Conversations around race, slavery and racial reconciliation have been happening for a few years now. As America realized that systematic racism was still very much alive and calls for racial unity began, church leaders asked how they could do the same.
Racial reconciliation is about more than equality. Instead, it seeks to repair relationships across race lines. Mark Charles defines it on his blog as, “In obedience to God, racial reconciliation is a commitment to building cross-cultural relationships of forgiveness, repentance, love and hope resulting in walking in beauty with one another and God.”
It is good to talk about racial reconciliation in the church. It’s something we should have pursued a long time ago. However, racial reconciliation cannot happen until we acknowledge a few things. First, Christians must confront their own internalized prejudice. Second, the church needs to acknowledge its on-going segregation and history with slavery and third we must realize the possibility of genuine racial unity rests with Christians.
My intent is not to condemn my church (or any church), but to call Christians to a higher standard because, as one of three African American women in my congregation this is an issue I feel very strongly about and want to see corrected. I’m writing based on personal experience (churches I’ve attended, conversations I’ve had), Biblical principle and in response to frustration over calls for racial unity without acknowledgment of the reality of racism, white privilege and systems of oppression.
It’s been said that Sunday morning services are the most segregated hour in America. Buffalo is one of America’s most segregated regions (Sources: 1, 2, 3 ) so that’s not hard to see, or believe. But if we’re not worshipping together, how could we expect to live life together? As an Instagram friend told me, this separation leads to ignorance between churches predominately attended by one race. I can’t help but think that this breaks Jesus’ heart. A healthy church is overflowing with love and community – under what better circumstances could racial reconciliation begin and flourish?
The less we encounter people different from us, even in the most superficial ways, the easier it is for prejudice to take hold. That’s what racism is – bias and prejudice in the hands of those with the power to enforce continued inequality and systematic oppression. In other words, racism is not, and has never been merely a bitter person demanding that Michelle Obama is a gorilla who needs to go back to Africa. It is also a subtle mindset (that we may not even realize we have) that believes one race is superior to another, based on preconceived assumptions. Can you see how destructive that is? (In one of my first blogs posts, “The New Racism” , I explore this further.)
Prejudice is first and foremost sin. If you’re a Christian then you know sin is easily hidden and deceptive and the sin of racism is no different. Growing up in a white community kept me sheltered by white privilege for most of my life. But as I encountered life outside my home as a Black woman and studied the history of slavery and systematic racism, the more I realized that I had harmful opinions about people of my own race. Terrible representation of African Americans in the media, little exposure to diverse communities and inherent sin within myself lead to those biases. There are still moments where I have to stop myself and pray that God would change my heart.
Before racial reconciliation can happen in a way that is lasting and real, we have to annihilate the racism in ourselves.
This is going to be an on-going series. If you have questions about white privilege, the history of slavery and the Southern church or anything else pertaining to this topic, comment or send me an email (address at bottom of page) and I’ll answer your question in a future post.