The Baptist World Alliance held its first hybrid annual gathering in Birmingham, Alabama, this week, taking on the issue of race as an institution.
Not a theme or thread of the meeting, Christian believers gathered from around the world to talk about justice, but not just any kind of justice — racial justice.
There is no justice in race, as the sociopolitical construct was not created to be just or fair to everyone. Yet, there is something to be said for our ecclesiological and theological engagement with the four-letter word that has cursed our relationships for hundreds of years.
Because race does not do justice to our bodies or any society that is founded on the color-coded and hierarchical identities it offers. Because race says that we cannot live outside of the false binary identities of oppressor and oppressed.
Thus, race is without a biblical basis or a theological foundation, as it does not support the Christian community, which identifies itself as members of one another.
We need to talk about it and get clear on that. Not in passing or on occasion but faithfully. We need to talk about race until we change the power dynamics, until we reclaim our position as children of God and, thus, next of kin.
Talking about the subject often considered taboo, the word was said more times than I have heard in all my years. Race, race, race.
During this year’s annual gathering, it was said in worship and in opening greetings, in prayer, litany, preaching, devotions, benedictions, commissions, small group meetings and over meals. We talked about race coming and going.
We talked about race negatively and how it puts us all in a negative light. We discussed what it had done to us and how we must rid ourselves of its presence.
We shared our stories of marginalization, invisibility, privilege and domination. We discussed how the social practices required for a racial identity – that of hating and hoarding resources – did not support Jesus’ command to love and the early church’s model of sharing all things in common (Acts 2:44).
No voices raised or awkward silences, race was subjected to the goal of justice. We wanted to do justice to the word, to find it guilty of more crimes against humanity than we had time to name. Still, we held space for it all as a body of believers.
This is the bodywork that I am after through The Raceless Gospel Initiative. This is the body language that I crave and that my guests talked about in season three of the podcast. This is music to my ears. Race, race, race.
We talked about race until we stripped it of its mystery, shrouded in pride. We talked about race until we became aware of its lies. We talked about race and then laughed until we cried. No longer afraid of the word, we looked into each other’s eyes and saw each other perhaps for the first time — without race in the picture.
Allan Boesak, preacher, politician and anti-apartheid activist, was one of the speakers at the BWA gathering. He said that Jesus and justice were synonymous: “When you say, ‘Jesus,’ you say, ‘Justice,’ and when you say, ‘Justice,’ you say, ‘Jesus.’”
You cannot have one without the other. We cannot follow one without following through on the other.
Talking about race as an institution and the ways in which Baptists have socially supported, financially benefited and theologically endorsed it, the Baptist World Alliance is doing the necessary work of naming and owning their role in the maintenance of our divisions.
Doing justice requires us to remember; it is only then that we can say, “Never again.”