Our congregation used the “Beneath the Skin” DVD and study guide for a Wednesday night break-out group this May. The video, broken into shorter segments, and the free study guide provided at EthicsDaily.com were very helpful.
The group that joined me for the study varied from 30 to 80 years of age. The group was evenly mixed by the number of men and women taking part. There were about a dozen white participants (fewer on some nights), and everyone took part in the discussions.
The beauty of this DVD was not that it preached some consensus solution, but that it encouraged and opened honest discussion. Our group tended to move off the discussion guide two or three times during the four-week study. Those open discussions were very beneficial in most instances.
The DVD series did not take into account one element that a number of church members expressed, and that was that racism flows in both directions. I suspect this consideration will arise for most predominantly white churches south of the Mason-Dixon line.
While encounters of racism are easy to identify from the white community toward the black and brown communities, some of our participants shared stories where whites experienced a clear harmful prejudice in the mix of civil discourse, community political forums and in efforts to make school board and city council decisions. There were multiple instances discussed where African-American politicians locally have entered discussions with views that are quite racist, and chosen to escalate prejudice instead of being receptive to efforts toward reconciliation.
A number of people expressed that there seemed to be a desire by many to maintain the racism divisions instead of seeking unified win-win positions, and systemically the African-American leadership in one local community did not seem able to function beyond defined racial landscapes that are five decades old. The sadness of this discussion was that it distracted from the appropriate question of “How do I need to change?” to the less fruitful discussion of “How do I get others to change?”
Most white clergy or laity leading this series will find that it is very difficult for white congregations to understand how vital social justice theology is to Hispanic and African-American faith communities. In many ways, the Baptist history that goes back through John Leland and Roger Williams (valuing separation of church and state) has been used to prevent and keep social justice conversations out of more progressive white Baptist church discussions. Hence, our churches are not open to entering social justice questions that require systemic government action. The reason offered is that this violates church and state separation. The subtext is that this discussion threatens politically partisan views.
The “extras” on the “Beneath the Skin” DVD are gems. This is particularly true of the two segments relating to churches and families. If you use this series in a predominantly white congregation, use the “Family Value” segment in the last presentation group session.
This is a very useful video series, and I would encourage churches to utilize it in small group settings. It is a simple matter to offer the DVD and discussion as a breakout option. It will attract the most progressive thinkers initially. Our hope is that it will trickle into discussions in Sunday School classes and be used in many forums. The discussion created through the study can be truly catalytic, creating discussions and ideas that can move any charge forward in dealing with race issues.
Larry Coleman is senior pastor of Churchland Baptist Church in Chesapeake, Va.