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Michael Ramo’s career has been at the intersection of ecumenism and interfaith relations and the promotion of social justice. He currently serves as the Executive Director of the Church Council of Greater Seattle. He recently received a Doctor of Ministry degree from Seattle University. He is married to Donna, with two adult daughters.
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My name is Michael Ramos. I’m with the Church Council of Greater Seattle and I’m casting a blog to you titled “Racism and the Response of Religion.” The evangelical leader, Jim Wallis, and others have said, “Racism is America’s original sin.” Organized religion, in the United States context, has a centuries-long history of fostering racism, continuing to this day. Our task as religious people then is to acknowledge the ways we perpetuate and participate in racism – and the white privilege and white supremacy sustaining it – and to work actively to dismantle it in public policies and practices, especially in our own organizations and institutions.
Ijeoma Oluo ties the work of leaders with systems work: “If you’re not deconstructing your role in white supremacy, then you’re supporting it….The next frontier is white people trying to dismantle the systems of racial oppression that benefit them”. White religious organizations, rather than “diversifying existing programs,” are challenged to heed the long-standing call by Black, brown and indigenous people of color for “racial repair”. God’s justice demands not only restoration but transformation.
Racism is a system of oppression rooted in idolatry and violence. Confronting racism for people of religious conviction and commitment is not one option among many or a program for a season. It is a continual act of love for our common humanity, each and all equally and uniquely beloved in the eyes of the divine. It is also an act on behalf of justice, as Michael Eric Dyson says, “…a public expression of love that holds us all accountable. Justice is what love sounds like when it speaks in public.”
The work of racial justice in the context of religion must go beyond statements and declarations denouncing injustice and acts of racial hatred, as important as these are. It must become a way of life. For this to occur, we must embrace the challenge to begin or continue the long-haul work of becoming anti-racist institutions. Ibram Kendi shares this insight: “(When Black Lives Matter) “was born (from three Black women founders)….this declaration of love intuitively signified that in order to be truly antiracists, we must also oppose all of the sexism, homophobia, colorism, ethnocentrism, nativism, cultural prejudice, and class bias teeming and teaming with racism to harm so many Black lives.”
Seeing the ways these issues intersect can lead to the decentering of traditionally white institutions and lead these institutions and instead following the lead of impacted and marginalized communities, a practice grounded in cultural humility. Religiously-motivated, community organizing work ought to be centered on – and take direction from — diverse communities where resources have not been justly allocated and access to land has been thwarted, if not stolen. This work aspires to build Beloved Community by practicing the shared leadership, equitable relationships, and participatory decision-making of Beloved Community.
Religious institutions will continue to reflect the dominant culture and its sins until the deep inner work is done to undo institutional racism. Without this work, public acquiescence will persist when faced with policies that treat some people as less than fully human. Lamentation and repentance from the sin of institutionalized racism must lead to discernment and action for transformative justice. We can respond to the call to work, as Ibram Kendi notes, “toward equalizing wealth and power for (Black, Indigenous and people of color) in our neighborhoods…with a clear mission of repairing the inequities caused by discrimination.” This holy work may not be easy to complete, but from it, we must not desist.