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What Is Intersectionality

If you could change or improve one thing about life in the local community before you died, what would you work on?

James 2: 1 – 4 

My dear friends, don’t let public opinion influence how you live out our glorious, Christ-originated faith. If a man enters your church wearing an expensive suit, and a street person wearing rags comes in right after him, and you say to the man in the suit, “Sit here, sir; this is the best seat in the house!” and either ignore the street person or say, “Better sit here in the back row,” haven’t you segregated God’s children and proved that you are judges who can’t be trusted?

What is Intersectionality?

If you’ve ever scratched your head when a friend, colleague, or writer has spoken of intersectionality (or you’d like to deepen your understanding of the theory), this is for you. Intersectionality is a framework for conceptualizing a person, group of people, or social problem as affected by a number of discriminations and disadvantages. It takes into account people’s overlapping identities and experiences in order to understand the complexity of prejudices they face. Intersectionality is considered crucial to social equity work. Activists and community organizations are calling for and participating in more dynamic conversations about the differences in experience among people with different overlapping identities. Without an intersectional lens, events and movements that aim to address injustice towards one group may end up perpetuating systems of inequities towards other groups.

So how do you go about providing an intersectional approach to your faith? Here are some suggestions:

Be willing to recognize differences – Do not shy away from recognizing that people experience the world differently based on their overlapping identity markers. We must recognize these identities as a way to step beyond our assumptions that our experience is common.

  • Avoid oversimplified language – We must move away from language that seeks to define people by a singular identity. By avoiding language that assumes our own experiences are baseline, we can open ourselves up to listening to others’ points of view.
  • Analyze the space we occupy – Becoming comfortable recognizing difference also involves recognizing when that difference is not represented in the spaces you occupy. Have you taken a look at your church recently and the community space it occupies?

Did you know Carlisle is becoming more racially diverse with the percentage of White citizens decreasing between 2000 and 2010 and the percentage of African American and Hispanic citizens increasing by 28.70% and 84.72%, respectively?

  • Seek other points of view – Explore the narratives of those with different interlocking identities than you. This includes surrounding yourself with others with differing interwoven identities, but keep in mind that oftentimes, even when you have a diverse group of people in an activist space, it falls on people to educate others about the oppressions they face. If you are unsure about a concept or want to learn more about a specific intersection of identity, Google it! This will help you be better prepared to enter into conversations with others and progress together.
  • Show up – Do not expect people who face different systems of oppression than you to rally for causes you care about if you do not rally for theirs. Listen and defer. As you do, you will likely deepen your understanding of your own identity and the subjects you care about most.

(pulled from The YW of Boston: http://www.ywboston.org/2017/03/what-is-intersectionality-and-what-does-it-have-to-do-with-me/)

How A Church Leader Approached His Community Effectively

Here’s a story that we wanted to share where an intersectional approach to faith reduced violent crime in youth by 79% in the city of Boston. Rev. Jeffery Brown, a Baptist preacher in Boston, had a goal to create a “mega-church”, serving as lead pastor with a worshiping body of 15-20,000 members. After realizing this was never going to happen, he realized his call was to simply be a pastor that represented the community he served. During his leadership in the metro area of Boston (and similar to most metro areas of the United States), the homicide rate started to drastically rise. And just down the road from his home church, it was like a ghost-town. In the local housing projects parents wouldn’t let their kids come out and play because of the violence and oftentimes in the summer nights, while telling your child a bedtime story, you’d hear gunfire.

While presiding in a rise of funerals for 18, 17, and 16 year olds, Rev. Brown found himself struggling to say something that would make some meaningful impact. So while his religious colleagues were buying property outside of the city and moving their congregations out so they could create, or recreate their cities of God, the social structures in the inner cities were sagging under the weight of all the violence. So he looked at what he had and he started to preach on it.

Something happened that changed everything. A kid named Jessie McKey, walking home, met up with some kids in the housing projects down the street from the church, and were unfortunately targeted and killed by gang violence. As Jessie was running from the scene, mortally wounded, he was running to the church, and died. But as he was reaching near the church, the lights were off – no one was home, so it wouldn’t have mattered anyways. And this sent to Rev. Brown.

In all the sermons about decrying the violence, Rev. Brown was also talking about building community. But a paradox existed, if he really wanted the community that he was preaching for, he needed to reach out and embrace the group that he cut out of the definition. This mean not about building programs to catch those individuals, but to reach out and embrace those that were committing the acts of violence directly. So he asked God, “Why me? Isn’t this a law enforcement issue?” The answer was right in his face – “because I can’t sleep at night thinking about this. Because someone needs to do something. Isn’t that how movements start anyways?” he said to himself.

What It Truly Means to be Present With Your Community

He started to put himself in their presence. His first step was to volunteer at the high school to be around the youth. But he soon realized that these kids weren’t attending school. So he started to walk in the community. But again, he soon realized they weren’t out during the day. So he walked out in the streets late at night – in the parks, where they were building relationships that were often times violent, but necessary to survive. There were a few other clergy that decided to walk with Rev. Brown, on Friday and Saturday nights from 10 pm to 2 or 3 in the morning. Conversations started happening – and in order to keep them going they needed to see consistency in their behavior. Most importantly, they wanted to make sure they weren’t trying to exploit them – no cameras, no televisions, nothing. So taking back the streets wasn’t for anyone but themselves. And as preachers, they did the best thing they could do – listen, instead of preach.

Rev. Brown approached these individuals and groups directly saying, “we don’t know our communities after 9 pm – but you do. Speak to us and help us understand what we don’t. What is life on the streets like – what is it about?”

“It’s different than what we see on the news, on social media,” he said. “The biggest myth is that the kids are cold, heartless in their violence. Most of the young people are just out there trying to make it – and some of the most intelligent, creative, wise people they ever met were on the street, engaged in the struggle. When you are the conditions that they are in everyday, it’s an accomplishment simply to overcome.”

So They Asked, How Do They See The Church?

To move forward, they realized they needed to stop looking at these people like a problem to be solved and instead as partners, assets, as co-laborers towards the struggle to lessen the violence in the community. It’s more about creating a space where a pastor sits at the same table as the heroin dealer, coming together solve the greater problem in the community – coming up with a way in which the church can help the entire community as a whole. This movement, now referred to as The Boston Miracle was about bringing people together, partners, police officers (unfortunately not the entire force), private sector, all joining in serving in the honor of partnering with the community. They all saw the responsibility of working with community and faith leaders to reduce violence in the community.

Right now, there is a movement in the US lead by young people who are dealing with structural issues that need to change to be a better society. Unfortunately, “there is a political ploy to pit police brutality against black on black violence. But it’s fiction – when you think about decades of failed housing policies, poor education structure, persistent un- and under- employment in communities, poor healthcare, and drugs and guns – little wonder that you see this culture of violence occurring”. Oftentimes the response is that we need more cops or more hot spots targeting these people. But we can’t fill our prisons with more and more people, because others will step into that place. In Boston, they were able to show the value of partnering together – community, law enforcement, private sector, to help reduce violence, encourage positive mindsets, and be present with others.

Greg and Laura Guenther
Young Adult Ministry Leaders

 

 

 

 

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