Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Walk at the Pace of Trust

Written by: on October 6, 2020

Central Oregon’s Clergy for Justice is a collective of local faith leaders that is committed to the remaking of our community into a space where justice & equity are a lived experienced for all.
Last Tuesday, Trump, from the debate stage and in response to a question about white supremacy, told the Proud Boys and other white supremacist groups to “Stand Back and Stand By.” In the same conversation, he boasted that all of our nation’s law enforcement stands behind him. In this statement, he included the Police and Sheriff departments in my city as enthusiastic endorsers of his racist ideals.
His words emboldened the white supremacists in our community and terrified our neighbors of color.
Immediately after the debate, the Proud Boys added Trump’s words to their logo and are wearing patches with his instructions to them.  Trump has, again, deputized white supremacists to uphold a version of public safety that is antithetical to the flourishing of our community. Because Clergy for Justice, alongside our BIPOC organizers, have been interacting with the Proud Boys in Central Oregon with increasing frequency, we went to work behind the scenes with our Chief of Police, Country Sheriff, Mayor, District Attorney, and BIPOC allies.
We implored our power-brokers to take the following actions:
  1. To publicly declare that they do not support the Proud Boys and other white supremacist organizations and they will not seek their collaboration in protecting public safety.
  2. To go on public record that they are committed to identifying and removing any and all white supremacist connections to local law enforcement. Further, we encouraged them to take this as an opportunity to highlight their ongoing commitment to anti-racist training among their departments.
  3. To establish a meeting with us and other representatives from our community to proactively develop a strategy for securing spaces where people of color convene in Bend. With the recent announcement that the Trump administration will ramp up its ICE presence in sanctuary spaces, and because of what occurred in Bend a month ago, we have every reason to believe that this will embolden ICE to return to Central Oregon. In the event of a Trump loss in November, we sense the likelihood of violence, especially against people of color. We do not want to be caught flat-footed and we want to collaborate toward a comprehensive strategy that promotes safety, especially for our neighbors of color.
  4. Deny permits for any white supremacist organization that seeks to convene in Central Oregon.

We urged our BIPOC allies to starve the Proud Boys and their local supporters of all oxygen. We suggested that inaction may be the most potent action. Instead of mounting any kind of protest, we encouraged them to either get creative or simply stay at home.

Our Chief and Sheriff refused to go on public record. It was a predictable response and I question the wisdom of their inactivity.

We were able to collaborate with City Council in shaping a city-wide response that denounced white supremacy and committed to growing our collective understanding of how white supremacy has shaped and continues to impact our city. Drafting a carefully worded declaration was important. Engaging in the slow process of placing our city under the blacklight will be essential.

Our BIPOC organizers opted for getting creative. They chose a public location that was across town from where the Proud Boys and supports were believed to be and hosted a solidarity party complete with singing, stories, and opportunities to dream about a world free from the stronghold of white supremacy.

Unfortunately, those who adhere to white supremacist ideology shifted locations in order to get proximate to the BIPOC organizers, and, quite literally, all hell broke loose. Guns were drawn, tasers were used, punches were exchanged, and a young black woman was choked unconscious by a white police officer.

This afternoon, I shared a table with one of our allies who suffered a concussion on Saturday. When I asked why the decision was made by the BIPOC organizers to take any action at all, he said, “Because inaction would have communicated weakness…defeat.”

Before my question and his response, I quesetiond the wisdom of this particular activity…especially in light of the fatigue of our BIPOC relatives. Upon hearing his response, I understood their thinking and empathized with the position that they were in.

It’s led me to ponder how often I sacrifice wisdom at the altar of urgency. Renner and D’Souza suggest that addiction to quick action often disqualifies us from “adequate reflection, diagnosis, and exploration” (Not Doing, Location 651). The myth that immediate action (often in the form of reaction) is necessary often seems to interrupt the trust-building process that is necessary in order for lasting solutions to be co-created.

That said, I recognize the privilege that I have to offer such a statement as my decisions for inaction have rarely if ever, led to my defeat. Offhand, I have zero experience of being neither delegitimized nor disqualified because I chose inactivity.

Perhaps a way forward for leaders in these tumultuous times is to interrogate the intuition that generates our reactionary impulses. We need to ask questions like, “What has shaped our urgency to react or inertia toward inactivity?” We need to learn to walk like Jesus, a truly differentiated leader, in relationship and ever at the pace of trust.

About the Author

Jer Swigart

11 responses to “Walk at the Pace of Trust”

  1. Dylan Branson says:

    Jer, thank you for sharing a window into what’s happening.

    Several things came to mind as I was reading and checking out your links:

    1.) How fast things can change in an instant. Split second reactions have consequences, yet we tend to lift these up as the ideal rather than pausing to think before we act. Some situations require that split second reaction, though not the majority.

    2.) The tension of acting vs. waiting. I think this tension is clearly dealt with in Hamilton through the dichotomy of Aaron Burr and Hamilton. Hamilton prides himself on having skin in the game and willing to take the necessary risks — and he’s rewarded for them. Burr on the other hand chooses to wait and play his cards safely before acting and is ridiculed throughout the entire musical for it. What I find interesting though is the one time Burr DOESN’T wait, he kills Hamilton in the duel. How do we keep our emotions in check in those reactionary moments? I think this is part of what it means to be a well-differentiated leader.

    3.) How do we change the narrative that waiting isn’t weakness?

