Episode 1: The courage of our voice
In this episode of Thursdays At the Table, three leaders in The United Methodist Church talk about racism and the realities of white supremacy. They share stories with Bishop LaTrelle Easterling of bearing witness to lynchings, confronting how racism was woven into their own histories, and how their privilege affects the ways they are learning use their voices to advocate for justice.
In a candid and courageous conversation, Bishop Easterling talks with David Abbott, Director of Stewardship for the United Methodist Foundation of New England; Dr. David Scott, Director of Mission Theology for the denomination’s Board of Global Ministries; and Bill Waddell, an attorney from Arkansas who provides legal counsel to The United Methodist Church. Together, they explore the personal and cultural intersections of whiteness, privilege, racism, Scripture, and justice.
Dr. David Scott is the Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church. Before joining GBGM in 2016, he taught religion and leadership at Ripon College in Ripon, WI. He is the blogmaster for the scholarly blog UM & Global, which is dedicated to fostering conversations about the global nature of The United Methodist Church and is the author of several books. Scott says he is motivated in mission by “God’s love.” He and his wife, Allie, a member of the Wisconsin Annual Conference, have a daughter, Sally, and a son, Martin.
Rev. David Abbott serves as Director of Stewardship at the United Methodist Foundation of New England in New Hampshire. Prior to that, from 2010 to 2016, he was a district superintendent in the New England Annual Conference. He is a graduate of Wesley Theological Seminary, where he received his doctorate in “Restoring the self-esteem of smaller membership churches through district conferencing and events.”
Attorney Bill Waddell is a partner in the law firm of Friday, Eldredge & Clark in Arkansas, where he heads the firm’s Commercial Litigation and Regulation Practice Group. He is the recipient of the American Bar Association’s Pro Bono Publico Award, which is given to individual lawyers and institutions in the legal profession that have demonstrated outstanding commitment to volunteer legal services for the poor and disadvantaged. He serves as legal counsel to The United Methodist Church’s Council of Bishops
Questions for Reflection and Extending the Conversation
Bishop Easterling: So beloved of God, I am so pleased to welcome the guests that we have this morning to Thursdays at the table. And I do believe that we really are going to tell the whole truth as we talk about white privilege, as we explore white supremacy and men who have made the commitment to help dismantle racism.
I'm watching them evidence this commitment in their lives. So thank you so much for agreeing to be with us today. Our guests today are the Reverend Dr. David Abbott, Director of Stewardship for the United Methodist Foundation of New England. David and I served together on the Cabinet when I was a superintendent as he was in New England under Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar.
Dr. David Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. And David and I also knew one another in New England when I was pastoring Union United Methodist Church. David was one of our very committed lay leaders. He was teaching Sunday school. He had other leadership roles. So I know him from the New England conference as well.
And then there's attorney Bill Waddell, a partner in the law firm of Friday, Eldridge and Clark, LLP and a recipient of the American Bar Association pro bono ProPublica Publico Award. Given to those who have been instrumental in volunteering to provide legal services for the poor and the marginalized. So welcome to all of you.
And for the sake of clarity, when I say David, I'll be referring to David Scott. When I say Dave, I'm referring to Dave Abbott. So again, thank you all. It is a joy to have you with us today. Each of you have demonstrated, as I said, a commitment to the work of anti-racism.
David, you chose to worship at a predominantly black church in Boston while you were pursuing your graduate degree, when you certainly had other options. You and your ministry at the General Board supports anti-bias work. For example, our recent presentation to the Council of Bishops on Colonialism was brilliant and has sparked fantastic conversation among the council, but also others who had an opportunity to watch that presentation.
Dave, I see you taking an active stand against racism. I see you doing that through social media. I witnessed you do it in the Annual Conference and other places where you had leadership as a District Superintendent. I watched you confront bias and ensured that resources were shared equitably and that you made room for gifted pastors of color to have opportunity for leadership.
Bill, I've already mentioned an award that you got from the American Bar Association for your critical work with the poor and the marginalized. You've done amazing ministry providing legal representation to those who literally, literally could be losing their lives. And you've partnered with other change agents to help transform futures. And I also know for a fact that you're an advocate within the connectional United Methodist Church for change.
What I'd like to hear from each of you is, how did you become aware of your privilege and what led you to your current path to actively work for a more just world?
David Scott: I think it's been a long journey with a lot of steps along the way, most of which have been small ones, but I'll lift up three moments in that journey. I grew up in a small town in northeast Iowa, which did not prepare me well to think about race. You know, I went to a high school of 600 people and there were a handful of Asian students and probably two black students in the entire high school.
But growing up in Decorah, Iowa, did help and teach me to think about difference. So it's interestingly a town with a very strong Norwegian American heritage. And so I grew up with the sense that this town was distinct from other towns. It wasn't just sort of generically white, and that helped me sort of think outside of the bounds of generic whiteness.
