United Methodist Andrea Gauldin-Rubio, director of Christian Education at Bunker Hill United Methodist Church who grew up in the rural south, shares about examining her biases and recognizing white privilege, while acknowledging that anti-racism work should be ongoing and focused as much on action as on education..
Guest: Andrea Gauldin-Rubio
- Gauldin-Rubio is the director of Christian Education at Bunker Hill UMC.
- She also is a provisional candidate to become a deaconness in The United Methoist Church.
- Gauldin-Rubio recommends a number of books, including "The Color of Compromise," "So You Want to Talk About Race?" and "I'm Still Here."
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This episode posted on June 16, 2023.
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It's been said that when black people are in pain, white people join book clubs. Andrea Gauldin-Rubio, director of Christian Education at Bunker Hill United Methodist Church, and a white woman who grew up in the rural South agrees with that statement and shares about her own journey of intentionally examining biases and recognizing white privilege, while acknowledging that anti-racism work should be ongoing and focused as much on action as on education
Crystal Caviness, host: Andrea, welcome to “Get Your Spirit in Shape.”
Andrea Gauldin-Rubio: Thank you for having me.
Crystal: I'm excited about the conversation that we're going to have today, but before we get started with that, can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
Andrea: Sure. I am the Director of Christian Education at Bunker Hill United Methodist Church here in Kernersville, North Carolina. I've served as either a director of Christian Education, family ministries, youth minister. The names always kind of change, but I've served in that capacity to, for various United Methodist churches for the last 15 years or so, and really have just enjoyed it. It's a great gig and I'm also a provisional candidate to be consecrated as a deaconess next year at General Conference.
Crystal: Well, congratulations on that. That's an exciting path. Today, we're going to talk about racism in America, racism in the church, and we're going to talk about it through the lens of white people, because you and I are both white. I think it’s important to understand the lens with which we're having this conversation. I know that you've been on a journey to really examine your own biases and your self-education and really the desire to learn more for a little while. Can you tell us about that?
Andrea: Absolutely. So I grew up in a rural context in Stokesdale, North Carolina, so it was a very rural area all throughout high school and in somewhat into college. I went to Greensboro College for undergrad, and I attended Wake Forest Divinity School a few years ago, right before the pandemic, and was able to take a class called Race and Reconciliation, which was just an incredible class. It was in preparation for a trip to South Africa that the school took under the auspices of reconciliation and what that means and, and how that is understood by different groups of people. So that started the journey for me as far as, as really trying to recognize the impacts that racism has on people and in, in different communities, and also my own bias and privilege and, and being able to kind of reckon with that and, and hopefully be honest about that for myself and for others, especially people that I care about.
And then last year in the summer, I had the opportunity to go to Chautauqua, which was a beautiful place of learning and just methodism at its best. But we took a class there called Theology and Mission, and George McClain helped lead that for us. And he had us write a paper about our first kind of encounters with racism. So the first story that we could think of within our, our childhood or within our context where we recognized what racism was or how racism was, was kind of infiltrating our culture and our area. And so we were to kind of evaluate that and, and how that has affected us, , as we've grown into individuals and ministers. So it was fascinating. It was hard, it's hard work, but it was, it was fascinating to, to share that and to be able to share that in a very diverse space with people from all races, nationalities, ethnicities. Itt was a very diverse class group, , which is something I really love about the Deaconess ministry as a whole. So it was wonderful to hear other people's stories and heartbreaking at the same time.
Crystal: Would you want to share your story with us?
Andrea: I can, I can share part of it. So again, growing up kind of in this rural context in North Carolina, people that I love very much, family members and, and beloved aunts and uncles and, and great grandparents would use language that is, is pretty horrible. It's pretty offensive. And at that time, being a child, I had no idea what that meant. And so there's a, a family story that my parents used to tell about me standing in a restaurant at like three years old and shouting racial slurs, and not knowing that that was what I was saying. And, and just to even say that now is horrifying. Like, just to think that that was the case, but it was such a casual word that was used in that area for me. At that time, I had no idea. And just today I'm still just like, if you could see me, I'm just red with shame and, and thinking about that. But just, it really causes you to think about not only our own inherent racial bias, but how we pass those biases on to our children and to our teenagers, whether we are deliberately trying to or not, that they're always watching and picking up. And so just to know that even as a child, I picked up these really horrible words and associations just by seeing people in my context every day.
