The term “white privilege” was not in my vocabulary or understanding while living in a neighborhood for 18 years, where whites were in the minority. In my faith community as a child, my Sunday School teacher and classmates were non-white.
It wasn’t until I thought about attending Hesston College that I recognized it was more possible for me to leave the city than many of my neighborhood friends. Economically there were similarities — my parents couldn’t afford college and neither could my neighbors — yet I had an opportunity to get higher education and many of them did not.
Ertell M. Whigham Jr., lead facilitator for the Credentialed Leaders Consultation on Developing Intercultural Competence, guides the conversation. He serves as a coach and administrator for Mennonite Church USA’s Intercultural Development Inventory. Photo: Jon Trotter
Virginia Mennonite Conference (VMC) is striving to enhance bridge-building by paying attention to intercultural relationships and how we can do it better.
VMC sponsored a Credentialed Leaders Consultation on May 5 and 6, focusing on developing intercultural competence. Ertell M. Whigham Jr., Yvonne Platts, and Noel Santiago facilitated the meeting. On Saturday, there was a bilingual presentation, which covered the same historical, biblical and practical anti-racism material as Friday’s presentation.
Clyde G. Kratz, VMC Executive Conference Minister, is committed to utilizing an assessment tool, the Intercultural Development Inventory, which measures intercultural competency, helps bridge differences, and strengthens inclusion. Part of a commitment for ongoing Conference engagement of pastoral leaders, Kratz hopes building competency in this area will enhance the ministry capabilities of pastoral leaders.
Noel Santiago walks participants through the biblical story of Cornelius and Peter in Acts 10:1-48. He used this passage about a faithful Gentile centurion, God making unclean things clean, and the Spirit coming upon Jew and Gentile alike. Peter said, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.” Photo: Jon Trotter
Following are a few of my learnings or takeaways from the Consultation:
- Racism is race prejudice, plus power.
- There is systemic racism in our country and in our church.
- There is a call for the church to move toward acceptance and adaptation instead of denial, have the ability to bridge diversity and inclusion, and work for justice for all.
- Our shared goal is to be transformed in our thinking and actions.
- We need to pray, asking for God’s help for intercultural transformation.
- To bring about transformation in an institutional system, a team comprised of insiders and outsiders is needed.
The Consultation also generated some questions that I think are helpful to ask ourselves in our ministry:
- What influence do I have to work toward intercultural transformation?
- Who is invited to the table when decisions are made?
- Do I know his/her story?
- How am I speaking into injustice?
- What is the will of God — what is good, acceptable and perfect? (Romans 12:2)
- In what ways am I bringing people from different cultures (ethnicity, race, gender, class, age, etc.) together with a mutual approach?
On his show United Shades of America on CNN, comedian W. Kamau Bell works to help people understand the side of the “other” in the hope that we can somehow find commonground. He interacts with a variety of cultures, always with respect.
In my ministry experience, focusing on relationships instead of gender bias or any other cultural difference, and respecting whomever I am communicating with has served me well. I have found it very helpful to be genuinely curious about other cultures and beliefs, while valuing my own.