But my family wasn't from the town. We moved there when I was five. And so I also had a number of moments growing up where, you know, I sort of felt a little bit of an outsider. And I think that cultivated in me some compassion or affinity for people that might be on the margins in other settings and certainly in much more significant ways than I was.
And so you know, throughout college and the time after college and then into grad school in Boston, this background, I think, prepared me to be open to encountering people that were different from me. And part of that was choosing to attend Union United Methodist Church, which was so formative in so many ways. I owe so much to that church.
But I remember a moment, maybe six months or a year after I had begun worshiping there, where I was sitting in a Sunday morning service. And I look down at my hands. Union’s a predominantly black church, historically black church, and I look down on my hands. And it was the first time I ever really thought about the whiteness of my skin.
I just remember looking at the skin of the back of my hands and thinking, I'm white, and that's not just default. That is that is a particular identity. That is a particular way of being embodied and being in the world and sort of again, shifting from seeing whiteness not just as default, but to to something particular that that was a big moment.
And the third moment is, there's been a lot of conversations over the last several years about generational wealth and redlining and the impacts of the GI Bill and all of the ways in which both government and private policy have benefited white people more so than people of color, financially. And I remember talking to one of my cousins, and he was talking about the ways in which my grandparents had supported his dad. And I knew that they had done the same for my mom and my dad as well and for my other uncle. And my grandpa, who had been in the Navy in World War Two, attended college on the GI Bill, was then able to get the job as an architect and buy a home in an area that's in the city of Chicago, but was sort of new development in the fifties and and build wealth in that way. And you know I love my grandparents very, very generous and hardworking, but they were able to build wealth because they had some advantages through the GI Bill and through, you know, housing. And, you know, my grandpa was designing houses largely for this sort of suburban expansion that happened in Chicago and so many other places around the world.
And they then were able to take some of that wealth that they had accumulated and pass it on to my mom's generation. And then my mom's generation was able to take some of that and pass it on to me and my brothers and my cousins and my generation. And that made a lot of these sort of abstract conversations very personal, to see the way that in my own family history, that story of unequal building of wealth had played out.
And to recognize the privilege that that conveyed on me. So there's been a lot of other steps, but those are those are three that all lift up.
Bishop Easterling: Thank you, David. And I appreciate it. Again, this notion of telling the whole truth, how you really were able to talk about, again, that personal experience of looking at your hands and having that epiphany that that moment, if you will, but also what some of our governmental policies and practices in the United States, how that has propped up some cultures and and has not done so so so, so created disparity for others.
I appreciate you going deep and telling that whole truth. Bill or Dave, who will go next?
Dave Abbott: But I'd be glad to go. I, like David, grew up in a predominantly white area. I grew up in Maine. I remember the two black students that were in my junior high and high school. I didn't really think about it though, because I figured everybody had the same privileges that I did. That continued when I was at college. It was a state and an in-state school.
There was diversity. There were a couple of folks, but they were just people because color didn't matter because everyone was treated fairly equally. All of those type of things. But one of the moments that transformed, began to transform, my life and my awareness of the differences, because up to that point, I decided to go to seminary and decided to head south.
And one of the reasons that we headed south to Duke was that I wanted my kids to have some adversity, I wanted, and that I wanted them, not adversity, but to experience diversity. We had two children who had been adopted into the church family who were from India. And my kids later told me, “Well, we just assumed that they had a better team than we did.”
We get down into North Carolina. I had heard stories and things, and so I was prepared for what could happen and discovered a lot of loving people who were great Christians until you started to talk about color and the church. I was talking with a funeral director and he mentioned in the church that I was serving that had all these amazing people, there was a time when you just simply didn't go inside if you were part of the group, if you were part of the funeral procession.
And so we talked about that. And I think that was the same year that I listened to a report of their annual conference where they had surveyed the churches and the districts about cross-cultural cross-racial appointments. And it was overwhelming that people did not want a black person serving in their white church. They would accept a woman, that was better.
But it just began to I began to realize the differences that were there as I watched things that happened in the town that I was in and and just experienced, I became aware of that difference. But it was interesting because when I returned back to Maine to be a pastor and to be this all-aware individual who had been down south and knew what church was like and all of that, we had somebody come to a district pastors meeting.
We talked about white privilege, and I found myself getting angry. But we don't have privilege, and it really just set me off and didn't resonate with me. Because even though I saw the things, it was still falling into place. But I still remember that day sort of as an awakening moment, though I was unaware that the despair was moving.