Crystal: Thank you for sharing that, because I do think that that's important that we recognize, and I really appreciate that you said these are people that you love. They were family members, and yet they were, you know, it's kind of like they had in the same way they had been taught or witnessed what becomes kind of just very casual and maybe not malintent, however, it's in stopping to recognize there it is harm, harmful language. Disrespectful language, and it's rooted so deeply that I think a lot of times we don't even recognize or we don't stop to realize just how ingrown that is into our culture. So yeah, I mean, I hear that story and I bet a lot of our listeners, unfortunately, probably can relate to that. I can relate to that as well, growing up also in a rural part of North Carolina.
I read a quote or heard a quote rather, by an author, Jamar Tisby, who wrote a book titled “The Color of Compromise,” which you're actually leading a study at Bunker Hill United Methodist Church on this book. And in that book, he says that slavery in America was not condemned by Christians because many Christians believed the enslavement of black people was endorsed by God, that they believed God endorsed that. And then he said, in fact, the Civil War became a battle over how to interpret the Bible. And when I read that, oh my goodness, it just stopped me because it, you know, that was in mid 1800s, but doesn't it feel like that now?
Crystal: I'd love to talk about that with you for just a minute, because first it's like, you know, the belief that God endorsed this, that's also a little mind boggling. Clearly God does not want people to be enslaved, but you're leading this study on this book, so you can go into it more than you know, than I can. But can we talk about how, why people believed that?
Andrea: Well, I think that is such a powerful statement, and I agree. When I heard that I was so affected by the idea that this entire war, you know, this, this American tragedy that we still hold onto and still purport, you know, we're still fighting the war of Northern aggression according to some, and this, the memorials and monument, I mean, everything that's still kind of, again, in rural North Carolina that's still kind of embedded in the culture, whether we'd like to admit that or not was a part of biblical interpretation. And I think it's really important for us to name that and to note that. And the book itself is an incredible book, “The Color of Compromise.” It’s a historical survey so he begins from the middle passage and what happens there and how Europeans had gone into to the continent of Africa.
And it exploited tribal differences and tribal disputes in order to maintain slavery. And then he takes that historical survey all the way through into like the modern era, so that racial reckoning of 2020 and and beyond. And so it's fascinating to think that this huge event within American history was part of biblical interpretation. And we talked a little bit about that in the study when we discussed this topic that both sides, north and south felt like they were not only fighting for economic and state justice, and you know, it's about state rights and those things, but it's more about this idea that who gets to interpret the Bible, who's correct, whose side is God on. And, and both adamantly believed that God was on their side. So even, even slaves in the South believed that, that God supported this lifestyle, that this was a biblical way to care for people, to take care of people who couldn't take care of themselves, provide jobs and, and homes and food, and in this really kind of twisted way.
And so it's just, it's shocking to me how damaging, , scriptural interpretation can be. And he also talks a lot in the color of compromise. And I've had friends of my own who have shared the kind of contentious relationship that people from the African-American community feel towards Paul and the letters of Paul, but the passion and the, the way that they identify with the story of Exodus. And so you have these two stories in scripture or these two kind of narratives that compete, you know, the story of letting my people go, set my people free, and then Paul writing about slavery and how to not mistreat your slaves, but to, you know, continue to have slaves. And so you've got these kind of competing viewpoints within scripture that, that have really resonated or harmed the black community.
Crystal: Yeah. And I feel like, you know, as I said it, that was, you know, in the mid-1800s, but it could be in 2023, we're still interpreting scripture and we're on sides, and each side is feeling justified and can, you know, hold the Bible up. And, and that, with that justification, it's a little disheartening, honestly, to think about how we are, we're still fighting in that way.
Andrea: Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, it can be. And, and I would always, and the reason, kind of part of the seed that helped sprout this book study was this idea that there's so much misinformation out there, particularly within the Christian Church and within the Christian context. And so it's important for us to read and to study and to know our history, and to really take the time and effort to engage with different sources and to talk with people and to build relationships and to see what it is that's happening in real time in the world. And with this, this issue that we're facing now as a global denomination, it does resonate. And it does, , sound echo, , some of the, the scriptural interpretations or misinterpretations that happened around the Civil War.
Crystal: Yeah. You mentioned misinformation, but also incomplete information. How has incomplete history served to support racism?
