Righting wrongs

There’s so much to distill from Church Unbound. I had my daughter with me. She got sick, so I ended up missing a bit of it with the juggling. I haven’t been to a Presbyterian conference in… oh… ten years. Yikes. The last one I went to was during my first year in ministry.

The crowd was interesting. It was an intentionally mixed group, meaning that the organizers were looking for a wide array of people. I’m not exactly an insider in the PCUSA… I didn’t grow up in the denomination, and did I mention that I haven’t been to a Presbyterian conference in ten years? But I found that I had a lot of connections: colleagues, seminary friends, professors, employers, and bloggers. I met many facebook friends for the first time. It was great to catch up.

It was my first time to stay overnight at Montreat. And there’s one piece of information that has been haunting me. During one of the CCAM gatherings, the speaker explained that there used to be Japanese internment camps in Montreat.

I heard it second hand, and it was terrible to hear. What saddened me even more was that evidently, we’ve never apologized. I’m not sure we’ve openly told the truth about it. And we haven’t asked for forgiveness or reconciliation.

Another one of the speakers said that Americans read history without any sense that we’ve ever done anything wrong. I would have to disagree. At least, on a personal level. Maybe it’s because I’m a cynical Gen Xer, but I’m frequently horrified. Who wouldn’t be after seeing pictures from Abu Ghraib? We have done so many things wrong….

Perhaps I’m not being a responsible blogger, disseminating unverified, information, that has come to me after two degrees of separation. Please, if my facts are incorrect, or if you have more information, just respond.

If the facts are not wrong, then why aren’t we apologizing?

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9 thoughts on “Righting wrongs

  1. I have also heard that info about Montreat, and a quick google search led me to discover that Assembly Inn was a State Department detention center, and then I found that it’s mentioned in the Montreat timeline too. Apologizing–well….yeah. We don’t do that very well, do we?

    RE the business of how Americans read history–I do think there is something to this idea that the average American reads history as though we’ve never done anything wrong, because this is how it’s generally taught in school. I suspect this is true in most countries, though. As we grow up and become more self aware and nationally conscious, things hopefully change. But, sadly, they don’t for everyone. I can’t even count the number of conversations I’ve been caught up in (unawares, no less) where the other person/people adamantly defends their view of America’s role in world history even though it is patently untrue or at least morally suspect. It’s a little scary.

  2. Yes, while a stronger confession would be better, it is not true that it is not mentioned as Teri notes above. My experience as Montreat as a peep of color has been pretty positive. Over the years, I an other R/E folks ahve been brought in as part of planning teams and leadership despite the fact that the main demographic of the conferences is still pretty White. Sure, some may feel like I have sold out, but how can I pass up the opportunity to interact with thousands of young people that due to demographics may not have the real change to interact with Asian American folks let alone an Asian American pastor. In no way am i trying to justify what has happened, but I would also say that save a few folks, the leadership at Montreat has been very receptive to folks concerns and urgings to do more.

  3. Interesting… so it’s just that I’m clueless. They do have it in their history books. Easily googlable.

    Bruce, I would never say you’re justifying or sellin’ out. You should be there. And it’s good to hear that the conference center’s being intentional (gheez…there are so many words that I hesitate using now after that podcast…) and receptive to urgings to do more.

    We can’t change history. The dark spot is there. It would be a waste to just not go to the conference center or not to participate. And there is no way to “right wrongs,” of course. But what would be a healthy response?

  4. Oh, and Teri, re: reading American history. Excellent point.

    The speaker, Jose Irizarry, was very interesting. He compared the way that Americans read their own history with the way that we read the Bible (I wasn’t taking notes, but I think he was implying white Americans. I’m not sure…). Anyways, Americans in general justify our actions, we don’t see the wrongs in our history. We say that it was a culturally-bound time, etc. instead of owning up to our sins.

  5. I don’t think that you can count your personal experience to history as normative for most of American culture. Nor are we in a region where history is ignored. We care about Abu Ghraib, but I think that for most it is moving into that place in American history where the World War II firebombing of Tokyo and Berlin reside. Bad things happen in war you know.

    I do think that when I return to Nebraska people find it hard to see the treatment (even currently) of the Native Americans as anything other than progress. An atomic bombs dropped on Japan was moral! Isn’t Iraq in Europe? Presbyterians participated in the cultural genocide of Native Americans?

    I know that my seminary puts its first president’s books under lock and key. Some of his books contain terrible writings about African Americans. Not too long ago Latino students were forced to sit out in the hallway during classes. My current presbytery was railed against by Rev. Francis Grimke, one of the greatest Presbyterians in American history, because of its terrible racism.

    We have to love something a tremendous amount to seriously look at its shortcomings. Apathy allows us to substitute raw emotion and jingoism for calculated judgement, listening to those intentionally silenced and incorporating the radical notion of changing our perception.

    Wow that was a rant. I better quit and start praying for those things I am ignoring in my own personal history.

  6. I have heard from people of color that Montreat is a painful place to visit due to lots of phases of it’s history.

    Yes, an apology would be wise…

    I think it is good for us to be aware of the history we aren’t “required” to know. I had a few experiences in seminary where my white privilege was made shockingly evident to me as I learned history I had no business not knowing, but from which my privilege had sheltered me. I learned this history not from text books, but from my classmates who knew this history because it had touched their families very directly.

    I think about this experience every time I go to Montreat.

  7. I always wonder what we do after we apologize, after some kind of reconciliation is achieved. I’ve been trained as a historian and I suppose what I think about when something like this comes up is what we do after we realize such ugly facts. Think about the current hysteria (okay, maybe that’s too strong a word) over immigration. The arguments you hear now are the same ones you would have heard all through our history when some new group began entering the country in serious numbers: they are too different; they refuse to assimilate; they don’t speak the language; they carry diseases; they take jobs and they are likely to become a public charge. On and on

    It’s probably too much to hope for, but I wish we could learn something, wish we could prevent repetitions. And then I guess what I’d like to see us in the church do is figure out a way to interpret such things as evils we must continue to be concerned about. It’s making those connections between our history and the demands of the gospel that’s the really hard thing.

    Sorry, soapbox… Thanks for reminding us.

  8. Melissa,
    We just had this discussion in my Bible in 90 Days class tonight! We were talking about how it seems that pretty much since the beginning of time (at least in terms of reading the Bible), countries have fought out their differences or sought to either annihilate or assimilate one another. Can’t there be another way? But there are always people who aren’t on board with the other way, and so the whole thing goes on again and again and again and again, ad nauseum, as though we’ve learned nothing in centuries of being human.

    I said that I have to believe that just one person breaking the cycle can make a difference–otherwise I wouldn’t be a follower of the guy who most spectacularly broke the cycle. Unfortunately, from our positions of privilege we too easily overlook the hard parts of such breakage in favor of the easy or comforting bits, and so the cycle continues, right under our noses. You would think we would learn…

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