And then the last story that I'll share, sort of keeping in the idea of the three, happened at Wesley Seminary. I had gone to get my doctorate there. We were in a group of, we were in the intensives, and there were five of us that hung out together. There was a Korean American, an African American. He called himself a redneck. He was from way down South. I was a Canadian because in Maine, it has to be a part of Canada. Yes, so far away. And also a Jewish Christian. And we sat down in an Indian restaurant one night, and we were talking and the two of them started talking about their two personalities. The one that they could do in public and the one that they could do in real life.
And it was like, What do you mean? And it was just another one of those moments where I became aware that I could just be who I was. I didn't have to pretend. And so those were moments that began to shift, to shape who I was. And I've always believed that there should be justice. And why just because of skin, you know, the image now of the hand that Dave, David just shared will stick with me, but why was it so different? And as a result, to those that group of five became people I could ask the, I call them white stupid man questions, questions I was afraid to ask. Right. But I needed to talk to someone of color who was experiencing it and they said, please feel free. And they listened and they answered.
And I've had a few of those along the way who have enabled me to have those conversations, but that's what guided me to be, to move further as to where I am today. So that's part of my history.
Bishop Easterling: Amen. Amen. I am appreciative of your vulnerability, of your being willing to tell the whole truth, that even after you've had that experience down south at Duke and some awakening, you came back to Maine and began to have an interaction, and you began to be angered, saying, “Wait a minute, no, it is all a level playing field.” And then continuing on your journey of further enlightenment around that.
I really appreciate that, and I hope I'm not mistaken when I say that I think you and I have built that relationship where I'm one of those persons that you can ask questions and you know you've got the space to be able to do that. So I count that a privilege.
Dave Abbott: You certainly are. And I didn't want to put you on the spot. But yes, you're one of those treasured folks and continue to help me to see and continue to help me, to push me to places where I'm not comfortable.
Bishop Easterling: So we're learning and growing together, my brother, learning and growing together.
Bill Waddell: Yeah, thanks. I've thought a lot about today. Just thinking, how can I even talk about this? Except to be completely transparent because I, and I know it's hard to start out with an emotional response and I'll be better about it, but that's all right. But our experience in the South is so different from what I'm hearing, you know, and I grew up in rural Arkansas, on the Mississippi River in the Delta.
And you cannot have a you cannot lack awareness of white privilege once you leave your door. And, you know, we just just briefly you know, our county is Phillips County, Arkansas, which is a wonderful place to grow up for many people, have all kinds of classes, strata as well, and wonderful people.
And this is not negative to them, but we are the side of Elaine race massacre is it's just south of my town from 1919, and and as Bishop Easterling knows because I've shared this I've written about it, that I felt like I needed to make a personal pilgrimage a few years ago to the lynching memorial in Montgomery. And Phillips County is the only county in the whole United States where there's been so many lynchings over the time period measured that they don't have space to put the names on the on the monument for that county. And, you know, to me, that's more of a modern example of a kind of consciousness. But it certainly didn't start a few years ago. I was blessed with parents who were Methodist and taught us from the very beginning in our home, where we stood, where we stood in relationship to others, and who lived that out.
And I will tell one story. You know, my dad, my mom was from Chicago and she had moved there at about the end of elementary/start of junior high. And my dad always been from the West Helena area, and he was a man of great integrity. But kind of like Harper Lee's real Atticus Finch, a real father that's in Go Set a Watchman.
Yes, it was a complicated cultural thing to try and do the right thing, but also to survive in the community. And, you know, just those are pressures that you feel in the south. But my dad was also, he was a home builder and a realtor. And he always had a soft place in his heart for people who were down and out.
Bill Waddell: And so he helped a lot of folks. But when I was a teenager and this is my, this is kind of a searing story for me, that I'll never forget. But he thought I needed to be working harder, you know, just mowing the yard and playing baseball and things like that was probably something that was not keeping me out of trouble.
And we're not going to go into that. But so my job was to work with an older black man named Ozzie, whose job was to dig the footings. And, you know, they had to be done just right, measured and leveled out and all that. And I remember the first day I worked with him as a young teenager, he said, Bill, you know, we have all day to do this and to do it right.
We don't have to try and do it in one hour. And then and then they're going to find something else for us to work on and do it. He was right, especially in the summer. And, you know, he was a wise person and I got to know him a little bit, but he wouldn't talk much about his past because he had grown up in, you know, a racist culture and all he wanted to do was was do a good job, get paid for it, and go home to his family.
The searing part of the story, though, to me is, is my dad was kind of behind the scenes, one of these people that worked very quietly and didn't want people to turn to him credit for this. But it was important to him at Christmas time, particularly, to take either turkey or ham to the workers at their home. And so he always would do that.
And we you know, we would have had like a family Christmas Eve thing with extended family. And then about 8:00, which I know is kind of late, but he would say we're going to deliver the hams and turkey. So the one year I went to Ozzie's house with him, and I didn't know where Ozzie lived, but there's a huge discrepancy between the haves and have nots.
