This is the final post that concludes a seven part series on racism in the church. The purpose of the series was to alert, and then inform, white church leaders on how to engage racism in their communities. In this final segment, I explore some coherent steps forward in the process of righting the systemic wrong of racism. These are first steps that point to places to seek out deeper answers that guide formation of church and you.
The entire series:
- PART 1: #CHANGETHESTORY – The Problem of Racism in the Church
- PART 2: A Conversation About Race in the Church – #CHANGETHESTORY
- PART 3: Your Racist Church – About Multi Ethnic and White Evangelical Churches
- PART 4: Racism and You – Reverse Racism, All Lives Matter, Just Get Over it, and Other Fallacies
- PART 5: The Light is Winning – Racism in the Church
- PART 6: Visible Minorities Alert to Racism in the Church
Ending Racism in the Church – A Threefold Approach
Most of this series has singled out white church leaders because you are the primary benefactor of systemic racism. But that also means white church leaders are one of the critical factors to right the same systemic injustices. White leaders must lead the fight against racism because they wield the power to change the systems.
With this in mind, here is a model, designed to guide the church towards ending racism.
Step one: active listening with empathy.
Listening with empathetic ears is the intentional immersion into the story of someone different than you.
When I opened this series I remarked how one of the first steps to merely recognize racism was approaching conversations with empathy. Many white church leaders believe racism doesn’t exist. Few are isolated enough to be genuinely oblivious to racism (as a child is). Rather, most are intentionally, whether by commission or omission, ignoring the prevailing narrative shared by visible minorities, particularly aboriginals and blacks, about the err of the majority church worldview. It’s a posture privilege allows.
That doesn’t mean white church leaders have to believe these stories, and often they don’t. It takes effort to approach any conversation about racism or discrimination because the comforts of privilege stand to be lost. That’s why we should begin in a Christ-like posture or empathy and humility, paving the way for the Spirit to work. Pray for revelation for things we haven’t been able to see because when you do, the next step occurs.
Step Two: Confession. (James 5:16, 1 John 1:9).
Confession of our own sins, and the sins we are complicit with admits to the frailty of our own hearts and our need to rely on God for this God-sized task. That includes confession of the systemic privileges we inherit and the powers we continue to benefit from. The ongoing confession as primary benefactors of systemic privileges will be unique to you, and worth processing over time. Confession is a spiritually formative event that we must engage day, by day, by day. It also paves the way to give and accept forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-25).
Step Three: Conversations.
In love and respect, work against talking down to those who are different, or ‘mansplaining’ worldviews that are not your own. Listening invariably brings forward genuine questions of inquiry about differing experiences. Where power downplays minority stories in order to maintain the narrative of the privileged, conversations are a step to dismantle that narrative.
Often interested pastors will broker cross-cultural conversations, some go so far as to explore ways to become a ‘multi-ethnic church’. All worthy attempts for better, but like listening, it takes work. Often when we aren’t used to diversity we walk away from the difficulties (which are inevitable) that it brings before change can happen.
The deeper you go in righting systemic wrongs, the more intense the process becomes, and the more reliant you are on the strength of relationships. Whereas confession and conversation can be done at arms length, connect takes the stride towards loving someone who’s different. Significant connection happens in the form of significant relationship. Do you, as a white church leader, have a significant relationship with someone different? Do you submit, learn, or give permission to a minority person to speak into your life? If leaders are earnest to open the doors to diversity in their congregations (or the lack thereof), yet themselves do NOT have significant relationships with different people, nothing will happen.
Step Four: Reconciliation.
Connections paves the path towards reconciliation when a degree of vulnerability and submission to the people and stories not our own occurs. Vulnerability is often considered as a weakness in a leader. But the vulnerability and meekness (Matthew 5:5) in scripture are Christ-like attributes that demonstrates power submitting, in this case to God. This posture that paves the way for genuine reconciliation.
There’s deeper still.
Step Four: Restoration.
Restoration is about wrongs turned right.
Complicit or not, there are wounds from the past that need healing today. How that looks in your context depends on the stories and people in your midst. Through the process of reconciliation, ask, “how can we make better the wrongs of the past and the wrongs of today?” (Psalm 14:7, Psalm 536)
To become participants in repairing and restoring the streets in our cities (Isaiah 58:12), we need eyes to see what needs restoration. A goal in conversation and connection is to discover common dreams. Usually this is connected to common places. Regardless of who you are, sharing the same space invariable leads to discovering common dreams for that city, the land, and the neighborhoods within. What better way to restore than to right the wrongs together?
A small but vital objective for church leaders is gatekeeping.
Leaders are the gatekeepers in the institution. When leadership circles, be it elders, staff, ministries, are full of people are look the same, there is a problem. For example, of all the the mega churches in Canada (our version of mega), I can think of only ONE that has a non-white lead pastor west of Ontario. (There could be more, but that’s beside the point.) In my city, all big church pastors are white, and the elders boards are 90%+ white. Most are exclusively male as well. Gatekeepers need to open the gates by invitation. Different faces need to lead churches (and organizations), so cultures can shift.
Step Five: Redemption
Redemption is not making better past wrongs, it’s the pursuit of wholeness. To make someone whole in all ways, spiritual, physical, material, cultural, etc. Although the church is involved in the pursuit of repair, it is the work of the cross–of death and resurrection–that offers ultimate redemption humanity longs for.
Unity in Diversity
The Christian narrative is a simultaneous collision of the individual within the communal. I can live out my individuality yet find the fulness of my humanity connected within God’s greater story for creation. That also means I am responsible for the first steps.
The first (and only) person I can change is me. I have to deal with my own racism and approach my own presuppositions in a posture of humility before I can point to others. The privatization of faith (particularly in Canada), along with the cloak of individualism, is a belief that says my needs should be met first, and I’m not responsible for someone else. For Christians, individualism devalues the Body of Christ. You are not better off staying with the people who look like you in church or denomination. We need each other, and we all have a role to make better the wrongs of the past.
Church of Sameness? Or Oneness?
As the Holy Spirit descended upon the multitude at Pentecost (Acts 2), the prophecy of Joel was turning real. Not a unity in spite of diversity. Rather, unity in celebrated diversity. Our example? The Triune God and the mysterious yet beautiful divine dance of unity in diversity that invites you to dance too. If Sunday morning church services remain the most divided time for North America, what can you do to break down the barriers of sameness? Unity in diversity is a promise that our individual humanity–regardless of race, culture, colour–matters. To what end? The chase we’re all on, live out the fulness of our calling as image bearers to the one who calls us into completeness and wholeness.
It’s a calling waiting for all.