By Mary O’KEEFE
It is often difficult to hold up a mirror to a society – a community – to see its reflection, warts and all, but that is exactly what happened at La Cañada Presbyterian Church on Sunday. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this congregation was that its members welcomed the opportunity for self-reflection.
On Sunday, Harlan Redmond, executive director of Harambee Ministries in Pasadena, shared his views on race, both historically and presently, through sermons and a lunchtime discussion. Redmond brought the topic of racism from the streets and from coverage by the media to the altar, viewing it through Christians’ eyes.
“If you are going to advise a congregation, like the La Cañada Presbyterian Church, [which is part of] a mostly Anglo community, what would you say to us about ways in which we could take steps to give positive presence in Los Angeles County, Pasadena and other communities?” asked Pastor Gareth Icenogle. “How would you advise us to take helpful steps [regarding] race?”
“One of the first steps is to educate yourself,” Redmond replied. “Educate yourself on what is going on in a five-mile radius and see what those burdens are.”
He added to then help with those burdens. Redmond described La Cañada as its own “little island” and said that going outside the community is important to find the work that needs to be done.
During the luncheon there were also issues brought to light that could be addressed within the La Cañada community. One of them was a better relationship with law enforcement, specifically for the area’s Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Dept.
Redmond, who is African-American, spoke of being stopped by the LASD for a traffic stop and of another time when his CFO was in the area helping a La Cañada woman who was donating items from her estate to their church. A call was made to the CV Sheriff’s Station, which resulted in a stop of those members of the church who had donated items in a truck. Redmond and his CFO said they understood that burglaries had occurred in the area; however, they had been open with neighbors, explaining who they were and they had not tried to hide their identity. Redmond felt those responding from the sheriff’s station and the subsequent investigation did not seem to take any of those facts into consideration.
“I have heard from other African-American friends in the area who had [similar stories]. So what can we do as a church in our own community to help us and our [law enforcement] handle this in a better way?” Icenogle asked.
Redmond said that one of the things he should have done but didn’t was to call the sheriff’s station to report the incident.
“I think when everyone is so busy we sort of miss the opportunity to interrupt racism,” he added.
Icenogle said that his church has a good relationship with the Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station and suggested that church members meet with Captain Bill Song to discuss the issues they have witnessed and what they, including Redmond, could do to help open communication.
Redmond said that would work and that his church has an open relationship with Pasadena Chief of Police Phillip Sanchez.
Redmond focused on communication, education and viewing race through Jesus’ eyes as ways to begin to understand the issues with race in the community specifically and in America in general. He encouraged the congregation to find out not just what burdens others have but to actually talk to people about their lives. He spoke of Jesus and how he crossed the lines to help the poor, something that was not typically done in His time, and that Jesus spoke of having nowhere to lay his head.
“Jesus described being homeless, and yet in our society we have this [attitude] of ‘Oh, it’s those people.’ Jesus is making a statement that [He was] not seeing Himself, the Son of God, any different than anybody else,” he said.
Redmond encouraged people to go beyond looking at the homeless in a stereotypical way, for example, and to find out how they can be helped and who that person is that they are helping.
“So that is a step that is beyond what our practice has been, and I think Jesus would encourage us to step into that role,” Redmond said.
Regarding race, he said that many mentioned a “color blind world” but he felt that this seemed to be where people start instead of what they should be continuing to work toward. He spoke of his time in the military during boot camp and said when everyone arrived they all were aware of their differences.
“But when we wake in the morning [and are told] to make his bed and he makes yours, then we don’t see each other’s color,” Redmond said, adding that this process took time.
“In the church, like with missions, we are conditioned to do one hit wonders,” he said. The church, he added, has to take its time to get to know what is really needed and to work with individuals instead of the groups they are in.
The conversation was opened to the floor for questions. One longtime member of LCPC said she had always felt like an outsider at the church because she was Asian. Incenogle responded immediately with an invitation to talk about her concerns. Then another longtime resident of La Cañada, an African-American woman, said she felt there was a lack of a “neighborly” feeling in the community.
“It took months for our neighbor to say hello,” the resident said.
This was another example of what Redmond had been talking about – communication.
There was some discussion about the way politics plays into the dialogue of race relations. Redmond said some people seem to want laws to govern morality. He noted that if all the Christians in the country were doing the work they were supposed to be doing the increasing amount of money required for health care and the homeless would not be needed.
“The church built the first schools and the first churches,” he said. “For those who aren’t believers why are we trying to get them to see what we are not willing to do? That is the question we have to ask ourselves. As believers we need to understand no government can take the place of what Christians should be doing in the first place.”
He added people needed to see others through the eyes of Christ, to see who people really are and not just the preconceived notion.
“I can’t get up and spew hate and say I am a Christian, too,” he said. “And then, as we are so good at doing, we are selective in taking Scripture to fit those agendas. Jesus, as He always does, holds up the mirror and says, ‘I need you to look at your own heart.’ We don’t spend enough time doing that.”