I have an announcement to share at the end of this post. But first….
You may notice that I tend to write about big picture ideas over personal stories. I’m going to try to write more about my own ministries and experiences because I think it helps practitioners.
You may also notice I’m putting more content out on the issue of race, reconciliation, and diversity, particularly within a contemporary church context. Although resources are limited, I’m aiming to enhance the type of content I release (i.e. video series) in the future. The renewed focus reflects my own journey, what I’m doing in ministry, and my writing. Earlier this year I wrote an article over at Sojorners entitled, “Where are the Brave Spaces for Christians of Color?” The question stems from the reality the dominant church (denominations) are formed and founded on institutional “whiteness”. It’s my conviction that systemic “whiteness” is a Power designed to maintain oppression and is so effective it’s virtually invisible (especially to white people). One of the effects is the lack of genuine church spaces where Christians of color can exist without putting on a costume to be accepted. Yet we need them, so I want to know where brave spaces for Christians of color can exist. Spaces where we can deconstruct, rebuild, and develop identity outside of the institution. It’s a crucial question because there are so few options.
Holding Space for Christians of Color in the Church
Why are there so few spaces? Firstly, most white dominated churches don’t even think of themselves as assimilating Christians of colour. To them, the way they view the world is normal to everyone else. Churches who are “woke” to systemic problems in the church opt to do some work and “hold space” for Christians of color. This is good and necessary work, but most will fail at it.
Before asking “where” brave spaces can exist let’s ask “what” holding space even looks like. I think of it as being fully present, without judgment, in a journey with someone discovering their whole self. In the case of people of color, it’s holding space for a process of being woke, deconstructing identity, rebuilding, and then transforming others. As I said, there are few spaces “where” this can actually happen. I argue that most (if not all) white dominated churches CANNOT hold space. Eventually, formation in institutional whiteness emerges. When people of color gain voice worldviews and expectations, such as the foundation of whiteness, are challenged (and erased). Therefore there’s a “maximum” level institutional and/or white dominated churches can go before they realize they are losing pieces of their identity (even if that identity is rooted in privilege.) This is for another post, but it’s one reason why white churches may find more success becoming anti-racist rather than multi-ethnic. They can do the work of the former but have huge difficulty with the latter.
Back to the question. Are there spaces where Christians of color can be formed outside of institutional whiteness? I can only think of two. The black church is one. The black church in America to be specific as Canada lacks a black church presence outside of Nova Scotia. (I can’t think of a single one in my city. New immigrant churches sure, but effectively none out of the African American tradition. I’m also not including Asian churches in this because I don’t think they’ve been around long enough to divest themselves from whiteness and/or develop their own theology and identity.) The other option is a new third way. New church plants and expressions planted outside of institution. However, for the latter, there’s often a problem with formation. How have leaders in the third way been formed? Usually it’s still within the institution.
I’m painting in broad strokes here but my point is there are few options and I want to see more. How to get there requires creating new pathways for the next generation of leaders of color. It also means for the odd multi-ethnic congregation led by a person of color, we need to step up. I need to ask myself, as a minority leader who’s been formed in whiteness and in the process of decolonizing his faith, how can I lead my multi-ethnic church so it becomes one of the pathways.
Right now how I’m responding is taking shape in four(ish) ways.
- Myself, along with two others, have created a group holding space for Christians of colour in Canada. A community is forming that’s giving minorities a chance to sit in brave space, but a space to live out the fullness of their own calling without underlying tension or fear from institutional reprisal. More on this group and some upcoming in-person cross-country gatherings at the bottom of this post.
- I want to lead well in my church context. How can Cypher Church operate faithfully as a multi-ethnic church and how can we hold space for Christians of colour? We’re figuring this out as we meander into our next season.
- Creating new leadership structures and pathways. I’m working, along with some friends, in an emerging organization called, “The Mosaic“. It’s the start of a new organization that’s reimagining organizational function and leadership in a post-Christian context. To be honest, think of it as a new denomination that’s offering disenfranchised leaders a third option between evangelicalism and mainline.
- Lastly, I’m putting together some thoughts for a proposal for my new book. Yes, take this as my unofficial announcement that this Summer I’m committing time to put together a draft for a book that will walk through the “third way” for multi-ethnic church expressions in a post-Christian context. It will double as a pathway for all Christians, but in particular my brothers and sisters of colour, to live out the fullness of their humanity, including the gifts and abilities God has given, outside of dominant institution. There’s both hope and opportunity in front of us despite shifting cultural boundaries across North America. All that’s needed are more brave souls ready to step up and be counted.
More on Decolonizing Christianity Canada
There’s exciting momentum building across Canada in terms of holding space. For a couple of years now I’ve been musing about the lack safe spaces, let alone conversation, happening in Canada surrounding decolonizing the Christian faith. It’s deeply engrained within Canadian culture that we “don’t have a racism problem”. America does, but not us. This hubris has made our culture blind to the systemic issues, and susceptible to the same kind of white extremism emerging in the West. As I lamented the fact there are effectively no groups for Christians of colour in Canada outside of the institution, I had the good fortune of linking up with not one, but two people last Fall asking the same questions. Our shared desire for safe space, and a dream for what could be, we started to do it ourselves–holding space for Christians of colour to come together and reclaim their identity (and sometimes their faith as well.)
The results have been awesome! Our online group meets once a month and stretches across the country. This group is growing and taking shape into something intentional. What that is I don’t know just yet, but I do know, and can announce, that we are building simple in person gatherings in regions to meet this Spring. Meet up cities include: Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, and Halifax. For details on these events and the group please email me.