And we grew up, you know, I would say middle class for that area, which, you know, not wealthy by any means, but we certainly didn't live where Ozzie lived. And so we knocked on the door and, of course, he wanted us to come in. And they had a wood burning stove in the middle of a shack, and it was a shack, and it was full of people, multiple generations, having a good time.
It was a night when my soul was strangely warmed. But it was on multiple levels. You could hardly stand it to be in there. And we stayed. We talked to Ozzie and his family, and the contrast between what I had just experienced with my extended family and Ozzie’s situation was something that I'll never be able to get over.
And so it was one of those things that I got down on myself about – I knew what I needed to do in relationships and all, but I didn't have the courage to stand up against the culture. The second thing, just briefly, is that my family was dedicated to public schools, so we had voluntary integration.
But my parents thought that we should be in public school. And so when we had full integration in 1971, we went. I started with full integration in the eighth grade. And it was interesting to me to see the people that I thought were close friends who suddenly were not with me. They had gone to private school.
But I gained a whole new perspective on life. And to see how people were, you know, my graduating class was probably close to 300 and we were probably not 50/50 but it was a sizable ratio of black and white and whites being still the majority. But those relationships carried over and they're still there today.
And to see that, reunions and things like that, how some people never had a chance. Some people, some people escape that and they've done really well. But just to just to kind of move it all the way up to today is I, I have felt for a long time called to justice. And I can say, you know, we don't have an order for this bishop, but I can say I'm called to the word of justice, because as I read the Bible, I just I just don't see how many of the things we're fighting over today in the church and in society, they should be fought over in my reading of the Bible. So I started a number of years ago acting out on that and trying to do legal work. That, of course, I have to do certain things to be paid and to make a living. But, where my joy and fulfillment comes is from doing the pro bono work.
And so our work over in the Delta, which is, I chose not to go back there. My wife and I have known each other since the nursery of the Methodist church where we grew up, but we thought it was best to stay here. And we do a lot of work over there. And so I say this often, I'm in my atonement period.
And I don't know, I don't know when to say it started, but it started when I had the courage to say even to my own law firm, I'm going to be doing these things, and I hope it's okay with you but I'm going to do it anyway. And that was a freeing thing for me.
And, I mean, we don't have time for the stories, but I mean, when we have time, I mean, you would not believe what the white privilege has done in terms of property. What privilege has done in terms of care. Medical care. Predatory types of lending and things like that. And we see it. We see it all the time.
I will stop with that, Bishop Easterling, I may have taken way too much time, but this is something that is real for me. And I live it every day and in the way and the way my job is. And so thank you for letting me express that. I've said many times, what voice will the people that need to hear these stories listen to?
I hope mine is one of them. But I also hope that I can lift up other voices like yours. And I was on this call just so that we can have these other voices being heard, because it's in those personal stories of life and struggle, and in my own sin of omission for so many years that I think we find that the place where we can begin to bring change.
Bishop Easterling: Absolutely. Well, I really appreciate you being so authentic, even in terms of not trying to press down your emotion. My mother was born and raised in Sylvania, Georgia. And I know from being her daughter, there is, there is a trauma that is carried by persons who grew up in those kinds of segregated, very racist environments. Again, my mother, having been one who literally saw, we know, the song Strange Fruit and the metaphor that embodies: persons hanging from trees.
My mother saw that. And so I know from you growing up in rural Arkansas, you saw things. So there's a trauma that is a part of your person. So thank you for not hiding that. I also appreciate it because I'm also one that from time to time will be given to emotion. So I want folk to understand I'm not the only pastor or lawyer who can be emotive sometimes.
So thank you, Bill, for not leaving me out there on the Isle of Patmos by myself. It's good for others to be able to see somebody to be moved by their emotion. But at some point, I also hope we can come back to this notion of the courage that it takes to do this work, the courage that it takes to walk this talk.
But I want to share something with you that happened to me recently. I was at an airport. And if you know you're going through TSA and you know, you put your bags on the belt and hopefully your bag will just progress down the belt and you'll be able to pick it up after you've come through. Right? You've walked through the device and nothing is set off.
You pick it up, you go on, you go to your gate. Well, there is, though, as the luggage is moving through in some airports, it can get redirected to another little queue there. Right? And if your bag gets redirected to that other queue, then it is going to get a deeper inspection. So even though I had TSA PreCheck, for some reason my bag was just one of those that ended up in that other queue that needed deeper inspection.
And there were two lines of us moving through. So there was a queue on the far right and then there was mine, which was a little bit more to the left. And what I had noticed about the TSA agent that was working was that he was moving back and forth between the belts so that nobody was having to wait for any long period of time.
He would check a bag on the side, then he'd check a bag on that side. And he was doing that until I was the next person in line and my bag was to be checked. Now I don't have any proof as to why things seem to change there, but I noticed that he stopped checking the queue that I was standing there for, and now was just checking bags on one side, repeatedly, just repeatedly.
