Racism in this country could end if the church led the way.
That’s the belief and the battle plan of an East Texas minister who is training, teaching and loving legions of volunteers whose mission is to end racial injustice across the nation. His weapons: conversation and love.
The Rev. Steve Miller of Henderson is founder and executive director of the United States Christian Leadership Organization. He also is an Ashoka Fellow. Ashoka is an international non-profit organization that describes its work as identifying and supporting the world’s leading social entrepreneurs, learning from the patterns in their innovations and mobilizing a global community that embraces the new frameworks so everyone can become a change maker. Ashoka defines a change maker as anyone who is taking creative action to solve a social problem. A number of Ashoka Fellows have won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Miller’s designation as an Ashoka Fellow came with a six-figure grant he is using to realize a long-held goal of defeating racism. Listening sessions, part of his Truth and Reconciliation Oral History Project in tandem with 11 historically black colleges and universities, have taken place in Texas. The sessions allow people who have experienced racism to tell their stories. Miller said he believes stories, rather than data on paper, not only offer policymakers a more powerful picture of the harmful effects of racism but will lead them to shape fairer policies.
And telling their stories allows victims to heal, he said.
In March, Miller lectured at a session for students and administrators at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University.
A native of Henderson, he is a graduate of Henderson High School and holds a master of divinity degree from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. The oral history project plans a listening session at Wiley College next year and another in Louisiana. Project archives are housed at Baylor University.
Engaging the church
The project also aims to engage the church.
“These stories will be employed to encourage the church to take a leading role in matters of racial equality and relationship building, because as these stories will tell, people are hurting. The story of Exodus and of the Bible tell us the mere fact of being heard activates the compassion and healing power of God of which the United States and its current racial environment so desperately need,” he said in an interview earlier this year.
“If the church leads, we can win,” he told the News-Journal, adding that the first step is to love, he said.
“The first duty of love is to listen,” Miller said, quoting theologian Paul Tillich. When people who are victims of racism know someone has listened to their story, they can begin to heal. When people who don’t see racism as an issue or who don’t acknowledge its effects or even its existence, Miller listens to them. Having been listened to, they become more willing to listen to him, he said.
Miller cites the police shootings of black men that have sparked controversy and division and led to the Black Lives Matter movement as an example of the church’s missing presence.
He was in seminary when a police officer shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Miller traveled there and walked around the community, observing and listening. When he returned to class the next week, the professor asked the class, “Where is the Church?” The students’ heads dropped, Miller said.
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SOURCE: Longview News-Journal, Ana Pecina Walker