Rebecca Gonzalez-Campoy (she/her), Beloved Community Communications Team
Race and class are tightly intertwined, there’s just no separating the two, says Alfonso Wenker of Team Dynamics during the last of the Intersectionality sessions held at Unity during February and March. Ask yourself, “What does a successful person look like?” Odds are a white male making six figures immediately, maybe even involuntarily, comes to mind. Like it or not, society teaches that our worthiness is tied to our proximity to masculinity, lightness of skin, Christianity, and procreative ability, says Wenker.
Historically, our capitalist economy revolved around stealing land (genocide of indigenous people) and exploiting labor (slavery) to build a strong economy. Today, that practice continues in a different fashion. It counts on angry white people blaming those on the margins for keeping them from the wealth they believe they should pursue and acquire. This diverts attention from the man behind the curtain setting up some to succeed and others to fail. We have to ask ourselves: who does our economy keep poor on purpose?
Wenker challenges us to consider our relationship to the elements of class: What is our access to wealth? What image do we strive to project? What values do we have around money, namely the concepts of cash, debt, and ownership?
Growing up, my father made what was likely a salary at poverty level or barely above it. He expanded his mechanic business and took on debt to do so. My parents did own their very modest home because my mother paid for it with a tiny inheritance. I had student loans to pay for college. I knew nothing about investing, financial advisors, or even saving account safety nets. Yet, the image we projected was one of the white middle class because of our education, home ownership, activism, and involvement in First Unitarian Church of Duluth. As white people, we had access to a good education, home ownership, and employment. We never had to code switch or learn a new vocabulary in order to move about work, school, church, and home.
I am now married, run a medical clinic in suburban St. Paul, and am completing my third year at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. My proximity to wealth has improved tremendously, although I’m still well acquainted with debt. Setting up an independent medical practice with a first generation immigrant from Mexico carries a huge price tag. While my husband’s family came to the United States because they wanted to do so rather than out of necessity, they lost any wealth they had along the way. My father-in-law couldn’t find work as a physician because he’d have to complete a year of residency training first, so retired at age 50 and his children had to provide for the family. So we’ve had to rely on loans and leases to start and maintain this clinic.
These days I’m wrapping up my first unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). Half of my CPE peers are Black and brown men serving time at the Minnesota Correctional Facility–Stillwater, Minnesota’s largest level-four, close-security penitentiary. My inmate colleagues work with their fellow residents. I work with students and staff at Volunteers of America High School Alternative Learning Center in Northeast Minneapolis. It’s the last stop for my students to recover credits before they have to earn a GED on their own. Most of the students are Black and brown. They come from horrific backgrounds. It’s in these two environments - both ends of the prison pipeline - that I see plainly the impact of class and race. Dominant white society refuses to address the root causes of bad behavior - generational trauma, poverty, inadequate housing, food insecurity, mental health issues, and substandard education. I know that several of my students will eventually join my colleagues at Stillwater where they are likely to come out in worse shape than when they entered the prison system.
While Minnesota Department of Corrections professes to follow a restorative justice and rehabilitation model, that’s not what happens inside the prison. As one guard said to one of my fellow CPE colleagues, “My dog has more rights than you do!” Staff shortages and a lack of qualified prospects mean prisons cannot be choosy about who they hire. Thus the proverbial MAGA patriot often patrols alongside their “woke” colleagues. The disconnect between these two philosophies is jarring and caught in the middle are people whom society has failed. It’s the difference between investment in community and punishing the individual.
The United States justice system is a response to the freedom of slaves. With their emancipation in 1865, capitalism needed cheap labor to survive and thrive. Many legislatures in the South and the North enacted Black Codes - think driving while Black type of arrestable offenses. Put freed slaves in jail and then lease the prisoners out to local businesses and voila you have “slave labor.” In short, prisons replaced slave-holding plantations. And the hugely negative impact on families and communities of color reverberates through generation after generation. That’s who our economy keeps poor on purpose and how.