Andrea: Well, I think, unfortunately we're seeing a lot of that right now in different states and areas that have focused on critical race theory without really knowing or understanding what it is or where it's taught. And the reality is that critical race theory is something that's taught at a graduate level, but they've used this as kind of a trigger word to eradicate any kind of racial teaching. And we've shared in the book study that we have, because it's pretty nicely spread out across generations. And so it's very intergenerational, and so people are able to share their experiences. But there's another woman in the study who's about my age, so mid-forties, who talked about when we were, I was a history major in undergrad, but before I got to that point, just in elementary school and high school, we danced around the issue of race, right?
We never really like dove into it. We would acknowledge Dr. King, sometimes Malcolm X, but not really kind of glance over the Black Panthers, Malcolm X, , groups that were more contentious in kind of white point of view and didn't really engage with the topics. And so I think that that's really important for us to do, and it's important for our children and for our churches to, to do is to, to recognize and to, to dive into that and to be able to be vulnerable and open, and seeing that, you know, this is a very specific American tragedy that we need to reckon with.
Before we continue our conversation with Andrea, I'd like to share more about safer sanctuaries nurturing trust within faith communities. For Christians resisting evil and doing justice are ways that we live and serve Jesus safer. Sanctuaries, which continues the tradition of safe sanctuaries ministry that has guided churches for more than 25 years, contains theological grounding for the work of abuse prevention, psychological insights about abuse and abuse prevention, basic guidelines for risk reduction, age level, specific guidance, and step-by-step instructions on how to develop, revise, update, and implement an abuse prevention plan in your church organization. By framing the work as a life giving community and proactive endeavor, communities are empowered to develop and implement policies and procedures that make everyone safer. Now let's continue our conversation with Andrea.
Crystal: Sometimes Andrea, when I've been in the conversations about this, there's a sense, there's a defensiveness among white people. How can we be, how can we move past that? How can we move past this? I think there's, there's fear maybe too, but I've been in places where there's not a real openness to hear or to learn. What kind of steps can I take to create spaces where it feels safe to have a conversation, an honest conversation that doesn't feel like I'm accusing anybody? I know I can't really control how someone, you know, hears it, but what, is there something I can do? Is there a way that I can create those spaces for honest conversations where we might learn something?
Andrea: Well, there is a great book called, so “You Want To Talk About Race?” And I'm going to mispronounce the name, and I so apologize. It's Ijeoma Oluo, I think is the author, but she talks about that and talks about how to engage as white allies and white supporters within these conversations. And there's lots of different steps and lots of different components to this, but I think it's really important for us as white people to be able to be vulnerable, to be able to understand and, and take on the emotions that may come up during the conversation, right? Because we, we aren't subjected to microaggressions. We're not subjected to daily racism, and this doesn't affect our lives in the real way that it does our black siblings. And so it's important for us to, to recognize the emotions and the feelings, especially exhaustion that may come from people.
I think it's also important for us to know that it's not every African-American's job to explain to us what it's like to live in this racial society and to, to acknowledge that. And so to take the responsibility on ourselves to, to read and to research and to engage conversations in ways that are safe. I think you also have to be cognizant of where you are offering that safe space, because I think sometimes, I know specifically in the church, we want to invite people and we want to have diverse congregations, and we want to really open things up and be together, but we still want to do that on our terms within our facility worshiping and our style, welcoming people to our space rather than sharing that. So it's important to know about space and ownership of that space, and who feels like they have ownership of that space.
I also think it's really important for us to try to maintain our emotions. So I'm a crier, I cry at everything, but white tears is a real thing. And I've seen it in discussions before with students, specifically at Wake Forest, but in other contexts where people were having open and honest and raw conversations, and for whatever reasons, some of the white members of those conversations felt personally attacked or personally offended and would cry in response to that, but also possibly as a way to shut down the conversation. And so it may not be that that was the intent, but I think sometimes that's how it's, it's perceived or received within the community, that if you start crying in ways, not crying because of compassion or empathy for the plight of our siblings, but crying because you feel like you're being personally attacked, or that your own biases are, are on display. And so, , it's really important to kind of monitor our emotional reactions. I mean, we're all going to be emotional. It's a very emotional topic, but to, to recognize and to receive. If, if people are willing to engage in conversation with you, then that's a gift. So be able to receive that gift without being defensive, without being overly emotional, just listening.
Crystal: I had never considered that, so thank you for, for bringing that up. As you've studied and been, you know, just really more aware of racism in our culture, how have you noticed that it kind of intersects with poverty and education and employment?
