Narratives help shape understanding of what it means to be human. Lifting the veil on distorted and inaccurate representations, therefore, is key, participants in the General Assembly Committee on Representation (GACOR) 2013 Synod Training Event were told.
“To be advocates of justice, we must never adjust to the narratives,” said Reggie Williams, assistant professor of Christian Ethics at McCormick Theological Seminary. People are given a script at birth, but that script is dynamic and people can influence their stories, said Jeremy Schipper, associate professor of Hebrew Bible at Temple University.
Their comments helped frame the theme for two plenary sessions held at the recent GACOR training event, designed for those serving on committees on representation at the synod level of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). GACOR advises, consults with, and guides the General Assembly of the PC(USA) and its constituent parts on matters of inclusion, participation, and representation at all levels of church leadership and decision making.
The power of narratives to determine realities was outlined in both Williams’ presentation, “Martin Luther King Jr.: Confronting the Viral Narrative of Race;” and Schipper’s presentation, “Non-Healings in the Hebrew Bible.” And both called on event attendees to consider how narratives are active in their own faith communities.
Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement sought to free people’s minds and bodies from negative narratives and racialized profiles, Williams said. But like a virus that refuses to let an antibiotic win “the story of race adapted,” and today a new racial caste system has come into play with character profiles framed around terms like “thug,” he said.
“We seek to subvert those narratives and to lift the veil,” Williams said. “We must see our task as prophetic.”
Schipper’s message, from the vantage point of those with disabilities, was much the same. He questioned a number of biblical passages, and ultimately challenged those present to re-think their understandings and perceptions around the disabled and what it means to be human and whole.
“This narrative that we are discussing is written on our bodies,” Schipper said. “Our … bodies carry the narrative in our flesh.”