So this went on for a couple of minutes. And as you can imagine, his other bags then ended up behind mine, a line began to form. And so the gentleman behind me said, okay, what's going on here? How long have you been standing here? I said, “Just a few minutes.” Well, a few minutes turned into several minutes, and now our line is getting longer.
And this gentleman is still only checking the bags on the opposite belt. So the gentleman behind me, who happened to be a white male, looked at me and said, “Well, why don't you say something? Because, you know, he needs to check your bag. So, we can move along.” And, you know, I've never responded like this before, but I took a breath.
Bishop Easterling: I looked at him, I said, “Why don't you use some of that privilege that you have and why don't you ask him why he's not giving attention to bags on this side? Because I feel like I, as a woman of color, could run into more difficulty, you know, taking on a TSA agent than you might.” And he stepped back for a second.
He looked at me and then he said, “Hey, why aren't we getting any service over here on this side?” And the gentleman then eventually did come.
Do you believe that those who benefit from systems of privilege should really be at the forefront of this kind of work? You know, because there is something, there's something about those who are being harmed by oppressive systems for so long have felt like they've had to champion this work.
They've had to carry it. Do you believe that that those who are benefits and again, not because of anything they've necessarily done, but but again, when Bill talked about predatory lending practices, when he talked about laws that favored some, when David spoke about generational wealth that has been able to be accumulated again, not because of any particular thing that the family in and of themselves argued for, but was just a part of our system.
Do you believe that persons who benefit should be at the forefront of this work?
David Scott: I think people who have benefited need to be deeply engaged in the work and at the forefront, as long as that does not imply displacing the voices of those who have been marginalized in some ways that are deeply engaged about listening to the experiences and the leadership of others.
Bishop Easterling: I appreciate that nuance. That's important. So, yes, at the forefront, but not to the exclusion of collaborating with those who are on the margins. I appreciate that. David.
Dave Abbott: And as one who is continuing to learn, that question makes me very uncomfortable because I have been put to the forefront as a white male. And I'm thinking that at this time, it is my turn to be the one who supports. And if I am asked to speak, I will gladly speak and stand right beside with but with, as with David, it's that. And I don't want to mess it up. That's my fear. I want to work with and take guidance from and to be of, to be as a bridge and not a wall, if that makes sense. So, yeah, I'm there. You want me there? I'm there. But I don't want to stand in front of, because I'm afraid. I'll stand with and speak as loud as I can, but there's just something in my head right now that says that that's where I've been. And I don't want that perception. I want to be authentic.
Bishop Easterling: I do think I understand what you're saying, Dave. I think what I hear you saying is you are prepared from a place of privilege to speak truth to power, if invited to. But what you don't want to do is displace and decenter those who have been marginalized before, push them out of the way. So you'll partner, you'll collaborate with, but you don't want to displace.
Dave Abbott: Hey, man, just tell me what to do. Because I don't understand this. I'm learning, and I understand my white privilege. And so therefore and maybe even sometimes oversensitive and shut down quicker, but please, I'll do whatever is needed to bring this to light, to justice. I don't I don't want to be in the front, unless I’m invited in.
Bishop Easterling: Bill, is the story that I shared and the way I looked at the gentleman and invited him to speak to that moment. Does that resonate with you in any way?
Bill Waddell: It does. And, you know, I had a similar experience somewhere where a person did not speak English, but I could tell they were Hispanic, and I immediately, just based on some ability to do some speaking Spanish, just interceded because I thought the person is helpless. It's not an exact parallel of white privilege, but it's an inability to do something.
And so the parallel for me on this and this is where I'm always so careful with this, is that I am a person who has benefited from white privilege, and I continue to do so. However, I didn't choose to be born like this. My choice is how I live with it. And so I don't, I'm real sensitive about expressing guilt about my whiteness and the privilege I was born into.
I'm willing and able, and I'm going to speak out on what it is I do with that. And then the other piece to me about this, and I'll get to your question in a second, but I think that, you know, doing work, mission work in Mexico or Guatemala and places like that, we learn very quickly that we go thinking we have all the answers and that we that we're going there to help them and maybe even rescue them.
And we may do so like with wealth and bringing skilled people to build houses or whatever we do. But spiritually, we are always receiving something that we didn't even know we needed, you know. And so the contrast of that is, when you come home from the mission field, whether it's with youth or adults, and you look at your life back here, you think, I didn't have any idea until I went and did that.
So to me, part of where I'm coming from with what I try to do right now, is it's a cultural competency issue. I really need to listen before I speak, but I do know that once I'm convinced that I have some something that I can say that I think is what they what these these other folks who are in living in it daily want to be said, that sometimes my voice is the only one that other people will listen to.