Wenker concludes the Team Dynamic series on intersectionality and race with this question: What is one thing you will permit yourself to practice?
I’m helping students and CPE peers to see their best selves and lift that part up, centering these gifts in spite of their trauma. Practicing the “God of space,” I give them the opportunity to tell their stories, helping them to identify their strengths and create a new storyline for themselves. Only then can they work to override white society’s efforts to keep them in their place.
What will you do?
To see posted recordings of the Intersectionality series, go to Unity’s YouTube channel Class and Race, LGBT + Justice, Intersectionality 101
 Davis, Fania. 2019. The Little Book of Race and Restorative Justice: Black Lives, Healing, and US Social Transformation. New York, NY.: Good Books.
Lia Rivamonte (she/her), Beloved Community Communications Team
“I'm committed to the rigorous practice of knowing that I don't know and of being open to a multiplicity of possibilities.” Alfonso Wenker, Team Dynamics
Receive and Believe. When someone tells you who they are, believe them. It is an invitation to open our hearts and minds a little wider, to accept that the world may not always conform to some of our most deeply-rooted perceptions—in this case, that of gender; that gender is binary and this “fact” is to be regarded as not only sufficient, but a moral truth. Many or possibly, most of us feel able to declare our gender with certainty. We might ask ourselves, what precisely allows us this certainty?
As a cisgender female born and raised in a white, male-dominated society, this aspect of my identity (cisgender) has never been questioned, never been subjected to scrutiny, disbelief, or mockery. I may have been treated as less than equal for other reasons: for being in a brown body, for my Asian heritage, for an assumed immigrant status, and native language. But I have never experienced any doubt, or denial when I describe myself as being a woman. (Yes, women have historically been and are still sometimes perceived as inferior human beings by the dominant culture but that’s another story.)
I watched the YouTube video of and viewed the slides from the Team Dynamics’ LGBTQ+ Justice session, which was held on Tuesday, February 28, 2023 at Unity. I am sure it would have been a richer experience to be in the room and to participate in the group discussions but it is well worth the time to listen to the recorded session and click through the slides. Alfonso Wenker of Team Dynamics who led the session is an engaging and gifted facilitator.
The idea behind “receive and believe,” a phrase Alfonso repeated throughout the session, seems basic to those of us who have never feared rejection, hatred, bias, or outright bodily harm for how we name, describe, and/or present our own sexuality, sexual orientation, and/or gender must live into these words. When it comes to keenly personal descriptors regarding gender and sexual identity, do we take family members, friends, colleagues, neighbors, and strangers at their word? Do we avoid making assumptions based on how they present? Do we make them feel welcome in the spaces we frequent? Do we make an effort to use the terms they have shared that will help make them feel respected, included, and valued?
As Alfonso says, “We are all part of the social construction.” It is the construction of a few who are determined to hold onto their power. You have only to turn on the news and listen to any number of politicians who are determined to rein us in by legislating laws that try to dictate who we can and cannot be as sexual beings.
Placing limits on and ascribing nonnegotiable labels for gender, sexuality and sexual orientation, or reinforcing the binary, is an extremely powerful tool for controlling our bodies and our existence as full human beings. It is a way for those in power to enjoy comfort and security. Whomever controls the body, controls the wealth, Alfonso says, toward the end of his presentation.
Think about it the next time you hear our politicians who espouse a return to “family values” attempting to instill fear in the hearts and minds of the populace about trans affirming care, bathroom usage, and the “danger” of drag performances. Who are they really trying to protect?
The truth is, we are not so easily labeled. Picture the antiracist, multicultural, spiritually invigorating community we yearn for: lovely, messy, and full of mystery—a feast for the curious. Please, tell me who you are—give me a minute, and I will tell you who I am.
Erika Sanders, Beloved Community Communications Team
A few months ago, Pauline Eichten brought an opening reading to a meeting of the Beloved Community Communications Team. Although written by Bishop Ken Untener in 1979, it’s often called the Oscar Romero prayer because it summarizes the ministry of Archbishop Romero.
