October 01, 2017

When Compass was first being developed as a covenantal, continuous peer learning and experience, it was built around four pillars: holiness/pastoral development, leadership & worship, social holiness/missional readiness and strategic planning. The directional retreat at the Missouri Conference Center August 7–9 focused on social holiness/missional readiness.

Director of Pastoral Excellence Karen Hayden opened the session by reminding the group that according to the leadership goals of John Wesley, you wouldn’t have combined, or separated, the words social holiness, because he said “... there is no holiness but social holiness.”

“You can’t have one without the other,” she said. She continued that in his later days, Wesley questioned why Christianity has done so little good, even among the Methodists.

On multiple occasions in the past few years, incidents in Missouri has brought the state to the forefront of the national conversation on race, with one of the recent being the student movement at the University of Missouri-Columbia that resulted in the resignation of the University System president.

In the middle of it was Stephanie Shonekan, the department chair of Black Studies at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

“During the crisis time, I experienced it as a person of faith, a parent and a leader,” she said. “I have found myself in the midst of students, faculty, staff and the community-at-large, talking about getting through ‘the moment.’ But it seems like a very long moment.”

Shonekan was at the Missouri Conference Center on August 7 speaking to pastors who are part of a Compass learning cohort about race and music. But in the context of speaking to a religious group, she was also able to speak freely about her faith. Her presentation came at a time when tensions are building across the country.

“I’m a woman of faith, and I believe faith is what will get us through,” Shonekan said. “The academic environment can oftentimes push us away from faith.”

Shonekan teaches a class called Soul and Country Music. She said young people often have a hard time putting the two together, but older people usually don’t. Many older African Americans appreciate the country music of their youth, and many older whites like Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder. But younger people of either race have less interest in music they see as being of the other culture.

“Somewhere along the line, either the music industry or society divided these things,” she said.

Noting the criticism of athletes in the past year around what they do or don’t do during the National Anthem, she referred to another famous National Anthem incident. Jimmy Hendrix, a guitarist with a lot of cross-cultural appeal during the 1960s, played a version of the National Anthem on his guitar at the Woodstock music festival.

“He took every note and interpreted it. This was in the midst of the Vietnam War. In his version of the song we hear chaos – the helicopters, the bombs, the silence. There were a lot of people of color who had fought in all the wars, with a big question of who we are, what we are fighting for,” Shonekan said. “Some were moved by his song. Other people called it treasonous.”

Shonekan explained that because of her heritage of being half-Nigerian, half-Trinidad, she never has to worry about getting a sunburn. Her dark-skin tone offers her privilege in that regard. But when her white friends get sunburns, she doesn’t dismiss their experiences and tell them to just get over it – that it really isn’t that painful. 

“If my friend needs some SPF 50, and I give her some SPF 5, I haven’t really helped her,” she said.

She acknowledged that the privilege of her dark skin tone allows her to spend the day on the beach without giving a thought to sunblock. In a similar way, she hopes that other people can consider the benefits of their white privilege.

“White people owned black people. That negative event in history causes a ripple effect that is felt today. My skin is a signifier of something deeply feared and misunderstood,” she said. “If our black students are saying, ‘This is how it feels to be black...’ you can’t just dismiss it.”

Shonekan’s presentation was the first of three speakers for the three day event.

“I hope this allows us to ask questions that might impact our ministry setting,” Hayden said. The two other speakers were Faith Fowler, who works with Cass Community Social Services in Detroit, and Rev. Tony Campolo, author and founder of the Red-Letter Christian movement.