A Message from Our District Lay Leader and Coeur Team Chair, John Townsend

I thought I had the topic for this month’s newsletter article figured out.

I was going to write about dandelions. Seriously.

But then a wealth of athletic events happening at the same time in Spokane created a shortage of hotel rooms. Consequently, some of the competing teams had to be housed in Coeur d’Alene. And then they had to walk to a restaurant.

Most of the nation knows what happened then. Not the best way to make the six o’clock news. Not the ideal way to get noticed.

More disturbing, or at least interesting, was the resultant rush by civic leaders to declare, “That’s not who we are.” And even more interesting, the pushback on that claim that appeared in the “Letters to the Editor” section of The Spokesman-Review, Spokane’s daily newspaper, on April 2nd.

But what does any of this have to do with us? Certainly, none of us harbors the kind of overt racism that was on display in Coeur d’Alene when those visiting athletes and their supporters were walking to dinner. (There is a small touch of cynicism, perhaps sarcasm, in that statement, in case you missed it.)

Perhaps we don’t. Hopefully, we don’t harbor that kind of overt prejudice. But what about the more insidious, silent, accepting kind? The kind that claims that “we’ve made great strides”, as sort of a euphemism meaning “let’s not talk about this, things are OK, don’t rock the boat, besides these things take time after all that’s not who we are”.

Given the university from which I graduated did not admit Black undergraduates until 1956, and where I do not recall having any classes except one with any student who was not white (and that one student in that one class was Asian), but where the current student body, although still predominately white (about 2/3) is slightly more than 8% Asian and just above 6% Black or African American, and where 12 of the 16 member varsity men’s basketball team are Black (75%), I think it could be argued that, yes, we have made at least “strides”, although I am not sure how “great”.

As true as that might be, it is neither a reason nor an excuse to ignore the obvious fact that not only overt racism, as was displayed in Coeur d’Alene – despite later claims of “That’s not who we are!” – continues to exist, or to brush aside that more insidious silent, accepting kind.

While we are challenged to confront both the obvious and the subtle forms of racism, we are also challenged to confront our own unrecognized, perhaps ingrained, even prejudicial, views.

According to news articles about the initial call to the police and about body camera video from the Coeur d’Alene police officer who responded to the report of the racial slur incident, the reporting party said, “You can’t control what the hillbilly white trash people do.” In itself, a statement that contained at least a bias and one that, depending on who offered it, could be contested as “racial”. (As well as a statement that could tend to – and perhaps did – detract from the veracity of what was reported.)

This is not an easy task. Self-reflection rarely is.

Our challenge is to examine ourselves individually and collectively. To look for our hidden bias and prejudice, and to address those (hopefully we won’t be seeing un-hidden bias and prejudice!).

Our challenge is to find the better way forward toward a more just and egalitarian society and world. Our Conference is expending a considerable amount of resources targeted at the “E” in Bishop Bridgeforth’s “M.I.L.E” – our M.I.L.E. (See links at the end of this article.)

While “eliminating” may be a Sisyphean goal, that does not mean we should not be striving for it, any more than Jesus’ statement that we will always have the poor among us should be an excuse for not striving to eliminate poverty.

I challenge each of us to look deeply, sincerely, and critically into our own hearts and heads and the hearts and heads of our respective churches for those places where there are biases and prejudices. And to do the hard work of addressing them in such a way that we truly can “love our neighbor”.

John Townsend
Inland Missional District Lay Leader


1 Comment

John Edgar - April 9th, 2024 at 9:19pm

Thank you John. You have very successfully seperated the "wheat from the chaf" in your disertation on an "ugly" incident. "This is not who we are", as reported raises the question of "just who are we?"