Light will win over the darkness…and in the end, love wins. It may not seem like that at first glance, however.
The 45th President’s racism has emboldened white power enthusiasts. The KKK is literally back out in the open (they never really went away), and alt-versions of white supremacy–casually called white nationalists–are alive and well. On the surface it appears racist ideologies are growing, but I don’t think that’s true. As I opened with, racism hasn’t changed much, it’s just being recorded. On the other hand, George Floyd became the symbol that broke the dam against anti-Blackness. The streets flooded with protest, angst, and violence. These voices are loudest and growing in number. So where do Christians stand with the unfolding call? Hopefully alongside the push for justice.
At the cross Christ defeated sin through his death and resurrection. That’s sin in ourselves, and also corporate sins. That’s racism in ourselves, and systemic racism. The power of evil was robbed on the cross, conquered totally, but in the same breath it’s not finally defeated until the end of all things. In the meantime, evil is pissed because it’s losing ground as the light gains. Justice is winning. Need proof? Scroll through social media and notice how many new voices have joined the fray. There’s momentum behind behind what is right and justice is winning.
Ending Racism in the Church
Most of this series has singled out white Christians because you are the primary benefactor of unjust systems of racism. Because of this, you are also critical to right the same systemic injustices that grant you power. As the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility.
With this in mind, here is one approach towards ending racism.
Step one: active listening with empathy to hear the truth.
One of the initial steps to confront racism is to listen. Listen to the stories from your Black and brown friends, and if you don’t have a significant relationship with someone, don’t ask, but do some work online. The wake of anti-racism protests in 2020 have opened the flood gates to a slew of fantastic artists and thinkers who are releasing great content on this subject. Most white Christians have never heard or read from writers or theologians of colour. Most have never been discipled by a person of colour. That needs to change.
We can no longer, by commission or omission, ignore the narrative of anti-Blackness and the complicity of the majority church. Listening with empathetic ears and immerse yourself into the story of someone different than you. It takes effort, will challenge comfort and privilege, but it is Christ-like posture. It exemplifies humility and paves the way for the Spirit to work. That has to come from the dominant side first. Remember, there’s no two sides to the coin. White Christians and leaders have the most work to do. Pray for revelation for things you haven’t been able to see because when you do, the next step occurs.
Note, as discussed, at this stage white trauma may occur. It’s difficult to listen to stories about oppression and violence in your own neighborhood or city, and realize how blind to the suffering of others you’ve been.
Step Two: Confession. (James 5:16, 1 John 1:9).
Confession of our own sins, and the sins we are complicit with admits our frailty and 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). We need this level of vulnerability to proceed.
Step Three: Conversation with more Learning.
Often when we aren’t used to diversity or equity it’s easy to walk away from the difficulties. That’s what privilege affords–a way out of conversations you don’t want to deal with. However, listening invariably brings forward genuine questions of inquiry about different experiences and possible pathways forward. Where power downplays minority stories in order to maintain the narrative of the privileged, conversations, hopefully through relationship, are a step to dismantle these powers.
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 of the community. Whereas confession and conversation can be done at arms length or personal learning, connection takes the step towards a response out of love.
Step Four: Repentance.
At some point there needs to be a response out of repentance. A turning away from unjust activities and systems. That could be a repetitive process just like confession, but it’s one that must happen before the repairing of broken relationships. Because confession and repentance are not well practiced in evangelical spheres, the inclination is often to skip the process straight to the solution. But we can’t do that. We have to linger in the tension of division, one caused by the dominant church, and determine what ways we have to turn away from our sins. Once again, that’s sins of the individual, but corporate sins as well. The latter arguably the hardest to overcome (and admit) because it’s both invisible and considerable. How do you repent as an institution that remains rooted in white supremacy foundations? Some would argue you can’t?
(I’m again using white supremacy as a term of whiteness, I’m not saying your denomination has to be the KKK. In fact, the vast majority of white Euro-centered denominations and churches are rooted in some way in white supremacy.)
Step Five: Reconciliation & Conciliation
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–the return to just relationships. Conciliation is the work to bring “Thy kingdom come on earth”. These are the demonstrative actions of love to our brothers and sisters, and to our neighbours. They flow out of the work repentance meaning it can’t be done without the WORK.
Step Six: Restoration.
Restoration is about wrongs turned ultimately right. Some of that is taken care when all wrongs are turned right when heaven and earth collide. Some of it is a glimpse of this age to come.
Complicit or not, there are wounds from the past that need healing today. How that looks in your context depends on the stories, land, and people in your midst. Through the process of conciliation, ask, “how can we make the wrongs of the past right today?” (Psalm 14:7) To become participants in repairing and restoring the streets in our cities (Isaiah 58:12), we need eyes to see what needs restoration and then we have to that work. If not God does not even hear our prayers.
The well of systemic racism runs deep so what restoration in terms of reparations looks isn’t a formula. The whole community, of oppressed and oppressor, need to come together to determine what’s suitable.
Step Five: Redemption
Redemption is 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. We, again, can preview this possibility, but it doesn’t ultimately come in full until the end.
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 land invariable leads to discovering common dreams for that city or neighborhood. What better way to restore than to right the wrongs together?
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 in the context of the body. The first (and only) person you can change is you. You have to deal with your own racism and work through the steps towards justice. 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.
As the Holy Spirit descended upon the multitude at Pentecost (Acts 2), the prophecy of Joel was coming to life. 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.
The light is winning.