Many things have been written in the aftermath of the racist chants by Oklahoma University fraternity members. One of the most thoughtful pieces I have read was written by Rev. Dr. Maria Dixon Hall, who teaches at Southern Methodist University. Critical of the way OU handled the situation, she suggests that the University missed an opportunity to use this incident as a teaching tool. In her piece, she outlines four “teachable moments” that were missed.
While there are many points in her piece that I think worth thinking about in connection with this incident, what struck me most was a comment she made in discussing one of those teachable moments, a comment that makes an important point that has meaning beyond this particular context.
Describing racism as a “congenital heart condition”, she suggests that children learn lessons of bigotry in many ways, far more apparently benign than explicit racial slurs. Among other things, she writes that “[y]oung white adults suffer myocardial infarctions of bigotry when their churches either ignore race by erasing it or frame people of color as ‘objects of mission’ rather than collaborators in the Great Commission.”
“Objects of mission” rather than “collaborators in the Great Commission.” That is the description that really jumped out at me. It is not just about how we frame people of color, but how we frame any marginalized individual or group we are trying to “help.”
Do we see them merely as object of mission? Or do we see them as collaborators in the Great Commission to proclaim God to the world? Are they objects or subjects?
Asking that question invites us to think about how we are “helping” others. For example, are we empowering them by treating them with respect and dignity and encouraging their growth? Are we giving them a say in how they are helped or acting as though we know best?
You can think of other questions I am sure, but I the fundamental distinction between object of mission and collaborators is centrally important.
Dr. Maria Dixon Hall has much to say to us even in the Organization we call the Church. Listening to people is so important – seeing and living others’ struggles and lives is one way to understand. Are we Obljects or Collaborators too. Indeed.
I have seen this sort of “object” thought at work in society and education as well. At one time I worked as a consultant at an HBC (Historically Black College). My observation, and frustration, was that the people (mostly black women) that I worked with were very capable individuals who had been indoctrinated to believe that they were not capable of doing things on their own. The rules of the university, the constraints under which they worked were no doubt put in place to protect them from doing something wrong or maybe illegal (financial stuff); But, the reality was that they were being treated like children, or people of limited capacity. Empowerment was the last thing that the establishment wanted to happen.
It happens over and over again — in society, in the church… thanks for the clear examples and the reminders.