary:

Despite our efforts and initiatives to eradicate the conditions faced by undocumented immigrants; the educational challenges faced by the poor; or the inequities of justice and wealth– until we engage in the hard conversation regarding the framework that set all of these conditions in motion—the grand American concept of race–we will be still floundering like beached ideological whales 25 years from now.

To engage in hard conversations requires trust and presence, neither one of which we have in the American Church. Our way of dealing with race is to erase difference by folding it in and objectifying it. Rather than dealing plainly about fears, our biases (past and present), and admitting that race sometimes does play a role in our approach to ministry, we render it totally invisible. Sadly, it is the tendency to make race invisible that is most damning for any chance at honest reconciliation. For erasure is the greatest form of dehumanization in a symbolic culture—for it communicates the belief the object being erased is not viable for productive service nor is it worthy to remembered much less esteemed.

In the past few weeks, I’ve had conversations with clergy colleagues, both with Episcopalians and in wider ecumenical contexts about how we might respond. Of course, neither of those conversations included African-American participants. I’ll be attending the town hall meeting to listen, to learn, and to find ways to build relationships.

A powerful essay about racism in Madison

It’s written by Rev. Alex Gee, Pastor of Fountain of Life Church. He reminds us of often-ignored facts: that Wisconsin leads the nation in the incarceration of African-American men; that there are immense racial disparities in Madison Schools, vast racial disparities in employment and income in Madison and Dane County. He calls on all of us to make these issues priorities:

I challenge the entire community to become concerned and involved. I challenge African-American pastors to make their voices and concerns known and hold community forums with politicians to demand action.

I challenge white clergy to address racial disparity and discrimination from their pulpits, challenge parishioners to think and act differently and help sound the alarm of the injustice and inequity in our community. I need those pastors to explain how these systems are perpetuated by the silence of “nice” people.