    • Jer Swigart says:

      1. I do agree that there are moments that call for rapid responses as well as those that don’t. My sense is that we live in a moment in time so wrought with anxiety that we imagine every event to fall within the rapid response space. I want to become the kind of leader and peacemaker who, when rapid response is necessary, can pull from a deep well of wisdom rather than a shallow pool of emotion.

      2. My sense is that actual centering practices are critical to maintaing a level head and non-anxious presence in escalated moments. Let’s keep in mind that the civil-rights heroes engaged in rigorous training and self-purification exercises in order to maintain disciplined non-violence in the face of extreme violence. There is an internal, soul-level grounding that is possible if we do the internal work to get there.

      3. Great question. I think we may need to consistenly model and then storytell why waiting (when it seemed necessary to wait) mattered. Connecting impact (real change) to intentional actions (including the practice of haitus) could slowly convince us to walk at the pace of trust.

  2. Darcy Hansen says:

    I appreciate you sharing what’s going on in Bend. Reading your words and your conclusion, I thought about how Jesus flipped tables and called out the “brood of vipers,” while also remaining silent, walking away, and eventually walking into the place of defeat. I wonder how leaders can follow that example? Discernment comes to mind- wisdom- patience- perseverance. Is it possible to move through the both/and, and what would it look like to do that in a collaborative way?

    • Jer Swigart says:

      I agree that we see Jesus engage in the “both/and.” There were moments in which he responded with a sense of urgency and others where he seemed to disallow the urgency of others create an emergency for him. A story that floods my imagination at the moment is when the woman is thrown to his feet with a death sentence about to be enacted. Talk about urgency! And a real-life emergency for her. In this moment, Jesus waited (drew in the sand) and acted (asked a question). His fusion likely wasn’t urgent enough for her and certaintly didn’t match the intensity of his accusers. Yet…his creativity & curiosity disarmed them, rescued her, and, no doubt, opened the pours of the souls of many who were watching on.

      Based on my read of the Gospels…Jesus action was influenced by his understanding of his and others’ belovedness. In this instance, he sought to reconnect each person to their belovedness, believing that if he could remind them of theirs, then perhaps they would be able to see the belovedness in her.

  3. Greg Reich says:

    I often wonder if our fear of not taking action in a situation leads to a reaction instead of a response. A reaction is often survival oriented and a mechanism for defense, where a response if often a thought out action based on information. In your ministry how do you navigate between the two when there is such a high level of emotion? How does one step aside from their feelings toward a situation or an individual to see a clear course of action?

    • Jer Swigart says:

      Good question. And I appreciate the way you nuance the difference between response and reaction.

      My work calls for both and I see the value of each response. Rather than understanding response as positive and reaction as negative, my goal is to become the kind of leader who taps into wisdom in both cases. The process of that formation calls for trial & error, pursuit of feedback, intentional reflection, and accountability.

      Wisdom growing thorugh taht process may result in the outcomes of both response and reaction being deepened trust, collective transformation, and tangible experinces of liberation and/or restoration.

  4. Shawn Cramer says:

    I see some overlap with the McBrides. Thanks for that resource and voice. Creative, non-violent responses is the way forward… and has a rich history. Part of my master’s work described the reactionary nature of Evangelicalism. Bebbington’s quadrilateral covers the doctrine, but misses on the ethos (reactionary) and the context (imperialistic).

    • Jer Swigart says:

      Thanks Shawn. Listening to strategic voices of color for creative, non-violent action (both in the streets and behind closed doors) has become a life-practice of mine. I consider Ben a brother and am grateful for he and Mike’s contributions to my life and our world. Would love to take a read of your Masters project.

  5. John McLarty says:

    One of today’s common phrases which I abhor is “Your silence speaks volumes.” Most of the time it’s meant to convey dissatisfaction at a perceived lack of response and implies complicity with whatever they are opposing. Speaking from a place of a particular privilege, I recognize that I see silence (or delayed action) as a luxury that others may not feel they have. On the other hand, to your point, if every action is met with an equal and opposite reaction, when and how does it end? I get that it’s hard not to engage, and this may be an oversimplification, but a big part of the art of war is establishing the time, place, and terms of the battle and that can’t happen if everything is a reaction to something else.

    • Jer Swigart says:

      I agree with you that there are times when silence is the best response. I also agree that silence, especially in light of the racist DNA of our country and systems, is an act of privilege. I’m learning to interrogate my inertia toward silence with questions like: “Why don’t I feel compelled to speak up at this moment?” “Is fear or wisdom driving my silence?” and “If I speak up, who am I talking to?” How are you interrogating your silence?

  6. Chris Pollock says:

    That said, I recognize the privilege that I have to offer such a statement as my decisions for inaction have rarely if ever, led to my defeat. Offhand, I have zero experience of being neither delegitimized nor disqualified because I chose inactivity.

    What if the point was not necessarily ‘to win’ because wouldn’t ‘our win’ be someone else’s loss? Then, ‘they’ will turn on the heat and push for the next win. And, so on.

    How can resistance encourage an inclination toward education? Two sides are obviously in tension in the US. What would happen if both went home to learn with open hands toward the truth and what’s right?

    I just got off the phone with a friend of mine. An elder, a First Nations man who I learn from, who teaches me. He said, ‘Be careful, I learned a long time ago, there’s too ,much confusion.’

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