Andrea: Well, I think, again, this study and, and other studies that I've done, being able to listen to people's lived experience and, and you can see how it intersects with all of those things. All of our, our major institutions, economics, banking, education, religion, even. We talk about redlining and where people live and, and how they're able to buy homes and the Tulsa massacre and the Wilmington 10. I mean, so many different examples of how racism has kind of reared its ugly head to try to, to maintain the status quo and how embedded it is in all of our institutions. And I think that's another step within this anti-racism work, is that we have to evaluate these institutions, which may cause some discomfort for white people. It may, whether we are pleased with our privilege or not, our privilege comes from these institutions in the way that they've been constructed for hundreds of years and, and how they've run. We've benefited from that. And so it's important for us to know that and to recognize that's going to require change on our behalf in order to kind of break those down and build them up again.
Crystal: You know, it's, it has been, you know, hundreds of years. You said it yourself, it predates even America, you know? White Europeans can go, you can go back and look at how white Europeans used their power to enslave Black people and cause the inequities there. So it, it feels big. It feels like, you know, how do you turn this around? And I just happened to notice, I think that today, possibly it's today on the day that we're recording, this is the three-year anniversary of the day that George Floyd was murdered. And for someone like yourself who's really been intentional about learning and having the conversations, can you see that we're turning this tide at all?
Andrea: I think that there's hope. I would be hesitant again, as a white woman, to answer that specifically, only because, again, my lived experience is not affected in the same way as others lived experience. And it's still pretty rough out there. I do think that in working with children and youth in the way that I'm blessed to do,, there I see hope in their openness to talk about these issues, their willingness, , to kind of fight against them. We had a child one time, I think it was last year, he was maybe six or seven, and he was helping with the service, and the pastor was praying, and he prayed, you know, to help eradicate the sin of racism. And the little boy perked his head up and said, “Racism. Racism is bad. I hate racism.” So I mean, they're learning the language and hopefully it's being modeled to them how to engage in this kind of work.
So that I feel is hopeful. I'm hopeful when I come to this book study and we have, you know, seven very faithful people who want to be a part of that and, and ask really good questions and are willing to be vulnerable. I was very hopeful and, and hopeful for my experience at Wake Forest and the work that they're doing there and continue to do, and at all of our seminaries and, and how that spreads to the church. I think there are good people out there doing good work, and I think that that's something for us to hold onto. But it's, it's heavy work and it's hard work and it's ingrained and just are very live. So it's important for us to know that it's not going to be easy or cheap. It's not a cheap fix.
Crystal: Jemar Tisby actually says the problem isn't in the how it's in the want to.
Andrea: Mm-hmm. <affirmative>
Crystal: I don't have a way to affect my will on you or anyone else, although that might be something that people close to me might say I try to do. But how do we work through to a place where we do have the desire, we do have the want to, I don't know. I guess that's going to be personal for each of us..
Andrea: I remember a few years ago it was after George Floyd possibly with Sandra Bland, and, with her murder, there was an article in the New York Times about when Black people are shot, white people start book clubs, which was very searing, but true. And, and I think that, yes, these book clubs and these ways to gather and talk about this is important, but I think that we need to allow ourselves to be led by those within the community who are, are facing marginalization and oppression. We need to find ways to lift those voices. I was very hesitant to do this study, because I am a white woman, and so I want to make sure that everyone's clear that that's the perspective that I'm coming from. But we're trying to find ways to integrate Black voices and voices of people of color into this study, into other things that we do.
And people in that theology of mission class, some of my wonderful deaconess candidates who are African-American, Filipino, from Mexico, were very encouraging and saying, yes, that maybe within the white context, you start, you start, you know, and then hopefully it might open up for people to, to be able to be more accepting and a mindset to seek reconciliation. But I will also say with this study, and with, with all studies, it's important to have a component of action. And so we've challenged this group in particular to think of ways that we can take action throughout this study. And when we're finished and because of those intersection realities between poverty, educational, disco, congruity, all of these different things that are, are disparities that are happening, there's lots of different ways we can get involved. We can get involved with, , voter suppression, we can get involved with the Poor People's campaign, we can volunteer at schools who are, are title one or are, are completely free, free lunch programs that we can write letters. There's lots of different things that we can do to get involved to try to seek action, to try to reconcile and to try to prevent this from continuing to try to turn the tide and, and look for ways to, to offer up healing and, and equity for folks.
