By Lisa Dunson
In April of 2021, the Alliance of Baptists held our Annual Gathering where the theme for the gathering was, How Then Shall We Live? Following the Gathering, I wrote a reflection entitled, How Then Shall We…? where I issued a “collective call to action” for all of us to pay attention to how we would move forward from that space. It’s easy enough for all of us to feel and be of one accord when we are all gathered, but how do we and/or do we manifest and continue that momentum once we return to our churches, our communities, our homes and our social lives? As we continue to do the work necessary to move all of the places we intersect with in our normal day-to-day lives into a space that is racially and socially just, we have a collective responsibility as an organization that has made a commitment to becoming and being an antiracist organization to periodically “check ourselves” to see if our lived lives and actions support our words, both written and verbal, for where there is no accountability, there can be no change.
So, let’s enter together into a brave space and ask ourselves: How then are we…? And what have we done thus far to move the Alliance beyond becoming to being an antiracist organization? Now before I offer my answer to those questions, let me give my non-BIPOC brothers and sisters something to chew on that you might not have known was on your plate: speaking from my African American perspective, we’ve heard so much of what white America is going to do and/or wants to do and/or thought they were doing that we have become a ‘show me’ people. We need you to show us that you mean what you say, and you do that by putting your words to work and by putting action behind what you say and what you write. You see, sadly but justifiably, there is always a bit of skepticism lying within our hearts and minds when we hear you talk about creating a just, equitable and antiracist anything; and that’s because history has shown us that ‘sticks and stones’ are not the only weapons that have the ability to ‘break our bones.’
So, let’s put a pin in that and see if we can address the two questions, ‘how then are we living?’ and ‘what have we done thus far, to move the Alliance beyond becoming to being an antiracist organization?’ For me, with the knowledge that change does not happen overnight, I am pleased with and proud of what I see the Alliance doing and the direction in which I see the Alliance moving. We have ensured that both our Executive Committee and our Board of Directors are representative of who we say we want to be, meaning both bodies reflect the diversity of humankind and are made up of persons who identify as white, BIPOC and LGBTQ. Through the wonders of Zoom, we have continued to offer ongoing training, education and learning opportunities on white privilege, white supremacy (no they are not the same) and what it means and is to be an antiracist organization. We continue to lend our collective voice in support of voting rights and to the ongoing conversations on immigration, abortion, education and healthcare which all continue to legally victimize and affect People of Color and marginalized communities disproportionately. Last, but certainly not least, we have brought on board Rev. Elijah Zehyoue who will serve as Co-Director of the Alliance of Baptists working alongside Carole Collins. Rev. Zehyoue is a dynamic leader, has a heart for racial justice, and is deeply rooted in the work of advocating for the lost, the least and those who most of the time find themselves left behind.
Now to be both fair and objective, I also must admit that there is one area in which I think we could and should be more intentional, and that is in our recruitment of more BIPOC churches and denominational partners. If the Executive Committee and the Board of Directors are diverse in their makeup and have adopted and are living and leaning into an antiracist ideology, but the ‘body’ of the Alliance is not there with us, we will never be able to move much beyond where we are right now. This is a work that must involve the whole body in order for us to become who we are trying to be.
My prayer for my Alliance of Baptists family is that we will each, in our own way, space and time, reflect on what we have read and take a self-inventory by asking ourselves ‘how then am I…?’ and asking our faith community, ‘how then are we…?’ In the spirit of Sankofa, I believe our feet (the feet of the Alliance of Baptists) are facing forward as we look toward the continued work of building the beloved community as we do our part to broaden the beloved community. I believe our head (and eyes) are looking back as we see, remember, and embrace the strong, grace-filled, justice-oriented foundation that Mahan Siler and the other visionary founders of the Alliance of Baptists laid for us. I believe we carry in our mouths (hearts) the precious egg of liberty, justice, and equity for all no matter our race, socio-economic standing, ability, sexual orientation, gender or gender identity.
Paula Clayton Dempsey has wonderfully and fearlessly modeled for us through her work with the Alliance community, partners and non-partners, who we can be…who we are called to be…and who we must become. It is on her shoulders, and the shoulders of Mahan, Christine, Carole, Michael-Ray, Kristy, Malu, Tammerie, Cathy, Brooklyn, Stephanie and countless others who have with great compassion and unconditional love for all of God’s people, guided us thus far; and it is with great joy, anticipation and expectation that we lift up, support and pray for Elijah as he lays his hands to the Alliance plow.
I believe the words of Mahan Siler continue to ring and resonate true when he said, “the forms of Yes vary; the courage to risk our discernments of Yes remain . . . and will remain.” Let us all continue to have the courage to say ‘Yes’ to the dismantling of white supremacy, white privilege and all of the systems both ecclesiastical and secular that have for so many years and in so many ways said ‘No’ to those they deemed as not being worthy of enjoying the same rights, privileges and freedoms that our melanin-challenged kindred enjoy.
The call to end racism in all its ugly forms cries to each of us every day, and it is up to us to answer that call by continuing to ask the questions ‘how then shall we?’ and once we understand how we shall, we then must ask ourselves, ‘how then are we’?
‘How then’…remains our collective call to action.
Rev. Lisa Dunson received her Master of Divinity from The Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology in Richmond, Virginia and serves on the ministerial team at Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ in Washington, DC. She currently serves as a chair of the African American Women in Ministry (AAWIM) Global Engagement Committee and is the liaison to the United Congregational Churches of Southern Africa’s Women at the Well Ministry. She is a member of the Steering Committee for the AAWIM Potomac Association Sister Circle and is currently studying Social Justice Formation in the Anglican Tradition at Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary. Rev Dunson has served the Alliance of Baptists as a member of the Nominating Committee, the Board of Directors Racial Justice Implementation Group and is a member of the Board of Directors.