Statements like these seem to be everywhere on social media:
- “What happened was bad but that does not justify property damage!”
- “I heard Black Lives Matter is antifa and communist, and I cannot support that!”
- “What about black-on-black crime? And fatherlessness?”
- “I know good police officers. Blue lives matter!”
- “Can we not just preach the gospel?”
If you are white, these statements do not directly affect you. People of color hear comments like these from their white brothers and sisters and they feel ignored, neglected and unwelcomed in their own community.
In 2018, the New York Times published a story detailing the exodus of Black Christians from churches led by white pastors. These ministers were not addressing police brutality and other forms of racism, and the Black congregants felt disenfranchised.
White pastors can proceed no longer with a business-as-usual mentality, thinking that racism does not impact them directly. Black ministers do not have this privilege because racism is a threat to their well-being.
God has called white Christians to stand in solidarity with their Black brothers and sisters instead of sitting on the sidelines.
Many pastors and ministers realize this and are eager to provide pastoral care to their congregants of color who are experiencing the pain of racism, but they do not know where to start. Here are three starting points:
In Romans 12, Paul tells the Christians in Rome to mourn with those who mourn.
When we hear about the deaths of people like Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Jacob Blake and so many others, our hearts should break, and we should cry out for justice.
Black lives matter to God. We should feel the same way and respond accordingly.
We should lament the systems that have perpetuated oppression. There is a false dichotomy that a person has to love everything about their country, and anyone who acknowledges and laments the sins of the past hates the nation.
In the words of activist and rapper Propaganda, “I don’t hate America, just demand she keep her promises.”
We can and should lament the injustices of the past and present instead of viewing the country through rose-colored glasses. This is necessary to make America a nation for all people. Failing to acknowledge the past will prevent us from solving the problems.
I am not Black, so I have to talk with Black people to understand what it is like to be Black in America. Too often people want to argue with, rather than listening to, Black men and women as they articulate their experiences.
For example, if a person of color expresses distrust of police based on their experience, and our first reaction is to remind them there are good police officers, we are communicating their experiences do not matter.
Others try to deflect from talking about race by talking about abortion. They argue that if Black lives matter and advocates really cared about Black lives, then they would protest abortion.
This is also a failure to listen to the voices of Black people because it minimizes and especially ignores the experiences of Black women, who often have little or no access to prenatal care and experience higher infant mortality rates.
If we refuse to listen and hear the experiences of our brothers and sisters, we can never learn from them. And we will never be able to comfort them with the comfort of God; instead, we will communicate that they are not valued or loved.
Even though many white Christians have hesitated to speak out against racial injustice, a deep well of information has been produced by the Black community.
Countless books, articles, podcasts and movies, documentaries, lectures and sermons on racial injustice exist and are easily accessible. Ministers have an obligation to learn as much about racial injustice as we can in order to serve and love our brothers and sisters of color.
This learning process can be difficult. It can be hard to be confronted with previously unrecognized blind spots and privilege.
We may feel guilty reading about how we have benefited from systems created to oppress Black people, such as redlining. We might feel confused and defensive as we read about how Black people suffer disproportionately from police brutality and mass incarceration.
We may feel humbled or even ashamed when recognizing how our own views and actions have been subtly shaped by racism. We might even feel angry about how so many of these systems continue today.
Yet, we must remember that God calls for streams of justice to burst through the land and then join in digging canals to assist in the flow of justice.
Learning about racial injustice will also inform our ability to care for people.
Understanding the generational trauma that racism has caused allows one to be cognizant of the pain that so many in our nation feel and serves to check our own biases whenever they may creep up.
If you have unexamined assumptions about people, your ability to care for them will decrease. But as you learn more about racism, you will be able to recognize these assumptions as racist lies that are antithetical to the truth of the gospel.
As long as racism continues, Christians are tasked with caring for those who are affected the most by it.
This is done by lamenting racial injustice alongside the people of color in your community.
It is done through listening to the experiences of those who are different from yourself and entering into difficult conversations to bring the hope of God in the midst of despair.
And it is done through learning about history to see the impact of racism and to counsel the victims of it from an informed and humble position.
Editor’s note: 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 them to submit their article for consideration to firstname.lastname@example.org.