And so I take that as an opportunity to use something akin to white influence or white privilege, to speak truth, and to speak it with a voice that I hope will resonate with people who just like those of us who went on mission trips, went down there not realizing where we were, and we come back, we're changed people.
I hope that makes sense. But it's not that complicated. But to answer your question, should we be involved? I mean, yes, absolutely. If we're going to call ourselves disciples of Jesus Christ, I'm not doing this as a political force or anything else. I'm only doing it to represent Jesus Christ as I believe Jesus Christ should be represented.
And I start with that and I end with that. And if I ever get off and do something political or power base or whatever along the way, I have to stop and redirect my focus. So anyway, that, that is something that is real with me and, and I look for that in other people as well.
I wish I saw more of that in the church to be, to be quite frank. I mean, I'm at the point in my career at age 65, that I feel like we need banners about racism just as much as we need banners about our sexuality issues at churches because it affects many more people. And there's a ton of harm that is being done, contrary to our, you know, our admonition to do no harm.
I could preach on this Bishop Easterling, but I’m gonna stop.
Bishop Easterling: Well, I'm thinking we are really going to look into this new order that you alluded to earlier, Bill, called to word and justice. I think we really need to pursue that. But you make me want to stop for a moment and just speak to something squarely. And that is this notion about serious, about express, sensitive, about expressing guilt.
One of the things that I've learned as I am so passionate about the work of anti-racism and dismantling privilege and white supremacy, is that those of us who are people of color championing this cause, need to stay away from either causing folks to feel guilty or attempting to, you know, or helping people, be disabused of the notion that no one's asking you to hate your ancestors.
Right? No one's asking you to not love your grandfather, father or your great grandmother. Any more because they happen to live in a particular period of time and may have even been involved or simply the beneficiaries of certain activities. We need to stay away from that, and I think that some of that is what keeps individuals from becoming change agents, from becoming persons who will do the work of dismantling racism.
Because it's you're asking me to disown my past, to hate someone that I love. And so I just want to express that that is never my intent. I've had to grow and hone a deeper understanding of that. And if I ever catch myself doing that, that's one of the places where I need to correct myself. And again, I talked earlier about Dave and I learning from each other.
You know, if I'm doing anything that would cause someone to feel that way, I want someone to speak to me, because that doesn't get us anywhere. Right? Blame casting, finger pointing. We see enough of that going on right now in the United Methodist Church around this issue of human sexuality. And we certainly also see it in our political sphere.
And that, that is a barrier to any of this kind of work. It doesn't help. So thank you for allowing me to speak to that so pointedly, Bill.
David Scott: There's another thing I really appreciated about what Bill was just saying–when he talked about mission trips. This makes me think of Teju Cole's notion of the white savior complex and that the white folks are going to go out and save the world. Whether that's, you know, poor black and brown kids in the inner city or people in other countries around the world.
And I mean, I think to your last question, the trick is to be deeply invested and involved in that work and to use white privilege without contributing to those sorts of white savior narratives. And so, it's about the work you do, but it's also about the story you tell yourself and others about the work you do, and recognizing that your own work is a part of the story.
But you are not the center or the hero of that story. You know, you're involved in that, but that's a story that's bigger than you, and has other people at the center of it. So I've found that that notion of white savior complex, really, and the way that we tell our stories, really helpful in thinking about how white privilege plays out both in the United States and around the world.
Bishop Easterling: That's such an important point, David, because for far too long, I think most mission work was grounded in that, whether it was expressly stated or not. We are here to save you, right? We are here to save you. And as your presentation to us, on the Council, of that whole notion of colonialism here to save, you know, the savage. Here to bring some notion of spirituality, as if the persons that folk were encountering didn't already have a spirituality, didn't already have a relationship with God.
I mean, the whole notion of manifest destiny, right, and the doctrine of discovery was mired in this notion that God sent certain people to save, to civilize, right, other people. So, you know, of course, everyone is not going into that deep kind of intellectual analysis of it, but there's a grain of that in this whole white savior complex.
So I really appreciate you teasing that out. And there's a fine line between recognizing privilege and using it, again, alongside. Right? And not having that savior complex. There's often something that I'll ask people to do if I'm leading a class on anti-racism or sometimes even during a Bible study when I want to really talk about how we have centered whiteness within our Christian ethos.
And I'll ask people to take out a device, and to just, in your browser, type in Jesus, or type in Christ, and then hit ‘Image.’ And what comes up is what I have learned to refer to as Fabio Jesus. Right there is this image of it's, you know, this very, very pale skin person with this long flowing hair and these bright blue eyes.
And we know from the Scripture text, that is not what Christ would have looked like. And so, yes, so much of our Christianity is, first of all, in that notion of whiteness. Right? And so, again, this white savior complex comes out of that. I really appreciate you, as I said, teasing that out.
