Voice at 'Sophia' Breakfast Speaks about Racism

May 29, 2003 10:36 AM EDT

DENVER - Beginning with a prayer to "leave behind the foolishness of the world," Voices of Sophia hosted a lively breakfast meeting Tuesday morning during the 215th General Assembly. The mission statement of the Brooklyn, NY-based organization, says it works "toward the reformation of the church into a discipleship of equals," focusing on "challenges to the full participation of women in the life of the Presbyterian Church (USA)."

Emily Wigger, a member of the General Assembly Council, introduced the guest speaker, the Rev. Nancy Ramsay, the Harrison Ray Anderson Professor of Pastoral Theology at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

Ramsay, whom Wigger characterized as a "true voice of wisdom," spoke on "Re-Imagining Racism Through the Lens of Privilege." With a combination of humor, intelligence, insight and gravity, she outlined her thesis for a capacity crowd of both men and women at the Adams Mark Hotel.

"Racism poses life-threatening challenges to the very fabric of our national life, to the integrity of our religious institutions - like this denomination - and to our own salvation," she began.

Speaking to a predominantly European-American audience, Ramsay emphasized the roles of "intentional education and concurrent conversation and action on the part of people of all racial identities and cultural heritages" in battling racism.

Ramsay told the story of her own awakening to the sin of racism while she was a college student working as a teacher's aide in a rural summer school in eastern North Carolina. In witnessing first-hand the futures that already had been "stolen" from her students because of their race and poverty, she realized that what she was seeing was not God's vision for them as reflected in scripture.

"I've come to believe that the most important factor in moving persons toward involvement in the struggle for racial justice and reconciliation lies in how racism is defined," she said. That definition determines how people deal with it, she said, adding that her own definition emerged through the study of privilege.

"The veil of racism lifted for me when I came to understand racism as an interlocking system of advantage based on race," she said.

Citing research data and the words of numerous writers, Ramsay asserted that people are created for life in relationship. "The sin of racism," she said, "lies in the negation of relation."

She said Christians must play a role in "deconstructing the lie and the sin of racism," adding, "I hope the European-Americans in this room will use the experience of sexism as an empathic bridge."

Quoting Gandhi, she concluded: "Let us be the change we seek."

Voices of Sophia presented its annual Sister of the Year Award to Ginny Copenheffer of Central Presbyterian Church in Louisville, KY. Copenheffer, an elder, is secretary of the Presbyterian Health Education and Welfare Association and a member of the advisory committee of Presbyterians Affirming Reproductive Options.

By Albert H. Lee
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