The hopeful fruit of ‘I don’t know’

The hopeful fruit of ‘I don’t know’ May 24, 2021

Some hopeful signs can be found in this piece from Christianity Today’s Adam MacInnis, “No White Saviors: How Suburban Minneapolis Churches Learned to Help.”

The story itself provides grounds for hope. It’s the tale of Christian churches working together for justice and finding ways to do that justly. In this case that involves white churches with more resources stepping up to follow the lead of Black churches with a more direct understanding of what’s going on.

The refrain from the white pastors of these white churches in the article is “I don’t know.” That’s not the noncommittal “I don’t know” of the bystander, but something more like what Socrates was talking about when he reminded us that wisdom comes from knowing what you don’t know. The white pastors and white congregations profiled here were wise enough to know what they didn’t know and smart enough to therefore turn to those who did and ask them “What can we do?”

I tensed up when MacInnis first introduced “Kory Kleinsasser, pastor of the predominately white Waite Park Wesleyan Church”:

“Everybody wants you to take a stand, but I’m not always sure what stand to take,” [Kleinsasser said].

His instinct is to look for nuance. But attempts to emphasize complexities aren’t always welcomed.

“I have to make statements about things that I don’t feel like I fully understand myself,” he said.

Kleinsasser said that’s okay, though, because everything has to be done with an open and humble spirit.

But just when all that “nuance” and “complexity” looked like it was headed in a “Call to Unity” direction, it turns into this:

Practically, for the Waite Park Wesleyans, this looks like sweeping broken glass, feeding the hungry, and giving clothes to people who need it — but doing those things because they are asked as they come alongside Black Christians, who are also engaged in this work.

As a general rule, this is both wise and practical: When in doubt, sweep up broken glass, feed the hungry, and give clothes to people who need it.

But the more important bit here is that second part — coming alongside those who have been excluded from justice, those whom the law has bound but not protected, and learning from them — which is to say, acknowledging that they know things you do not know and being willing, therefore, to follow their lead:

The Wesleyans started a relationship with Wayman African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in 2016, after a police officer shot and killed high school teacher Philando Castile during a traffic stop. The white congregation has learned a lot in the years since then, and both the Black and white pastors say the church was more prepared to respond last year because of that preexisting relationship.

Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

What worries me about this particular story doesn’t involve what happens next for those congregations in the Twin Cities. My worry, instead, is what happens next in Carol Stream. I’ve been at this too long not to anticipate the sine wave pattern of hope and disappointment, of Pentecost and backlash, and the realization that the Pews and Bells — the donors and segregationists — will, as ever, reassert their control whenever it is threatened by tribal publications daring to platform stories like this one.

It’s Monday and this story has been posted on Christianity Today’s website as a noncontroversial item in the form and shape of a “churches come together to do Good Things” story. We’ll have to wait and see if it’s still allowed to remain in that form by Friday or if a backlash will result in a back-pedal, a designation of “controversial,” and the muffling mush of a thousand cowardly qualifications.



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