The Rev. Paul Rasmussen of Highland Park United Methodist Church describes his reaction to the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis as “emotional” and “visceral.”
That response, in part, prompted a candid and, at times, uncomfortable conversation about racial injustice with Rev. Richie Butler of St. Paul United Methodist Church in June.
Members of the two congregations have been singing and dining together for nearly two years as part of Project Unity, a St. Paul ministry that pursues opportunities to improve race relations.
“For me, this has been my Emmett Till moment,” Rasmussen told Butler.
After Till, 14, was lynched in 1955 in Mississippi, his mother famously requested an open-casket funeral, according to the Chicago Tribune.
“That was a catalyst, one of the catalysts, for the civil rights movement – that people were exposed in a visceral way to the realities of lynching,” Rasmussen said.
“In the White church, we’re pretty good about anesthetizing ourselves from the pain of racism,” he said. “It doesn’t hurt, we’re anesthetized from it, and we just kind of go on about our business – this was like a needle that cut through the anesthesia.
“For me, this has been my Emmett Till moment.”The Rev. Paul Rasmussen
“For me, it became more visceral, more emotional than just intellectual,” Rasmussen said. “And I just thought, ‘OK, we’ve got to jump in the fray somehow.’”
When Rasmussen asked what Butler wished his White friends understood, Butler said, “Black people are not looking for revenge. We want to be treated fairly. We want justice.”
Butler added that he believes Black people should engage with White people in conversations about race.
“I know a lot of Black people – we’re tired of talking, and I would say to my Black brothers and sisters, if our White brothers and sisters are ready to talk, we’ve got to tune in, and we’ve got to start talking,” he said. “If we want to move this thing forward, we have to engage with our White brothers and sisters when they’re ready to talk, and I think this is one of those moments where people are ready.”
Butler added that he believes the country is at a crossroads. “We’re trying to decide who we want to be as a nation.
“Typically, when there has been protesting in the past, it’s been a sprinkling of our White brothers and sisters – this is more salt than there’s pepper in some instances,” he said. “There is continued commitment to this protest… people embrace the notion or recognize that Black people have been treated different and that their lives do matter.”
HPUMC urges members to join Project Unity’s Together We Can initiative, which seeks to educate and encourage mindfulness and action regarding racial injustice.
“I will say, from the White community, there seems to be more momentum than I’ve ever seen before,” Rasmussen said. “There is a sense of momentum, and there is a sense of commitment from the White church to wrestle with this issue in ways that I have not seen in my ministry ever.”
About These Churches
Highland Park United Methodist Church dates back more than 100 years to the founding of SMU, and St. Paul United Methodist Church, which was built by freed slaves, has been at its location in the Arts District for 145 years. It’s the home of Project Unity.
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