Crystal: How does having relationships with people who don't look like you or who don't speak the same language as you or who live in different parts of your community, how is that a piece of this?
Andrea: I think it's crucial. And I would encourage people to do it with a spirit of love and maybe not necessarily curiosity. You want to make sure that you're honoring the person in front of you and seeing them as a person, not as a person of color specifically. It's important to acknowledge our race, but to make sure that we are seeing the whole person and not just saying, I have one Black friend, or I have one Hispanic friend. So it's important to, to note that. But just to, again, be willing to see the commonalities between you and, and the other person and, and commonalities and, and the way you care for your families, the way you care for your friends, , your jobs where you work. Unfortunately, church is still very segregated. It's a very segregated place. And so it's, it's difficult sometimes to form those relationships without that kind of intentionality, but it's important to, to try to reach out and just be willing to be vulnerable, but also maybe don't try to solve it in one cup of coffee. You know, like spend time getting to know each other. We, we are our race and we are so much more than that as well. We are children of God and, and we have light in us. And so it's important for us to get to know each other as deeply and as interpersonally as we can.
Crystal: That's really well said. As we get ready to kind of finish up today, Andrea, is there anything you wanted to, this is such a big topic we could, you know, we could go on for a multi-part series <laugh>, , but is there anything that you wanted to, pecifically make sure we talked about today that we haven't yet discussed?
Andrea: I'd like to just offer up a couple of resources that have been very helpful to me. One is a book called White Rage by Carol Anderson. And I think it's very illuminating when we think about these institutions and how racism has permeated all of our American institutions. What happens when people of color are able to kind of step forward towards equity and how the white establishment has reacted historically. It's very well written, so I would recommend that. Any of the works about anti-racism are very good, but also I would recommend, “So You Want to Talk about Race?” I think that was a really, and, “I'm Still Here” by Austin Channing Brown, that one in particular talks about her Christian faith. But those are all really great resources to think about. I'm a reader, so I read probably rather than working, which is not the greatest thing. But, those are great ways for you to kind of have an understanding behind this work as you move forward into finding ways to, to do anti-racism work within the church context.
Crystal: Thank you for those recommendations. Each of our episodes has an episode page, and we'll be sure to link to those books on that page so that our listeners can easily learn more about that. And the last question, Andrea, that we ask all of our guests on “Get Your Spirit in Shape” is how do you keep your own spirit in shape?
Andrea: So you warned me about this question. So I had to think about it because I'm terrible at self-care. I do see a spiritual director, I see her once a month, and she is incredible. So she helps me kind of untangle and talk through out loud and process a lot of these things that happen when we, we do this thing called church. And I read, I read all the time, I read everything I can get my hands on, and I watch a lot of junk TV <laugh>.
Crystal: I bet a lot of people could relate to that. Andrea, it has been such a joy to have you as a guest on “Get Your Spirit in Shape” today. Thank you for what you're doing in The United Methodist Church and just for your personal faith journey. I know you personally and it's just been a real delight to get to know you in the last few months especially. Thank you for being here.
Andrea: Thank you for having me. And most importantly, thank you for taking this on as a topic. I really appreciate this. This has been a great discussion.
Crystal: Thank you.
That was Andrea Gauldin-Rubio, a United Methodist leader in Kernersville, North Carolina, talking about anti-racism work and her own journey of examining her biases and recognizing the privilege she experiences as a white woman. To learn more about Andrea's story, go to umc.org/podcast and look for this episode where you will find helpful links and a transcript of our conversation. If you have questions or comments, feel free to email me at a special email address just for “Get Your Spirit in Shape” listeners: [email protected]. If you enjoyed today's episode, we invite you to leave review on the podcast platform where you listen. Thank you so much for joining us for “Get Your Spirit in Shape.” I'm Crystal Caviness and I look forward to the next time that we are together.
Today's “Get Your Spirit in Shape” episode is sponsored by “Safer Sanctuaries: Nurturing Trust within Faith Communities,” a new and comprehensive resource that continues the tradition of Safe Sanctuaries ministry by building on its trusted policies and procedures. This resource from the Upper Room and Discipleship Ministries contains theological grounding for the work of abuse prevention, basic guidelines for risk reduction, age level, specific guidance, and step-by-step instructions on how to develop, revise, update, and implement an abuse prevention plan. To learn more, go to SaferSanctuaries.org or call 800-972-0433.