Anti-Racism & The Church: 3 Tips For Beginners

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A photo of a Black hand, a brown hand, and two white hands hold eachother's wrists to form a square.
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“Why is racism not declared incompatible with Christian teaching? How does it exist within the gospel of Jesus Christ?”

Bishop Sally Dyck

A few weeks ago, I passed around a survey on social media entitled: Anti-Racism in the Church. It was a short survey with seven questions that inquired about denomination, church location, and whether the individual believed the church they attended was antiracist and why or why not. Primarily, the survey was designed to help me identify gaps in Anabaptist and interfaith communities anti-racist education in order to inform my curriculum proposal for next year’s Mennonite Church USA. And, while I only received 93 responses (which is clearly not enough to make an informed statistical analysis), I noticed something interesting: 81.4% of all participants were white, 91.4% of all participants indicated that they belonged to a predominately white church and 57% of all participants believed that their church was not anti-racist.

Oof. What do you do with that? The critical observer might question the survey, or might notice that perhaps the responders believe that their church isn’t anti-racist AND also believe that their church isn’t racist. Is there an in-between? Is there really such a thing as a non-racist? Some participants, in their response, openly struggled with the binary demand for a “yes” or “no” response to the question: Do You Believe Your Church is Anti-Racist? After all, only God knows the heart, right?

Ehhhh.

Here’s my hot take: if you are not actively committed to dismantling and disrupting racism from the pulpit and within the church, then you are perpetuating racism and actively doing harm. Pastors, congregants and visitors should not have to guess if they belong to or attend an anti-racist church.

A few weeks ago, I wrote my first Medium article titled “Dear Racist (White) Christians: Stay Out of My DM’s.” And, while I was happy with the piece, I wish I had included specific action steps.

So, here are three beginner action steps that I recommend (not in order of importance):

Require anti-racist training and education for all church leaders

“I worry about the white pastors who are waking up to racial injustice without having any biblical or tehological imagination for the ministry ahead. If I could offer only one piece of advice, it’d be to spend as much time as possible under the influence of Black ministry leaders.” -David Swanson

If your church leaders do not have the tools and resources to talk about (and commit to) anti-racism work, then they are not equipped to cultivate and create an anti-racist environment. And, this means that (unconsciously or not) racial harm is actively being done.

Perhaps, a good example to consider is baby dedications. In the Mennonite tradition, families have the option to participate in a baby dedication. Baby dedications are often facilitated by the pastor or a member of the pastoral team, and the congregation has an opportunity to publicly affirm their commitment to raising and caring for the child.

Here’s my itchy question: if a congregation does not actively work to dismantle and disrupt racism, how are they equipped to raise and care for any child? And let me be clear, I am specifically using the word “any” because racism has every single one of us in bondage. Now, to the critic this may seem dramatic. After all, is it really that serious? Is racism really that deadly? Yes.

In 2011 during the Cairo protests, the story about Christians joining hands and surrounding Muslims during prayer went viral. I think of this story often. How do we equip and empower our churches to be bold in anti-racist action? The other day, I read a story about a young woman that went to a Black Lives Matter protest with a shirt that read: when the shooting starts, get behind me. What does it take to empower our churches enough that they will risk something?

So, what support can your church give? Give your leaders (not just paid staff, but Sunday school Teachers, Greeters, and Faculty) the tools to actively disrupt racism by investing in and requiring racial justice mentors. It is not enough to make a statement that your church believes in diversity – infuse that value into every element of your church. What happens if you state that not only does your church believe in anti-racism, but you are not qualified to lead or teach if you cannot engage in anti-racist work with nuance and complexity? What resources and support might you need? In what could you think about investing? How might anti-racism education transform your mission trips or reframe how you traditionally think about what kinds of groups “need saved?”

Develop Shared Language

Do you ever talk to someone about a specific experience, and it becomes clear that both of you are working from a very different framework? The same is true in anti-racist work. Be clear with your definitions, vision, and values. Develop a shared framework within your denomination and within your church.

Here are a few tips:

  • Make sure to make the shared language accessible to visitors. Perhaps your church has a bulletin. Are there ways to include the shared language in the bulletin? What about in your digital updates or newsletters? Can you provide it in multiple languages?
  • Think about ways you can revisit the shared language and framework each year. Can you do it in your quarterly congregational meetings? What groups can you work with to help assess your needs, and provide you with support as you commit to racial justice and decolonization?

decolonize your church library

What kinds of racial representation do you have in your church library?

What racial groups tend to be theologians and truth-tellers, and what racial groups tend to “need saved?” How does this understanding shape your churches mission work?

Consider interrogating your church library practices. Examine the books that are available in your library. Do any of them explicitly talk about racism? Do any of them provide explicit action steps? Do any of them demand reparations or are they solely focused on reconciliation? Do any of them refute colorblind ideology? A few months ago, I developed a list of more than 200 racial justice resources for educators. Many of these resources would also be appropriate for churches. What other ways can you diversify and decolonize your library?

This list is not a complete list of action steps, nor will following these ideas make you an anti-racist. Anti-racism is the journey of a lifetime. That being said, I hope that these three tips provide you with some resources to get started. Need more ideas? Contact me for a consultation or a coaching session. We get free together.

Upward & Onward.

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