MN Council of Churches makes anti-racism core to its work, launches multi-year truth and reparations effort

Rev. Billy Russell, chair of the Minnesota Council of Churches (MCC) Board of Directors characterized its past racial justice work as “a bunch of noise.”

In September, the Council’s Board voted unanimously to launch a multi-year effort at truth telling, education and repair with Indigenous and African American communities. Russell and other council leaders held a Zoom media call today to publicly announce their plans and explain why it would be different from previous efforts.

“We made noise every time something happened, from Philando Castille up til now, we’ve made noise,” said Russell, who is President of the Minnesota State National Baptist Convention and Senior Pastor at Greater Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Minneapolis.

People would want to pray, or protest, or participate in some events, but nothing led to long-term change, he said. “I think this move right now is saying, ‘We’re going to make a difference,'” he said. “I support this move. “It’s time. It’s past time.”

Russell was one of several speakers on the Zoom call.

Rev. Curtiss DeYoung, MCC’s CEO, called this an historic moment for the Council. “In our nearly 75 years of existence, we now step fully into the work of racial justice,” he said.

For the past two years, the Council has been working to center black denominations and their leaders into leadership positions on MCC’s board. “That has changed the conversation and the direction of our work,” DeYoung said.

The vision moving forward is to have a process similar to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“Our ultimate goal is to get at the systemic change that needs to occur,” DeYoung said.

Bishop Richard Howell, Diocesan Bishop of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Dakotas District, and Senior Pastor of Shiloh Temple International Ministries in Minneapolis, also serves on the MCC Board and its executive committee.

He called the truth and repair initiative a “Kairos moment,” meaning the appointed time for God’s purpose. He quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., saying “the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Bishop Ann M. Svennungsen, Bishop of the Minneapolis Area Synod Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) and MCC board member, said the Council “has made anti-racism a central focus of its work.”

Minnesota has some of the worst racial inequities of any state in our nation, disparities in education, health care, home ownership, and income, she said. George Floyd’s killing opened people’s eyes once again to racism’s deadly consequences.

“Sadly, heart breakingly, the Christian Church has too often kept silent. Now we must speak,” she said. “This is a moment of great urgency, a moment we cannot lose.”

Christians believe in a God of boundless love and a great passion for justice, Svennungsen said.

“Perhaps, just perhaps, Minnesota today can find the courage to do this hard work of truth telling and reparation and maybe even help lead the way for the work that is so needed throughout our land,” she said.

Rev. Jim Bear Jacobs, MCC’s director of racial justice programs, said as a Native American, he was excited to partner with such a great number of faith communities across the state.

“The time is long overdue for us to come together to listen to some of the difficult truths from our Indigenous and our African American neighbors,” said Jacobs, a member of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans.

It’s time for Minnesotans to create an accurate, common narrative of history “and diligently work to create a common future, in which we can hopefully begin to heal the wounds that have been untreated for generations,” he said.

Elder Stacey L. Smith, Presiding Elder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, St. Paul-Minneapolis District, and Senior Pastor of St. James AME Church in St. Paul, said Minnesota is at the epicenter of being transformed with racial justice.

“It’s not something that we actually asked to be, but now we are and I feel that we have a responsibility to respond as the church, to come and talk about these things,” said Smith, MCC’s Board Vice President.

“It’s important for the Minnesota Council of Churches to get behind what is happening in our community,” she said.

The Council is still in the early stages of planning. It will be reaching out to partners and raising money. Expect more details in early 2021.

The Minnesota Council of Churches represents twenty-five Christian denominations and communions in the State of Minnesota creating unity built on justice.

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