Jean Hopfensperger, Star Tribune, November 28, 2020
A St. Louis Park congregation devoted two years to exploring white supremacy, and now it is raising $1 million for a child care center for low-income families.
In Bemidji, some faith leaders are participating in “listening posts” often led by Native Americans who share experiences of discrimination.
Some Twin Cities churches have launched a “reparation fund” to support people of color who are activists combating racial inequities.
Religious groups across Minnesota have been experimenting with ways to share “the hard truths” about racial injustices, especially after the killing of George Floyd. Now the Minnesota Council of Churches hopes to dramatically multiply and deepen those efforts, leveraging its 25 denominations with more than 1 million members.
The council has launched a statewide “truth and reparation” initiative, the first council to do so in the nation. It is modeled on the principles of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in post-apartheid South Africa. The idea is to educate Minnesotans about the state’s — and the churches’ — difficult histories with African Americans and Native Americans, try to heal the deep, lingering wounds and develop forms of reparation.
The council is looking for partners across the state with experience and/or interest in a deep dive into this typically untold side of Minnesota history and its lingering implications, said the Rev. Curtiss DeYoung, CEO of the Minnesota Council of Churches.
The 10-year initiative, launched last month, is unprecedented, said DeYoung, a former professor of reconciliation studies who traveled frequently to South Africa to study its Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Supporters include leaders of the state’s two largest Protestant denominations — the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and United Methodist Church — as well as its largest African American denominations.
It has already garnered startup funds from the McKnight Foundation and the St. Paul & Minnesota Foundation.
The initiative reflects the national trend for faith groups to re-examine their own histories and legacies of white supremacy and slavery. Virginia Theological Seminary, the nation’s largest Episcopal Seminary, announced this fall a $1.7 million reparation fund that would include payments to descendants of slaves who built the seminary.
The Episcopal Diocese of Maryland created a commission on truth and racial reconciliation, as has the National Council of Churches, to address inequities. Countless individual churches nationally are tackling racial justice issues, including policing, housing and education.
“There’s a lot of anti-racism work going on,” said Jim Winkler, president of the National Council of Churches. “But I haven’t seen a plan as systematically laid out as the Minnesota council has done.”
Building a statewide network of meaningful racial awakenings, healing and reparations will be a tall mountain to climb, organizers acknowledge. Getting hundreds of churches in 25 denominations to sign on will take work.
“There will be [white] people who just don’t ‘get it’ or are uncomfortable with it,” said the Rev. Billy Russell, board chairman of the Minnesota Council of Churches. “And there will be people [of color] who think nothing will come out of it. There’s a lack of trust. … But this a work in progress, and this is a great starting point.”
Understanding racial inequities prepares people for understanding the call for reparations, said DeYoung.
“We’re using the word ‘reparation’ in the broadest sense,” said DeYoung. “We have to repair the harm. Maybe it’s land repayments, or supporting Black businesses… .”
Some Twin Cities faith groups are exploring that idea, creating a reparation fund that now contains about $10,000, said the Rev. Rebecca Voelkel of Lyndale United Church of Christ, an organizer for MARCH, or Multifaith Anti-Racism Change and Healing.
The faith groups also are doing an inventory of their own assets with an eye toward sharing them.