Racism and The Church

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Diversity and anti-racist policies in the church are not enough to serve our hurting brothers and sisters in Christ. 

I remember coming to church one Sunday last July, just days after five Dallas police officers had been murdered. This followed several police shootings of unarmed black men. The country was in turmoil, hearts hurting, fearful and grieving. I went to church that morning hoping we would have a moment of silence, of prayer, words of comfort for both white and black in the congregation that morning.

Nothing. Nothing was said. The leadership completely ignored the tragedy and some common sermon was given. I was disappointed. But more significantly, I was hurting for the families of color in the congregation. If MY needs weren’t being met, how could theirs’ be?

That Sunday I decided to seek a new church. I wanted to be a part of a congregation that was listening to all the voices in the congregation, especially the hurting ones. 

I’ve been studying race for two decades, and specifically racial reconciliation for more than a year now. This means reading books, belonging to online and in-person groups discussing race issues, and assisting my church in hiring their first African-American staff member.

And in seeking more perspectives on this issue, I discovered the black community is hurting and sometimes even walking away from church all together because they are so tired of being ignored or even shut down in their lament.

Part of love is a willingness to listen and understand. How can we profess to love God if we can’t show love to our spiritual siblings?

“And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” 1 John 4:21, New International Version

I saw this same phenomenon again in June when the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) twice failed to pass a resolution against white-supremacy, specifically the alt-right movement. The measure eventually passed, but not until a social media storm scorned the convention. It was the public response that woke up the majority white convention to the fact that their brethren of color were absolutely devastated. And though the SBC no doubt patted itself on the back for passing this anti-racist resolution, the pain the controversy inflicted on its black members won’t be reconciled any time soon. This denomination has come a long way from it’s foundations of supporting slavery, but the mindset inherited from its legacy is still there. 

In many ways, the church is a reflection of the environment around it. There are large communities of white Christians who honestly believe racism is an historical issue, not a current one. They don’t believe in systemic racism, and they explain away the stories of police brutality flippantly. Meanwhile, communities of color are living in fear and tremendous grief. We sit next to them in church, but we don’t serve them in their suffering.

Could it be we don’t truly understand their pain? That it makes us uncomfortable because it might have to do with us, and self-preservation comes first?

“Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” Romans 12:10, NIV

I’m learning to open my eyes to the racial pain in the church, and I ask you do to the same. 

This is no small request. I have had to acknowledge my own biases (cultural, political, socio-economic) in order to open my ears and accept new truths. Statistics and policies I believed didn’t hold up to the personal stories I heard. I have lead my family into the tensions of finding a new church, making friends that don’t look like us, and reading books and articles that none of my white friends would have suggested to me. I have had awkward conversations with people of all races. I have embarrassed myself, angered friends, and stepped on many toes.

But I have also been a good friend to someone in need, who may not have otherwise been able to share their pain with someone who looks like me. The relief on a friend’s face when they realize I “get it,” is worth all the moments of tension. When I can celebrate my new church’s practices of normalizing other cultures, I will know I made the right decision. 

Feeling unvalued in your own congregation is painful, and God’s church should be a place of respite and hope for its members. ALL members. Are we doing enough? Are we listening? Are we comforting despite our personal discomfort? Are we addressing discrimination in our church policies and practices? 

There are several things I believe.

  • That Christ is the only solution to racial discord.
  • The church should lead the world in demonstrating what reconciliation looks like. 
  • We’re not ready to lead yet because too many of us still don’t see the problem.

I would love to see churches across the country begin to address the racial discord in this country. God and the Gospel can handle the weight of this issue. All we need to do is lead with love for healing to begin. 

“Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.” Romans 13:10, NIV

How has your church addressed racial issues?

Do you see a way for you to get involved in bridging the racial divide in your church or community?

NIV® Copyright© 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® 

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CultureKathie Harris