Bill Waddell: I have to say, David, that was one of the most thoughtful, historical type presentations on colonialism. And I was privileged, to use the word, to be there and sit there and hear that. And I hope that can be used more broadly. But it is an interesting thing that so many well-intentioned people think of their work as not an extension of white privilege, but it comes across as almost like white colonialism in the area of racism.
And I was really moved by your presentation and just appreciate how you approached the whole topic as well. To me, and this is, I know I'm a relational person, I can't help it, but that's what Christianity is. And so when I think of white privilege, the first thing that I have to do is earn the right to be in relationship.
And it's a choice where I choose to listen and to engage, and you have to. And to me, we have to be together. And I know I'm telling one more story, but I think it goes right with this. I live in a wealthy area, literally, but I have some of the same issues that other people do. But our air conditioner went out a few weeks ago. And, boy, we were really put upon, you know, to have no air conditioning. You know, I'm being sarcastic.
Bill Waddell: It coincided with me having COVID and and giving it to my wife. And so, you can imagine kind of how that was for us. We really felt sorry for ourselves. But it caused me to think about a time in the Delta when I was trying to help somebody who had rented a mobile home, and it was so defective that the air conditioner, if you turned it on, would potentially cause a fire.
And so I had to leave that day. This was several years ago. I had to leave that day knowing that the woman that I was trying to help was pregnant, about to deliver, and was living on a defective mobile home and could not turn the air conditioner on. And she was living that way every day of her life.
As long as she was there and was going to bring a new baby home to it. I dealt with it for, it took two or three weeks to get the air conditioner in, but relationships cause understanding not only between us and other people, but of our own self, you know? So that's why I feel so guilty if I, and I use that word for this, that I'm one of the people speaking today about this, because I know that from a self awareness standpoint, I've got so far to go.
It's not guilt about white privilege. It's just kind of thinking that those relationships are not strong enough, even yet today for me. And that's where, that's why I say this is my atonement period, because of that. I just connect all that with what you said. And I actually thought about some of the things I just said, David, when you were speaking that day. It was very moving to me, and I hope that's available beyond the group that heard it.
Bishop Easterling: So do I. And again, what we're talking about is the presentation that Dr. David Scott made to the Council of Bishops on what I think was Monday, August 22nd. And I do hope that that is available for your wider viewing now that we've made such reference to it. But it really is a primer on trying to understand colonialism.
And as I said, it has sparked such deep conversation. And we will, we're going to be preparing some follow up materials that conferences can use to go deeper into that, into understanding colonialism and how it still infects and affects us today. And conscious steps we need to take to make sure we're not furthering, perpetuating some of the tropes of colonialism and the harm of colonialism.
So, gentlemen, I've heard each of you in your own way talk about how relationships are so important to this, and we're not going to have time to go into a question I had wanted to ask, but I do just want to lift it up. And I want to thank each of you for touching on how relationship has helped you to both identify that white privilege number one exists, the privilege that you have the benefit of, again, just because of the system in which you live, but also how you continue to rely upon that, to keep you aware and to keep you in a posture of humility and in one of continuing to learn and be open. So I would just invite those who are hearing this or watching this.
Ask yourself, you know, what are your relationships? You know, I think about, you know, David and Dave, you know, the Martin Luther King breakfast, that Union United Methodist Church helped to found with Saint Cyprian's Episcopal Church, the oldest, longest running MLK celebration in the country. And, you know, we'd come together earlier, 8:00 on that Monday morning and had breakfast and everybody celebrating Dr. King. And I got to the point where, you know, I was like, you know what? I don't want to come to another bad breakfast meal and do all this celebrating, and then know we all go home to our segregated neighborhoods and segregated churches and our segregated lives. And we're not really building the kind of relationships that are necessary to move our country forward.
So I just appreciate each of you touching on how relationship has been so important to you in your own awareness. But the last question that I want to ask each of you, is, is there a scripture that grounds you in this work? Is there a particular text or even a story from Scripture that helps to move you as you think about allowing yourself to contribute to dismantling racism, striving for justice, working for greater equality?
Dave Abbott: I'm relatively simple in that I think of the body of Christ and I think of it, and it's really been imperative, as we've been talking about some of the things that are happening in the United Methodist Church, some of the things that are happening outside is, for me, is that each person has a place and each person is essential.
And whether I'm below the lower back, or I am, you know, the foot or the ear or whatever it is, there's such a richness in that body. Part of me wants to just keep learning more, keep asking the questions, keep hearing the stories. But it's also the reminder that for anyone who seems to think that to be of Christ means you can separate yourself in one way or the other, is that that doesn't that doesn't work for me. I think we all have a place to have a part. So for me, it's that simple idea of the body and that each place has value. And there are times, I think, when I'm the mouth; there are times when I have to be the ear. But it's, that's it for me, that we all are vital.
