The theology we’ve inherited has been shaped and cultivated by a white supremacist culture that has spent centuries perpetuating the image of a male, white god and a white Jesus.
This theological take continues to uphold and perpetuate systemic oppression. It’s bad for all of us, especially people of color and most urgently, Black and Indigenous communities.
I am a brown, woman pastor of a predominantly white congregation in Texas. Because of this particular positioning, I have some takeaways for predominantly white churches who are committed to anti-racism.
First, we must acknowledge that faith work and anti-racist work cannot be separated.
Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) already know this.
We do not get to compartmentalize issues of faith and issues of race. We must understand the dominant, white culture. We cannot navigate society and thrive otherwise.
BIPOC are born into the necessity of speaking another cultural language, knowing other norms, minimizing ourselves and silencing our inclinations.
We are very likely experiencing this in your white church, and it is requiring much of our energy.
We cannot separate our faith from our racial identities and experiences. Therefore, it is both crucial and an act of solidarity for predominantly white congregations to do the same.
Refrain from the separation of faith work and anti-racism work in your church. Do this by consistently denouncing and dismantling white supremacy.
Make this rejection consistent and clear through the theology that shapes your church culture, the ministry efforts you coordinate and the sermons you preach.
As you make necessary changes, here are some things to keep in mind along the way:
- This is not a trend. Black communities, faith leaders and activists have been bearing the burden of this work for too long. Be ready for the long haul understanding that commitment to anti-racist work involves real systemic changes.
- Hold space for BIPOC in your community by acknowledging their relationship with white supremacy is different than yours. Consistently voice the various intersections that are present instead of only speaking to the white people.
- Protect the energy of BIPOC in your community. Do this by refraining from processing your feelings of shame and guilt in conversations, from the pulpit or in other collective spaces of influence. You center your own voice when you do this, which only perpetuates the elevation of the dominant culture. It also places more work on the shoulders of already exhausted BIPOC and is another form of marginalization.
- As you work to decenter whiteness, look to your church’s organizational structure and be willing to change policies so they are informed by the voices on the margins. Elevate the voices of BIPOC who are already in your community. Do this without tokenizing them. Sit at the feet of BIPOC teachers, such as Jacqueline J. Lewis, so you can learn how to do this. And always pay BIPOC for their work.
- Anayelsi Velasco-Sanchez taught me it is not enough to change your mission, vision and core values. The ethos of your church must reflect these changes on every level. Urgently prioritize anti-racist training for your clergy, leadership and laypeople. Organizations like Freedom Road and people, such as Velasco-Sanchez, are doing good work. We need to acknowledge we need their help. Our budgets should prioritize this reality.
- Accept the predominantly white make-up of your church. Own it and work to do better. This is a challenge at my church, but we have to be honest about our reality: Do current and future BIPOC members feel deep belonging in our context? When we bring in speakers, do they feel safe or uncomfortable? The reality of our situation is a consequence we must face and own. In the same way, take responsibility for your current context and let it motivate you to stay committed to anti-racism work.
- White pastors should be especially mindful of any discomfort, defensiveness or unwillingness to let go of power. Let go of your preaching slot. Cite the BIPOC people who are responsible for the ideas you are presenting. It is a problem if your personal platform is more important to you than BIPOC voices and experiences. Be honest with yourself about this. Move over if you haven’t already.
Churches who are truly committed to the work of anti-racism will make every effort to dismantle white supremacy on both micro and macro levels.
This will require a significant amount of unlearning and faith deconstruction. It won’t be easy, but we must remember faith and anti-racism work cannot be separated.
Those unwilling to accept this are not unlike the young ruler who walked away from Jesus with his head cast down, unwilling to give up his riches.
May we choose the harder way. May we choose to follow.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series this week on racial justice. The other article in the series is:
As Monuments Come Tumbling Down | William Brackney