It all started with a conversation during a two-and-a-half hour car ride in the winter of 2016. Rev. Anthony Jermaine Ross-Allam and Jim Koon were driving to a men’s retreat for members of Oak Grove Presbyterian, a predominantly white church in Bloomington, and talking about things they cared about.
Five years later, as an outgrowth of that conversation, Oak Grove is testing a model for faith communities to surrender wealth in recognition of the historic and ongoing harm done by Christian churches to Indigenous and Afro American communities. Oak Grove itself is surrendering $267,000, or 16 percent of its wealth — in land, property and financial assets.
Organizers hope their model, called Restorative Actions, will catch on with other congregations and secular communities.
Native Americans and enslaved Africans included in the sculpture were neither immigrants nor refugees
On Friday, the sculpture “Angels Unawares” arrived in front of the Minneapolis Basilica of St. Mary, an effort to call attention to both the suffering and sacredness of immigrants and refugees and the importance of welcoming them with an open heart.
The statue is a replica of one commissioned by Pope Francis, installed in St. Peter’s Square in Rome in 2019. It was the first new sculpture in the Square in 400 years. A replica statue is on a U.S. tour; previous stops included Boston and Miami.
The sculpture includes 140 immigrants and refugees crowded on a boat, representing different cultures from different historical times. Its 140 figures echo the 140 statues of saints on St. Peter’s Square.
I’ve been updating this blog since I posted it. I want to acknowledge up front the good intentions behind this project. During a time of anti-immigrant sentiment, the sculpture brings an important message of tolerance and compassion. It encourages empathy instead of hostility towards more recent immigrants and refugees, such as Somali, Hmong, Mexican and Central American people. Kudos for that.
At the same time, the sculpture includes a Native American and enslaved Africans on a boat full of immigrants and refugees, suggesting some commonality. There is little if any commonality.
I worry this is too preachy, but I also want to be direct: At a time when faith communities are wrestling with racial justice and truth telling, this sculpture miscasts the Native American and enslaved African experiences. By including them as just two narratives in a boatload of immigration stories, it ignores their unique experiences and arguments for reparations that are now gaining steam.
“We don’t always see the face of God in everybody’s face,” Rev. Pamela Ngunjiri tells her congregation. “And that’s the problem with racism. Somewhere along the line the humanity of that particular group has been taken away and that has to be restored.”
Ngunjiri (pronounced Go-jiri) was recently hired as the Co-Director for Racial Justice for the Minnesota Council of Churches (MCC). She joins the other Co-Director and Healing Minnesota Stories’ founder Jim Bear Jacobs. Together they are leading the Council’s multi-year effort at truth telling, education and reparations with both the African American and Native American communities.
Ngunjiri and Jacobs say the Council’s first truth-telling event will be held in September, details coming soon. Until them, please meet Rev. Ngunjiri.
A People’s Hearing on making reparations to African American and American Indian Minnesotans will be held Friday, Jan. 4, 9:30 a.m. – 1 p.m., in Room 120 of the Minnesota State Capitol.
The hearing will revisit and rekindle House File 2928/Senate File 3767, a bill introduced last session “acknowledging the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity suffered by certain groups in Minnesota’s history.” The bill would have established a “commission to study and report recommendations to provide appropriate remedies.” Continue reading →
The article quotes philosopher Miranda Fricker, who says the test for blameworthiness is whether the person could have known any different. “It’s unfair to blame people for failing to be moral pioneers, she says. “The attitude of blame presupposes that the person was in a position to have done better.”
Let’s use that statement as a jumping off point to look at U.S. history. It seems one key question to explore would be: “Did people involved in the Native American genocide in the 19th Century know better?” It is important to hold up the voices of the moral pioneers who spoke out against the injustices of their day and who tried to chart a different course. That brings us to U.S. Sen. Theodore Frelinghuysen of New Jersey. Continue reading →