We are blessed to share a multicultural church where multiple races/ethnicities and socioeconomic groups worship, fellowship, and serve together as equals before God. But until we reflect the full diversity of our city, and until we are all-in on both pursuing and modeling racial reconciliation for all our neighbors, we still have a lot of work to do.
As a church positioned in the heart of urban Denver, at the edge of a gentrifying-but-historically-African-American community, we have a particular responsibility to lead the way on this issue. We must move from simply “not being racist” to being anti-racist.
Many of you, especially of the majority/white culture, are often asking, “What can I do? Where do I even begin? I want to help, I don’t even know how.”
What follows is not an attempt to be exhaustive. It’s just an overview of 5 things you can do, starting right now, to pursue anti-racism in the name and authority of Jesus Christ. These 5 recommendations spell the acronym CEASE.
Confess + Educate + Ask + See + Engage
It’s instinctive when you see something uncomfortable or infuriating to cast blame on other people and the way they are. Or to shift the conversation to a related topic that makes somebody else culpable for what they’ve done wrong. “Oh yeah, well what about . . . ?” Blame shifting and whataboutism are easy to do because there’s plenty of sin and responsibility to go around.
Instead, learn to start with yourself. When, where, how, and against whom have you committed the sin of partiality? How has bias, prejudice, ignorance, or fear caused you to be anything other than fair and righteous in your dealings with all people? Maybe you haven’t explicitly committed the sin of racism in the way that others have, but have you been silent when you should’ve spoken up? Have you quietly been complicit in a tilted system that benefits you at the expense of others? Have you turned a blind eye to the experience of persons of color?
Start with repentance. Agree with God that partiality and oppression are wrong. Lament wherever these things are found in your heart or in our broader culture. Believe the Father loves and forgives you completely because of the obedience of Jesus. And go bear the fruits of repentance.
2. Educate yourself.
On the history of race in America: Do you know a basic history of slavery in the United States? The significance of historic figures like Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, Emmett Till, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Central Park Five? The purpose and effects of Jim Crow laws and segregation? If not, do some research to grasp something of the painful history of blacks in this country.
On the manifestations of systemic racism: Race-based discrimination is widespread in zoning and housing policies, employment, education, healthcare, and the criminal justice system, including the school-to-prison pipeline.
On the meaning of real Gospel reconciliation: Study the Bible’s posture on ethnicity and race, and especially the implications of the Gospel of grace. Read and listen to Orthodox, Gospel-centered persons of color who explain in their own words what these texts mean and how these texts can be applied to our current state of affairs.
Have private conversations with persons of color. Before you ask for advice (which is about you), ask to hear their story (which is about them). Be willing to ask uncomfortable, open-ended questions and then mostly listen. Listen not to critique or rebut, but to grow in empathy and understanding. Don’t argue about how something makes someone else feel; their feelings are an important part of their story.
After you’ve started #2 and shown a commitment to learning and understanding, then ask persons of color what you can do to be a part of the solution. Be patient if they want to take some time before they answer. Be gracious if they don’t want to be your mentor or they’re wary of your motives; they’ve heard these questions many times before, only to see inaction follow.
Take what you’re learning through personal conversations and research, and go look for evidences of these problems in your own community. Observe both broken systems/policies and broken people.
Take time to pause, reflect, and see beneath what you’re seeing. Instead of judging the parts of minority culture that really bother you, maybe ask why things are that way. What factors contributed to the creation of that facet of minority subculture? What were others thinking and feeling, maybe for years, that led them to act or react that way? For example, why are there black churches instead of “them” just worshiping with “us”? [Be prepared to weep and repent over the answers.]
When you start seeing like this, you’re seeing people the way Jesus saw people. And you can begin to react with empathy, compassion, and intentionality, rather than condemnation, superiority, and apathy.
In prayer: The sins of prejudice, partiality, and racism have been around for millennia. Culture will not change monolithically, but God is in the business of redeeming and transforming individual hearts. Pray for the Spirit to do what only he can do: convict, regenerate, and heal our inner person. Pray for leaders who enact just laws and use their authority for good. Pray for the peace and welfare of our cities. Pray for wounded souls to be restored.
In church life: The church should be an alternate city within every city – a “city” where races, ethnicities, and social classes are reconciled to one another through the blood of Jesus. One of the simplest solutions to racism is to actively engage in church life – to worship, grow, pray, serve, and share with a diverse group of friends that you’ve fully welcomed into your heart and home. Proclaim the Gospel with your everyday life, invite anyone and everyone into your community of faith, and be the kind of community that will treat everyone as equals.
In action: I put this last, not because it’s chronologically last, but because without a commitment to these other steps your action may be little more than tokenism or virtue signaling. But if your actions are birthed out of an informed mind and a surrendered heart, you’re on the right track.
A social media post or bumper sticker with all the right hashtags may be well intentioned, but it isn’t a solution. Engaging in the steps above are real action that produce real solutions. Additionally, here are some other things you can do (and please feel free to add to this list):
- Get to know the law enforcement in your immediate community. Let them know you pray for them by name and support them, and will hold them accountable for their treatment of people of color.
- Join a PTA or volunteer to be a mentor at an inner city school.
- Review local government and education budgets and advocate that money be directed toward minority communities and just causes.
- Support local minority-owned businesses.
- Absorb information and even entertainment that represents a minority perspective.
- Celebrate the good. Call attention to people and things that are making a difference in the fight against prejudice and injustice.