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Austin's religious leaders both embrace, grapple with racial reckoning

Sarah Asch, Austin American-Statesman on

Published in Religious News

AUSTIN, Texas -- Rabbi Neil Blumofe and the Rev. Daryl Horton are no strangers to uncomfortable conversations about race.

On their annual summer road trips, Blumofe and Horton have visited sites related to Black and Jewish history and documented their experiences on Facebook.

So when demonstrators took to the street to protest police brutality after the death of George Floyd, Horton and Blumofe, among other local religious leaders, were ready to meet the moment and continue their work talking about race and racism.

However, for other spiritual leaders, many of whom serve congregations that are majority white, this summer marks a significant shift in how they engage in conversations about race within their communities.

The Rev. Josh Robinson of Hope Presbyterian Church in Anderson Mill said his church is just starting to have open conversations about race.

"Our neighborhood where we're located was developed 40 years ago as part of the initial white flight from Austin with people trying to get out of the urban zones," Robinson said. "Being a white, affluent suburban church, my particular church community hasn't had to have conversations about race."

 

Robinson wants this to change. Last month, the church's council of elders passed a resolution with the goal of dismantling structural racism. Hope Presbyterian is also part of the denomination's Matthew 25 initiative, which includes a focus on ending racism and poverty. The goal, Robinson said, is to make anti-racism efforts a long-term mission and not a temporary response to current events.

"Talking about race when it's not in the national headlines is harder because not everybody wants to hear it," he said. "My colleagues and I feel that this is a moment that has been seismic enough, that it has been such a radical moment in the shaping of our nation, that this isn't going to be just a flashpoint. This is really something we all can lean into and be more honest and intentional in doing the hard work that is demanded of us."

Robinson said that, by and large, most religious leaders within the mainline Protestant faiths in Austin are taking recent protests seriously and being intentional in how they address racism.

"It feels unlike any other point in time in my life," he said.

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