What Historically White Denominations Can Learn From the Republican Party

www.flickr.com – prakharevich

The day after election night is like Christmas morning for bloggers and political pundits. Like eager children we come bounding down the stairs ready to rip open and reflect on wins, losses, gaffes and funnies left on the hearth of election night.

Oh but where to start?

I think I’ll start with race.

For as much as some would like to think that we are “over” race or that the whole reason we still have racism is because we keep talking about it, occurrences like John Sununu’s comments about Colin Powell and last night’s demographic breakdown have once again pushed race to the forefront of American political and cultural conversations. Other demographics: class, age, gender, etc. also play a huge part in the discussion, but over and over again, the pundits from both parties kept coming back to race.

The topic that has been particularly compelling to me has been about the future of the Republican party. In light of what one commentator described when talking about the impact of demographic racial diversity on the election saying, “The future as arrived” I am intrigued by how this mostly older, White Republican party will respond and adapt in order to regain influence?

Hey wait a gosh darn minute . . . White and older?

And this is where historically White and aging denominations like my own, the Presbyterian Church (USA) might want to tune into future discussions and developments in the Republican Party. Many of the Republican commentators described what is to come as anything from a pending civil war to a time for regrouping and deep soul-searching, but regardless of the intensity levels, there is obviously going to be some serious talk about how Republicans will reach the increasingly diverse United States population.

Yeah, kinda like what we Presbyterians and others need to do as well.

While I doubt that I will be invited into the strategy meetings of the Grand Old Party, I do know that I may have the ear of some of our Grand Old Denominations. With this in mind let me not-so-humbly offer a few words of unsolicited advice.

First, we must stop seeing these demographic changes as problems that must be leveraged in order to avoid death and instead see these changes as transformational realities that must be embraced in order to experience new life.

And second . . . well, let’s see if we can get a handle on the first one ;-)

On more than one occasion, it was said that the Republican party has a “Latino Problem” that must be addressed. While I understand what was intended by the statement, this framing of an ethnic group as a resource to be leveraged only goes to commoditize a people and does not invite new voices into the conversations as equal partners in shaping and forming the future of the body. This perspective only encourages resentment and disdain, because it forces those who hold power to give it up out of necessity and survival and not out of genuine openness to a new way of being . . . of being Presbyterian, of being Lutheran, of being Republican.

Some might say that this election and the current state of most historically White denominations makes it clear that it is simply a matter of time before our need to hold onto power, privilege and status creates an institutional reality so narrow that, as Brian Williams said about Donald Trump, we may drive “well past the last exit to relevance and veer[ed] into something closer to irresponsible.” And while I am don’t believe that we Presbyterians will be as outrageous as Mr. Trump in the ways we express ourselves during this time, to allow our deep theological and ecclesiastic traditions to be retrained and confined by our unwillingness to express those things in new ways and through difference voices, we will not only move closer to irresponsibility, but we will move closer to being unfaithful.

So as discussions about race continue in politics, and I hope in our churches, let us do so with pastoral hearts for the struggles that change invites, gracious voices that are committed to the conversation and liberating eyes toward who God may be intending for us to become.

This is an exciting and opportune time for us all and I look forward to the ongoing adventure that it is to be the body politic and the body of Christ.

May the peace of Christ be with you and may we see God’s blessings in us all.

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Election 2012, What Presbyterians Should Care About – Norb Kumagai

Photo: LWVC

As part of the ongoing Patheos 2012 election coverage and commentary, I am opening up my blog for Presbyterians to answer this week’s question, “What are the key issues at stake in this election for people of your tradition?” I gave no guidance other than to keep it under 500 words and to avoid bashing and dehumanizing rhetoric. If you would like in for this week, message me via my FB Page.

First up, Norb Kumagai -

We lost our Dad, Lindy Kumagai M.D., to cancer almost five years ago. Our Dad, one of the original faculty members at The U.C. Davis School of Medicine, was the author of the school’s “Special Admissions Program” and was Chair of The Admissions Committee the two years that Mr. Alan Bakke applied and was denied admission (U.C. Board of Regents v. Bakke, 1978).

In mid-November’07, I made arrangements with our County Elections Office for our Dad to cast a “Vote By Mail” Ballot (February’08 California Presidential Primary Election), as soon as it was legally permissible.  I recall explaining to our Dad that he would be able to vote early (“One, Last, Final Time”) and asked whom he would support to which he replied, “Obama, Because It’s All About Race”.

Sadly, our Dad was never able to cast a ballot for Barack Obama having passed away over Thanksgiving Weekend’07.

For me, someone who has a strong interest in civil rights and social justice issues, Election 2012 in many respects, is all about race. My faith and my personal experiences are what guide me.

Our Mom, my relatives and my grandparents were interned during World War II in Topaz, Utah. They were denied their constitutional rights as they were rounded up and “deported” to “The Jewel of The Desert”.  The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., U.F.W. President Cesar Chavez and U.S. Attorney General Bobby Kennedy all combined their faith with their advocacy for civil rights. As Presbyterians, we should be called to do the same.

We have witnessed Arizona Republican Governor Jan Brewer’s SB 1070 “Papers Please” which targets Latinos. Although The Supreme Court threw out most of the statute, local law enforcement is presently allowed to stop and question anyone whom they “reasonably suspect” is undocumented.

Voter Identification Laws, which Republicans claim will ensure the sanctity of the ballot box, also targets race. According to The Brennan Institute For Justice (New York School Of Law), potentially five million eligible voters, many of who are people of color, could be disenfranchised because they lack the identification necessary to vote in specific states.

U.S. Attorney General Erik Holder has successfully challenged both Arizona’s SB1070 and Voter Identification statutes. I’m pretty certain that former Attorney Generals John Ashcroft or Alberto Gonzalez (who both served under President George W. Bush) would not have done the same.

Following The Rodney King Verdict and the subsequent unrest, a close friend of mine, Ms. Angela Oh, was asked by President Clinton to serve on a task force which traveled throughout the country and engaged others in discussions about race.

As you cast your ballot (either by mail or at the polls), please prayerfully ask yourself, are we progressing forward or taking our country back to the early 1960’s where African Americans lost their lives to ensure our right to vote?? I would welcome a renewed discussion about race relations and social justice issues once this election is over. Perhaps like-minded Presbyterians could lead the way.

[Norb Kumagai, who “Lives & Breathes Politics”, resides in Northern California and is an Ordained Elder in The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)]

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