Working sacrificially toward racial justice, equity and even reparations should be a focal point of local churches across the United States.
To make the necessary changes to engage in such work, individual congregations should look to how the early church revolutionized society through its care for the suffering.
However, as C. Kavin Rowe points out in his book, Christianity’s Surprise, the “surprise” about Christianity in the first three centuries was the way in which the church served the suffering and created institutions and systems to serve the suffering.
In a time of eroding confidence in structures and institutions, this is a tall order to challenge our denominational organizations to consider comprehensive reparations as a part of their ministerial vision.
It is no secret that many denominations are experiencing shrinking budgets and dwindling interest in denominational affairs.
However, a scarcity mindset leads to a “circling of the wagons” in defense, instead of challenging us to see the need in the world and seeking to meet that need with sacrificial living and giving.
In his book, Christian Social Innovation, Greg Jones says we must “begin with the end,” always remembering our calling as a church to bear witness to the healing and redeeming love of God in Christ Jesus.
This, he notes, nurtures an improvisational spirit that is absolutely necessary amid the seismic shifts and changes happening all around us.
Radical dreams of systematically addressing racial sin, laying groundwork for reconciliation, and making lasting changes to address economic inequality must be borne out of God’s work in our own lives, in our congregations and through spiritual friendships.
Dreaming and revisioning happens in community, where all bring their differing talents and passions to the table so the Holy Spirit can take these and make something bigger than the parts.
Our small congregation has spent the past year exploring and confronting issues of race in different ways and through different studies, conversations and classes.
We have been energized to seek justice and change, but it has become apparent that the systems of racial inequity are so complicated that it seems like our efforts will be miniscule.
While we cannot negate the possibility that our efforts can affect significant systemic change, such grassroots efforts by local churches must be supported by broader denominational initiatives.
Among “religious” Millennials, fewer associate themselves with a particular church. They call themselves “Christian” but do not associate with a particular denomination. Eroding confidence in institutions is partly to blame for this decline, according to Gallup.
Were denominations to embark on an ambitious justice campaign, not only could it make remarkable impacts on those who suffer from systemic racial injustice, but it also could be an important part of rebuilding trust in denominational institutions and in the relevancy of denominations themselves.
Denominations and their entities have a larger impact potential than do individual churches. This is why denominations banded together in the first place – to pull together resources to expand the influence of the local church.
Through sacrificial giving on the part of churches across America, hospitals, schools, universities and orphan care were established with the leadership and support of denominations.
We can do great things together, if we have the vision.
Now is the time to reinvigorate and reimagine this legacy for the 21st century. So much more can be accomplished when we work together on seemingly overwhelmingly systemic issues.
Local congregations can and should do their own work in addressing racial equity in their communities while also seeking innovation on the denominational level.
This could look like significant investments in early childhood education and college scholarships for minority communities, in afterschool and elderly care, in criminal justice reform, as well as in ecological and economic issues such as hiring practices.
The list is long; the varieties and possibilities are endless.
Let us reimagine the goals of our denominational institutions so that their purposes may be about enacting strategic social innovation that brings about God’s just kingdom on earth.
Wouldn’t it be innovative if denominational organizations worked together, laying aside doctrinal differences to advance a common purpose of caring for the suffering in our minority communities for the sake of God’s kingdom?
This will radically demonstrate the goodness of God to a culture disenchanted with God, church and organized religion.
Christians cannot sit by and allow the stark disparities to continue in our country, especially since the church and Christians were such an integral part of perpetuating the sins of slavery, racism and Jim Crow.
Our grandparents and great-grandparents used the Bible to excuse abhorrent behavior that has left generations of our Black and Indigenous sisters and brothers in peril.
As the Apostle Paul pleaded with the Gentile Christians in Corinth to sacrificially support the poor Jewish Christians in Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 8), we must sacrificially respond to this moment in time if the church is going to hold on to any semblance of respect and ability to speak prophetically to our culture.
Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series. Part one is available here. This article is part of an ongoing series focused on engaging the emerging generations of faith leaders. If you know anyone who might be interested, encourage him or her to submit his or her article for consideration to firstname.lastname@example.org.
An ordained minister, Harris is associate pastor of community life at DaySpring Baptist Church in Waco, Texas. She is a spiritual director, a graduate of Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University and is working on a DMin at Duke Divinity School.