The past few weeks have been exhausting and extremely difficult as the news of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others surfaced online for millions to see and witness unarmed Black men and women being murdered in the streets and in their homes. I have been fearful, insecure, and angry. If I am honest with myself, anger has been a consistent friend and companion of mine as I think about these horrific and evil murders. My heart hurts for their friends and family. For myself and many other African Americans, we know these events aren’t isolated. This event stands in a long line of history of racist killings of unarmed Black men and women. History shows us that white supremacy is not a friend of Black skin. We are hurt. We are tired.
History shows us that white supremacy is not a friend of Black skin. We are hurt. We are tired.
With these recent unlawful killings, White people and White churches are confronted with the question of how they will respond. I am encouraged and grateful for the many White churches, pastors, and leaders who have publicly denounced these acts as evil and unjust. Many are asking how they can join in the fight against racial injustice. This has led people to start thinking through how we all as Christians can become truly unified as a church.
The idea of the pursuit of racial unity in the church has become popular over the past 10 years. Conferences, panel discussions, and books have been written about the importance of racial reconciliation, but I can’t help but wonder if White churches, leaders, and pastors are honestly really ready to pursue racial reconciliation. Although multiethnic churches are on the rise, it takes the recorded killings of unarmed Black men and women for White Christians to get really serious about the issue of racial injustice and racial reconciliation. Again I’m grateful, but I’m also conflicted. Do White churches know what it will take for racial reconciliation? Have they counted the cost for true racial unity?
White Churches Must Let Go of Power
The day after the video surfaced on the internet of Ahmaud Arbery being tragically murdered while jogging, I began to get a series of texts and phone calls from my White brothers and sisters. One friend asked me how I was feeling. I told him I was feeling insecure, angry, and fearful. He then asked a follow up question: “You always feel like that, don’t you?” It was a good insight on his part. For Black and Brown people who work and live in a White world, the feeling of having a chip on your shoulder or the emotions of fear and anger never leave you. I am constantly aware of my otherness. I am always aware of the insecurities I have of being a strong and big Black man. I am constantly feeling like my Blackness is “too much” or that my prophetic edge is “too offensive.” To survive in these circles, I’m forced to submit myself to White sensitivities.
To be honest, I am tired of living in the shadow of white supremacy and power that dominates and suppresses the beauty of Black theology and culture. If White churches want to seriously pursue racial unity, then it’s time to let go of power.
Here’s the problem though: to be Black, Christian, and to live in America, I am not allowed to be fragile. To survive, I have to live with courage and conviction. But, the emotions and feelings of fear, insecurity, and anger never leave me. They are always present with me as I live in majority culture. To be honest, I am tired of living in the shadow of white supremacy and power that dominates and suppresses the beauty of Black theology and culture. If White churches want to seriously pursue racial unity, then it’s time to let go of power.
My White brothers and sisters, are you willing to speak out in three months when this dies down and is unpopular to talk about again? My White brothers and sisters, are you willing to pursue racial reconciliation by losing your power and leveraging your privilege for the sake of racial unity? I am afraid that many White churches don’t see racial reconciliation as an opportunity to love, but rather, as an opportunity to gain a platform for being a “woke” and a “”multiethnic” church. Please hear me: White churches will not achieve racial reconciliation without first dismantling white supremacy and giving up their power and privilege for the sake of others. In the work and pursuit of racial reconciliation, White churches must be more than willing to lose and give up power. Without this, you will merely have White churches with Black and Brown faces.
White Churches Must Check Their Systems
Recently, I have been asked by countless friends and churches about how they can best let go of power for the sake of racial reconciliation and unity. One of the most important ways is by taking a hard and honest look at your systems. In most White churches, white supremacy isn’t something that is overt; it’s something that reigns and rules in the underlying systems of churches.
Many leadership books agree that the best organizations make the best decisions with the organization’s best interest at heart. Leaders often ask, “How will this decision help the mission and vision of this church or organization?” But, what happens when churches are predominantly (if not exclusively) White? What happens when all of the elders, the executive team, and leaders are predominantly White? What does that mean for the minorities in the congregation and the minorities on staff? If decisions are made without the consideration of Black and Brown people, then White churches will continue to normalize Whiteness and other-ize minority cultures. The cogs of white supremacy will continue to turn..
Churches who deeply care about racial reconciliation must ask, “Are we making decisions for the sake of racial unity, which means losing power, or are we making decisions for the sake of white supremacy, which means keeping and gaining power?” This can happen through theology and through culture. When the theological voices that churches listen to or reference are predominately White, how do you think that will affect how people read, interpret, and apply the Bible? When justice is seen as only an “implication” of the gospel and not interwoven in the story of Scripture and the gospel itself, how do you think that will shape the way churches do mission and evangelism? White churches need to check their underlying systems to begin dismantling and uprooting generations and layers of white supremacy.
White Churches Must Prioritize Racial Justice
We can’t be faithful to the Great Commission and ignore the Great Commandment. Missions and racial reconciliation go hand in hand. We can’t achieve the goal of reaching people while excluding people’s backgrounds, cultures, and ethnicities. We can’t desire people’s souls and hate their bodies!
If White churches want to become truly multiethnic and make longstanding work towards racial reconciliation and justice, then they must prioritize them in their mission and vision. We can no longer separate evangelism, mission, culture, race, and justice. We can’t be committed to missions, unreached people groups, and evangelism while we ignore injustice and racial reconciliation in our own spheres. We can’t be faithful to the Great Commission and ignore the Great Commandment. Missions and racial reconciliation go hand in hand. We can’t achieve the goal of reaching people while excluding people’s backgrounds, cultures, and ethnicities. We can’t desire people’s souls and hate their bodies! We can’t be satisfied with church growth when white supremacy reigns in our churches.
Panels on race and justice every two years aren’t enough. Sermons on racial unity during Black History Month aren’t enough. “Service projects” aren’t enough. Racial reconciliation and justice needs to be in the DNA and vision of every church that claims they want to be a multiethnic church. Again, we can’t prioritize missions to all people while we ignore and diminish the dignity of all people.
Churches can no longer give lip service to racial justice and reconciliation. God reconciled us to Himself by the death of His Son. If White churches want to achieve racial reconciliation, maybe it’s time for white dominance and supremacy in churches to finally die so that racial unity can live. I long for the day when White churches are so committed to racial reconciliation and unity that they don’t need the murder of another Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor to do what is right.