During a workshop day the Protestant Church in Hesse and Nassau (EKHN) and the Evangelical Church of Kurhesse-Waldeck (EKKW) set themselves the goal of a discrimination-free church.
„When I preach God’s word from the pulpit as an Indonesian woman, God is not ‚white‘! It is important that non-‚white‘ perspectives are seen and heard in the church.“ With forceful words, Lector Inke Rondonuwu, a committed member of the Evangelical Indonesian Kristusgemeinde Rhein-Main, described her wishes and also her own racist experiences during this workshop day. During the day we discussed important questions about openness, diversity and anti-racism. We agreed to take a closer look at where structures exist in the church and diakonia that exclude others and to overcome them.
This is our review as organizers of the workshop-day on 15 July 2023 in Hanau:
(the review in German language as download file at the end of the blog)
Are our churches, congregations and the Diakonie with their offers, in their structures and as communities really open, anti-racist, diverse and democratic? Are we places of diversity and what are the experiences of People of Colour in our congregations? Is racism also part of everyday life in our congregations and where do we encounter it in church and diakonia? How can we succeed in adopting perspectives critical of racism in our fields of action in order to be a church that corresponds to the Gospel?
These questions were the focus of a day in Hanau with about 90 participants. The group was diverse and made it possible for People of Colour (PoC) in particular to share their experiences and talk about their expectations of the church and diakonia as well as their hopes.
Austen Peter Brandt, German-British-Nigerian protestant pastor and founder of the organisation „Phoenix e.V.“ which offers anti-racism and empowerment training, made it clear in his contribution that „racism has an enormously divisive power and effect. Racism deeply destroys the human and in the process of racist socialisation the personality of all involved is deformed. If the common goal is emancipation, freedom for all, peace in society, respect for the lives of all, then it is important that white members of the majority society also ask themselves: What has racism done to me? How has it shaped my personality? And how do I become free, from the toxic waste of its destructive images?“ Said Brandt, stressing that „we will only be a decisive step further in the fight against racism when the concept of race has finally landed on the rubbish heap of history“ and he drew attention to the fact that we still find the concept of race even in our church hymnals, even in more recent songs.
Inke Rondonuwu, a committed member of the evangelical Indonesian Kristusgemeinde Rhein-Main spoke very movingly and openly in her impulse about her own racist experiences and how important the ministry as a lector has become for her today. „As an Indonesian woman, when I preach God’s word from the pulpit, God is not white! It is important that non-white perspectives are seen and heard in the church.“
In workshops, participants discussed how theology and worship, volunteer and staff work, public relations, congregational structures and leadership need to change to reflect the diversity of our society and to become open to all who are still perceived and treated as „the others“. The participants agreed to look more closely at where exclusionary structures still exist in the church and diakonia today and how these can be overcome to enable participation for all people. For the area of church public relations, the danger of reproducing racist narratives through texts and images was pointed out and the need for a checklist for media work critical of racism and discrimination was named. Theological education at universities and in the vicariate also faces a paradigm shift if it is to do justice to the diversity of theologies and recognise the contextuality of Western theologies as well. In addition, the conditions for admission to the pastorate must be put to the test, as well as the structural possibilities to enable new forms of cooperation with the national churches for congregations formed by PoC.
„Let’s make the church warm,“ one participant put it, drawing attention to the challenges our services face if they are to open up to the diversity and vitality of other liturgical traditions.
Bishop Dr Beate Hofmann and Church President Dr Volker Jung listened attentively throughout the day. In her response at the end, Bishop Hofmann emphasised that „the Bible knows very many differences of people, but it knows no differences in skin colours! That must guide us in the debate about racism. It became very clear to me again today that there are very diverse forms of discrimination and experiences of foreignness also in our churches. When I speak of an anti-racist church as a vision for the future, I mean a church free of discrimination.“
Church President Dr Volker Jung demanded in his concluding speech: „We need a broad anti-racist discourse in our church. This also includes noticing where racist thought patterns are anchored in us and in our theological reflection. I will propose that we commission a working group to continue working on the topic of ‚Anti-racist Church‘. The WG should provide impetus for discussions across the broad spectrum of our churches.“
Racism is a phenomenon that affects us all – personally, each and every one of us, our congregations, our churches and the diaconia! We are all entangled in racist structures and patterns of thinking. In order for us to change as churches, we have to break free from these patterns of thinking, arrive at new ones and implement them in our structures. This will also change the face of our churches in the long run: we are all church and beloved children of God! In order for as many people as possible to feel at home in our churches, the participants agreed that EKKW and EKHN must consciously say „yes“ to this new departure.
Developing an anti-racist mindset and attitude remains a lifelong task. The event on 15 July was an important step. However, the long-term goal remains: an open, diverse, anti-racist and democratic church internally and externally.