As followers of Jesus, we play a unique role in combating injustice in all its forms, especially the persistent and structural inequality between people of different races. One of the ways the Church can take action against racism is to counter a culture that dehumanizes others. And one of the places where we should start is within our church communities.
First, we have to recognize that historically, white supremacy has infected many parts of our culture ⏤ including our churches. During the era of slavery, Christians justified their views on slaveholding using the Scriptures. Later, some pastors advocated for segregation. During the Civil Rights era, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. lamented the white church's lack of action against injustice. The words he wrote in the 1963 "Letter From a Birmingham Jail" to his fellow ministers are strikingly relevant today. Too many Christian leaders stay silent while their black brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering. We must change this legacy. Even if you're not a church leader, you can use your voice to influence those who are in leadership positions.
Having conversations with the people we worship alongside is a simple way to gauge where they stand. By lovingly engaging them with Jesus as our model ⏤ and by keeping an open posture to the work of the Holy Spirit ⏤ we can invite our church community on a journey toward racial reconciliation.
If your church is just beginning to pursue racial justice, here are 5 ways you can initiate conversations with church leaders (drawn from articles by Ben Lindsay and Pastor Agu Irukwu.) These conversations don’t have to happen all at once, but by moving forward one step at a time, the Church can be collectively challenged and transformed.
- Ask your church to pray publicly on race issues. Ask your church leader to create space topublicly and regularly pray against issues of racism in corporate settings, for the US context and globally.
- Ask your church about diversity. Ask about how diverse the leadership, staff, and speaker team are, and what plans there are to address a lack of diversity going forward. Encourage your church to partner with ethnic minorities to inform your church’s response to the Black Lives Matter movement and issues of racism. If you are a white majority or white led church, ask how you can engage more effectively with and learn from the response of Black led denominations.
- Ask your church how they are proactively anti-racist. Ask whether your church is proactively fighting for equality and social justice in the context of racism. Talk to your church leadership about how you might challenge unjust structures, systems, and power dynamics, in both your own community and nationally.
- Ask your church about anti-racist teaching and education. Ask if your church leaders and staff are engaging in any anti-racism education or training, and if your church is actively seeking to lead the congregation in this area. If not, suggest how the church might be able to do this going forward (e.g. a book club, sermon, or seminar series).
- Ask how your church supports members who are Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC). How is your church providing pastoral care and support to its BIPOC members during this difficult season? Could your church connect people who've experienced racialized trauma with mental health counselors? If your congregation is all white, could your church financially support BIPOC grassroots organizations that serve your community? How could your church best champion and partner with the work of Black majority churches in your area?
This article is drawn from our new guide, Black Lives Matter: Learn, Pray, and Act for Racial Justice. You can download the guide free here, and read our full statement on racial justice here.