God wants his people to talk about race. Talking about race might get uncomfortable, and that’s ok.
The reason we need to have the conversation of race in our faith communities is quite simple. God wants us to do so. God has called his Church to be a reconciler to and with the world. God has commanded his bride to be deliverers of justice throughout the world. This does not mean clinging to the Great Commission in a way that leaves blind spots in our own neighborhood. The city you live in is a part of, “Into all the world.” (Mark 16:15)
The Kingdom of God is multicultural and our congregations should reflect that.
The Kingdom of God has no majority. It seems elementary, but necessary to point out, that God made all people. God doesn’t love white people or black people more. God doesn’t love Americans more. He doesn’t love police officers more. He doesn’t love Israelis or Palestinians more. He doesn’t love Republicans or Democrats more. He created the diversity in our world. We should work tirelessly to ensure our local congregations are representative of the communities in which they exist.
The first practical step in having the conversation about race in a faith community is a self-audit. Where is your church or small group at when it comes to race? This self-reflection should be longer than the 10 seconds it takes to say, “I have a black friend. I’m not racist.” It should involve a genuine and prayerful introspection and evaluation of those around you. This evaluation demands humility and honesty. Where are your area of subconscious prejudice? Does your congregation walk with the local chapter of Black Lives Matter? Have you heard someone in your community scoff at the term, “White privilege”? Is your group diverse, but racial differences are the elephant in the room? Your group will likely fall on the spectrum somewhere between these examples.
The second step is education. Based on the evaluation in the first step, educate yourself. Does that mean reading Dr. King’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail as a group and discussing it? Maybe it means listening to “I have a Dream” again? Does it mean learning about the inaction of the white church during the civil rights movement of the 1960’s? Or is it meeting a brother or sister of color and asking them, “Are you comfortable sharing your story?” Have you considered talking to a faith leader who has already gone down this road and learning from their successes and mistakes?
Additionally, I should remind you that if you have a white congregant or small group member who is over 65, they were a teenager during the civil rights era. Talk to them. Do they have regrets about how they responded to the movement and racial injustices? What do they wish our generation knew?
Plan. You have to plan to talk about race. If you are a lead pastor or the facilitator of a small group, you know that planning is the key to going into a meeting with the least amount of anxiety and the greatest potential to reach hearts.
Then, execute your plan. This part is simple. It involves you casting a vision for your group. As a leader, when you take the first step in talking about race, you break a dam of silence that releases a floodgate of healing. A commitment to race will slowly permeate throughout the fabric of the culture of your group.
Talking about race in a faith community is futile, useless, and potentially harmful if it is not followed up with more discussion. Our brothers and sisters of color do not have a choice to talk about racism. They are confronted with it each day.
As their white, Christian counterparts, we cannot allow the conversation on race to simply be a line on the social justice checklist that is addressed once, then forgotten. Let us commit ourselves to being instruments of peace.