This is what we are about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything
and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for God's grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders,
ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.
The members of our group were energized by the prayer, and by the reminder that we commit to the unknown potential of our work every time we take action to build Beloved Community.
We decided to share it with other Unity Church members and ask about their ability to continue their own antiracism work. How do they embrace the fact that it is work full of ambiguities with no set end-point?
Molly Flattum, a Welcome Team member and Spirit Play teacher, and Linda Kjerland, a member of the Congregational Care Team, weighed in.
Erika: When you read Romero’s prayer, how did its words resonate with you, and with your activities at Unity Church?
Linda: The prayer says it all about keeping at it. I need to continue to prime the pump. As a younger child, I visited my grandparent's farm. Prominent in the yard was a tall rusting hand pump — it produced the first trickles of water only after some effort.
I need to continually put yeast in my own dough. I need to listen and to befriend books that provoke, inform, and challenge me. Without repeated infusions, I can tuck in, miss calls for disturbance or misread my own emotions.
Molly: The prayer reminds me of how, on the Welcome Team, we give great attention to how we have little snippets of conversation with congregants and visitors on Sundays, and how we try to infuse those small moments with meaning. How do those quick interactions create a space that is welcoming for everyone? What does that space look and feel like when it is engaging in antiracism, or welcoming people with disabilities or other marginalized identities?
Erika: How do you grapple with the fact that this work has no point of completion or outcome?
Molly: That really resonated with me as a Spirit Play teacher and a parent. As a parent, not having an end-point isn’t so scary, because we know that the work of growth is never-ending. Raising good humans is not about an end point, it is about ongoing action. It’s about raising kids to never be silent. My daughter is a preschooler, and is noticing differences like who has glasses and who doesn’t, and who uses a wheelchair and how they’ll enter a building. We’re normalizing conversations about difference and justice. Children hold me accountable. There’s always more work and learning to do. The idea of having an end goal would almost be limiting, because it might limit what you’re willing to do for the effort.
Erika: In your Unity activities, do you find yourself employing the antidotes to white supremacy culture?
Linda: I’d like to take time with each characteristic, putting them into intentional discussions within the Congregational Care team as we endeavor to reflect, rethink, and expand for whom and how we show up. My reading on antiracism, including at Unity, has pushed my willingness to see, feel, and heed the indicators of white supremacy culture.
Erika: What does the use of the word “prophets” in the final line of the prayer mean to you? Do you see your work as prophetic?
Molly: Prophet is a word that lands awkwardly for me. For me, it is more a question of: we are here so temporarily, how do we create a lasting impact? The work we do has to be the hard work, and it has to be part of our daily lives. As a parent, the fact that I’m doing advocacy and justice work–not just for my own sake, but for my children and the whole community — is what makes this holy work. Children help me stay anchored in the moment and keep asking the question, “What’s right in front of me?” It’s about Romero’s seed in the moment and the future.
Beloved Community Resources
Unity Justice Database
Team Dynamics House of Intersectionality
Anti-Racism Resources in the Unity Libraries Collection
Creative Writers of Color in Unity Libraries
The History of Race Relations and Unity Church, 1850-2005
Beloved Community Staff Team
The Beloved Community Staff Team (BCST) strengthens and coordinates Unity’s antiracism and multicultural work, and provides opportunities for congregants and the church to grow into greater intercultural competency. We help the congregation ground itself in the understanding of antiracism and multiculturalism as a core part of faith formation. We support Unity’s efforts to expand our collective capacity to imagine and build the Beloved Community. Here, we share the stories of this journey — the struggles, the questions, and the collaborations — both at Unity and in the wider world.
The current members of the Beloved Community Staff Team include Rev. Kathleen Rolenz, Rev. KP Hong, Rev. Lara Cowtan, Barbara Hubbard, Drew Danielson, Laura Park, Lia Rivamonte and Angela Wilcox.