What does it mean for people of faith to welcome the stranger and address immigration?
Is racism a sin and if so, how do we alter its course? How do we make safe spaces for the hard talks and multi-layered conversations required for such emotional and intertwining topics of race, privilege, immigration, class, poverty, and faith?
Join the conversation 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday Sept. 8, for the free “Day of Dialogue: Racism and Immigration in America“ at Trinity Episcopal Church, 1015 Holman Street, featuring Larry Payne, vice president and diversity consultant with the Desir Group; author and journalist Chris Tomlinson; and author, minister and retired federal immigration judge Susan Yarbrough as they explore those questions and more in an event moderated by Trinity Episcopal Church Rector Hannah Atkins.
“The theological foundation of our church is our understanding that God was made man in human history, in Jesus. We understand that as God caring about human history. Christ is an example of how we are to be and walk in the world. God treated those people who were ridiculed, dismissed, who were not valued and diminished; he treated them with love and dignity. They were as valuable and loved and grace-filled as anyone else,” said Atkins.
“As people of faith are viewed by their actions or inactions in the world, these questions grow more relevant,” said Payne, a theologian and diversity consultant. “I’ve really honed in on this issue of ethical leadership around civic engagement. With changing demographics, people are concerned, worried, happy, fearful. So now is a great time to pose the question, what is the fair and ethical treatment of all human beings?”
He noted that the tough conversations cannot be fruitful without a sense of trust and the difficult conversations cannot take root in sound bites.
“Nothing happens without trust and relationships are forged by spending time with each other, breaking bread and looking each other in the eyeball and watching their faces and hearing the tone and reflection when they talk.
“I applaud the church for doing this but it has to continue. Too often it’s a one and done until the next thing happens. We feel powerless, when in fact, we the people together are powerful. Advocacy scares people. Policy change scares people. But in my study of the Bible, timid people and scripture don’t go together. Believers gotta get ready. The devil has his army, where is the army of good?” Payne said.
The Episcopal Church and Trinity as a particular parish, is committed to the work of racial reconciliation healing racism and being a prophetic witness against the sin of racism in all its many forms in the country in general and in Houston in particular, said Atkins.
Chris Tomlinson, one of the speakers, knows the importance of being a prophetic witness.
“I am the descendant of slaveholders, and many of the privileges I enjoy emanate from America’s history of racial and ethnic oppression. While I am not responsible for my ancestor’s action, I am responsible for acknowledging how I’ve benefited from them. And I am responsible for my actions and my society. Participating in activities like this one is the least I can do in making reparations for the past,” said Tomlinson, the author of “Tomlinson Hill,” a story of two Tomlinson families, one black, one white.
The harsh reality that his relatives belonged to the secret society of the KKK resulted in his 2014 book chronicling a piece of Texas history of how cotton drove the development of Texas. It is the story of two Tomlinson families one black, one white; a slaveholder and a slave.
“People often give up on addressing big issues like racism and bigotry because they feel their actions will not make a difference. My hope is that participants will learn that they can make small, important strides in how they live their daily lives, how they interact with others, whether or not they speak up during difficult conversations. Every mindful moment makes a difference and the effects accumulate,” said Tomlinson.
For Yarbrough, who in 2013 wrote “Bench-Pressed: A Judge Recounts the Many Blessings and Heavy Lessons of Hearing Immigration Asylum Cases,” she agreed to join the panel because she wanted to hear what people of faith think, say and believe about immigration.
“It is important for me to be a part of this event so I can learn more about immigration, contribute my own knowledge about it and support a church that creates opportunities for dialogue about social justice,” said Yarbrough.
The retired judge and now Unitarian Universalist minister said she hopes the day will bring about “deep listening to each other about an emotional issue, a willingness to continue learning what it means to welcome strangers, more open minds and hearts and more insight into what our faith summons us to do.”
Payne said what he wants to come out of the Day of Dialogue is continuity.
“Hopefully, a group of people will want to continue the dialogue, maybe a cohort group to continue the dialogue. We’ve been doing this series on civic engagement at the Houston Public Library and we will do that again,” said Payne.
“As people of faith, we’ve really got to stand up. If we don’t start standing up soon, showing up, speaking up, following up, we have to say time’s up because a devil in a $5,000 suit is still a devil,” said Payne.
Atkins said her faith tells her, “we are called to be involved in our communities, not necessarily as a church by supporting a candidate, but to give voice to ethical concerns. And my understanding, in my prayer life as people of faith that it is our promise when we enter places of discord it is done with respect.”