We are all essential. There is no one who is not. And so how do I address them knowing that I'm a part of them and they're a part of me and Christ is in all of us.
Bishop Easterling: Amen. Thank you. Thank you, Dave.
David Scott: Maybe this is a failure on my part as a theologian to not come up with a scripture, but I tend to think of this in terms of Wesleyan theology. So the British Methodists talk about the four alls – all need to be saved from sin. And so in that regard, you know, I have internal racism that I'm working on, but that doesn't make me worse than anyone else.
We all need to be saved from sin, personal and systemic, and all can be saved from sin. That God's love is for all people, and for me, that's one of the just fundamental core Methodist beliefs that you see. I mean, even, you know, I can be critical of missionaries, but I also really appreciate missionaries in so many ways.
And that notion of the breadth and width of God's love that you see in missionaries and evangelists throughout history is just beautiful and a real testimony, I think, to what the kingdom of God should be. And so that notion, that God's love is for all people, regardless of race or class or gender or nationality, anything else, that God's love is for all, is really important to me. And then, all can know they are saved and all can be saved to the uttermost, which gets to the Wesleyan notion of sanctification, which is being made perfect in love. But love is about relationship, like we've been talking about, that there is no salvation outside of our relationship to each other.
And if we want to experience full salvation, that means having our relations with others healed by the grace of Christ.
Bishop Easterling: Amen. Amen.
Bill Waddell: I appreciate that orientation, because that's exactly where I am. I mean, there's an inward and outward part of this for me. Inward, I mean, I have always, second Corinthians 5:17 has always resonated with me. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old is gone, the new has come, and I think sometimes that it's only by investing in the things that are the hardest for me, spiritually and the hardest for me in my job or even socially, that I truly understand.
Am I that new creation? How much more do I have to do, to be, to get there? And being is not, is not a James faith without works is dead. It's really more, how much more of my discipleship do I need to really invest myself in to become that, to have the mind of Christ? And I think it's, you know, that's that mind of Christ that I continue to strive for.
Again, I'm not a theologian, David, but the Wesleyan thought of Sanctifying Grace. I'm so happy we have it. And so but I mean, that's the inward part for me. And I think it's the inward that changes the outward. And so, you know, I'm still not feeling like I'm a very good advocate for what we're talking about today, except to say, let's start somewhere with that inward.
Let's seek to have that mind of Christ. That will eradicate all these other things as we then collectively work to change it. And there's more we could talk about with the Bible as a basis for what we're talking about, but that to me, that to me is kind of, it starts with me and it ends with me.
And I'm not going to criticize other people but I'm going to help them, maybe to see where we might go together. And I hope that means something to those who are listening.
Bishop Easterling: Amen. And amen. Well, you know, you really make me realize I asked the wrong question and I really should have talked about what about your spirituality or your faith journey compels you or causes you to stay centered? Because, for me, it would also be hard to pick one scripture. So I apologize. I should have asked the more expansive question, because for me, it is about from Genesis to Revelation.
I can't read the Bible without seeing the liberative hand of God at work. For me, every story has some element of liberation, of bringing persons into wholeness. I think Christ coming was all about love, but that love, meaning that everybody have the opportunity to have life and have it to the full. And so thank you for helping me understand that my question should have been broader.
Thank you for pushing past my poor question to answer in a beautiful way, each of you answered in a beautiful and expansive way.
Dr. King says that human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle, the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals. Gentlemen, as I already knew, but now, as I think those who have been able to listen to you for a few minutes now also understand that you are passionate and dedicated individuals.
I count it a sincere privilege to be in relationship with each one of you. You've touched my life in meaningful ways, and I look forward to the ways we will continue to work together to help bring awareness, to walk together, to model what it can look like for persons to be grounded in this work and courageous enough to do it together.
Couple of things I meant to do when we started. One was to talk about this cup and just to say the cup says “Pastor warning: anything you say or do could be used in a sermon.” So just know, any part of this can end up in a sermon at any time. And I also forgot to ask you all a very critically important question. So I'm going to start with you, Dave. Coffee or tea?
Dave Abbott: Hot chocolate.
Bishop Easterling: That's right. I forgot that about you. That's right.
Dave Abbott: That way I look like an adult.
Bishop Easterling: David, coffee or tea coffee?
Bishop Easterling: Bill?
Bill Waddell: Coffee.
Bishop Easterling: Who's decaf, anybody decaf on here? No, we're on. All right. There you go. Men after, my own heart.
Bill Waddell: What's the purpose?
Bishop Easterling: Exactly. What's the purpose?
Beloved, again. Thank you so much. Thank you very much. May God richly bless you as you continue to pour yourselves out for the sake of the gospel and for this important work. Thank you.
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