Written with Rev. Janice Steele, Imani Community United Church of Christ
We have been
reflecting with great sadness and horror about the recent shooting at the
Holocaust Museum in DC by James Von Brunn, a man whose hatred of Jews and
African-Americans was well known and well documented.
The lone casualty in
that shooting was Stephen Tyrone Johns, an African-American man who had worked
there as a museum security guard for six years. The day after the shooting,
representatives from several religious traditions gathered for an interfaith
vigil outside the museum, recommitting themselves to fighting bigotry and
Apparently Von Brunn, who is still in critical
condition, has written a book described as "a hard-hitting expose of the
JEW CONSPIRACY to destroy the White gene pool." A FBI spokesperson said
von Brunn may be charged with hate
crimes or civil rights violations. The mere possibility that Von Brunn would
NOT be charged with committing a hate crime is an insult to Jews, African
Americans and the democratic values that are at the heart of our shared ethics
This crime was not only emblematic of
longstanding and recently escalating anti-Semitism, but of a broader right wing
agenda of exacting racially motivated acts of hatred such as the recent murder
of Dr. George Tiller; a vicious diatribe by KRXQ 98.5 FM radio
announcers in Sacramento in May, encouraging violence against transgender and
gender variant children; and a recently foiled bomb plot at two Jewish
institutions in the Bronx/Riverdale, NY area.
We do not have the luxury of negotiating whose
oppression is worse. White supremacists like James Von Brunn and others hold a
large umbrella of hatred of Jews, African Americans, lesbian, gay, bisexual and
same gender loving people, transgender and gender variant people, immigrants
The shared history of oppression and genocide
experienced by Jews and African Americans can serve as bridges to compassionate
cooperation rather than misunderstanding.
Generations of friendship and cooperative activism have been thwarted in
the last few decades, not only by assimilation and co-optation, but also by
divide-and-conquer tactics employed by more moderate, mainstream bigots.
We are writing this article as two dear friends
who have each experienced the pain of being ostracized by our own communities
and religious institutions because of whom we love. We have witnessed and supported each other in our individual
faith journeys; we have prayed together and celebrated each other’s milestones
and accomplishments. We have shared holidays and services in each other’s
houses of worship. We have had countless hours of conversation about theology,
God, and social justice.
We have also observed the many ways our
communities have pursued integration and paid the price for assimilation. And
we lift up generations of our ancestors as well as future leaders who have
found inspiration and comfort in music, humor, food and perseverance.
Rather than succumb to despair or intellectual
rhetoric, we hope this tragedy at the Holocaust Museum is an opportunity for
healing and renewed dialogue relationship between our respective communities.
What next steps can we take together to begin
this process of healing and renewed relationship in the service of social
· Engage in dialogue that authentically
challenges our fears and suspicions of each other as Jews and African-American
· Seek to create and sustain
relationships with others who are not specifically from your tribe.
· Initiate activities that encourage
being together spiritually, socially and politically. Some examples might
scripture and other sacred text
each other’s theologies, especially those related to social justice.
out and show up for each other regarding specific political issues and concerns
music, art and other creative media
new liturgy and rituals together
sharing between Jewish and African-American spiritual leaders
groups and film discussion series
multiracial Passover seders and other holiday events
holidays together that celebrate African American or Jewish cultural heritage,
such as Juneteenth, Black History Month or Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance
Day), Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday and others
· Continue to share our stories and find
the common denominators that bring us together and deconstruct those that keep
· Develop workshops together that mirror
our traditions and rituals.
· Participate in Circles of Trust®
· Model cross-cultural and interfaith
dialogue and exploration in such a way that encourages our leadership
organizations to do the same.
This 1981 quote from a small group of seasoned
feminists of color regarding a tense dialogue with Jewish women, (published in
the now defunct Gay Community News) continues
to be relevant today:
don’t have to be the same to have a movement, but we do have to admit our fear
and pain and be accountable for our ignorance. In the end, finally, we must
refuse to give up on each other.”(Smith, p. xlvi)
Rev. Janice Steele is the Founder and Pastor of Imani Community
United Church of Christ, a new congregation in the heart of the Gay &
Lesbian community in Sacramento, CA. Her ministry began with a love for music
and the performing arts. Janice’s community activism includes participating in
the National Black Gay and Lesbian Leadership Forum, Zuna Institute, serving on
the Board of Directors of the Black Coalition on AIDS and the Interfaith HIV/AIDS
Council, and on the Program Committee at the Interfaith Center at Park
Presidio. Janice is a graduate of Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley,
CA, where she earned a Master of Divinity degree. In 2007 she was the recipient
of the Paul Wesley Yinger Preaching Award. Janice’s commentaries on social
justice issues from a theological perspective are often published in OutWord
Magazine. Currently, Janice is the Moderator for the Sacramento Valley
Association of the United Church of Christ and serves on the Board of Directors
for the California Council of Churches.
Home Girls: A Black Feminist
Anthology; edited by Barbara Smith. (p. xlvi)