Churches in the Face of Racism

Photo 1510821211907 48388403b9bb
By Emma Bucher, Psy.D.

These last few months have been rough on the racial reconciliation front.  America has watched as yet more examples of unsolicited violence against Black persons are filmed and circulated around social media.  Just add them to the list of others outlined in this viral post:

Black people are so tired. 😓

We still can’t breathe (#GeorgeFloyd).

We can’t go bird watching in Central Park (#ChristianCooper).

We can’t go jogging (#AhmaudArbery).

We still can’t sleep in peace in our own homes (#BreonnaTaylor).

We can’t relax in the comfort of our own homes (#BothemJean and #AtatianaJefferson).

We can't ask for help after being in a car crash (#JonathanFerrell and #Renisha McBride).

We can't have a cellphone (#StephonClark).

We can't leave a party to get to safety (#JordanEdwards).

We can't play loud music (#JordanDavis).

We can’t sell CD's (#AltonSterling).

We can’t sleep (#AiyanaJones)

We can’t walk from the corner store (#MikeBrown).

We can’t play cops and robbers (#TamirRice).

We can’t go to church (#Charleston9).

We can’t walk home with Skittles (#TrayvonMartin).

We can’t hold a hair brush while leaving our own bachelor party (#SeanBell).

We can’t party on New Years (#OscarGrant).

We can’t get a normal traffic ticket (#SandraBland).

We can’t lawfully carry a weapon (#PhilandoCastile).

We can't break down on a public road with car problems (#CoreyJones).

We can’t shop at Walmart (#JohnCrawford) .

We can’t have a disabled vehicle (#TerrenceCrutcher).

We can’t read a book in our own car (#Keith Scott).

We can’t be a 10yr old walking with our grandfather (#CliffordGlover).

We can’t decorate for a party (#ClaudeReese).

We can’t ask a cop a question (#RandyEvans).

We can’t cash our check in peace (#YvonneSmallwood).

We can’t take out our wallet (#AmadouDiallo).

We can’t run (#WalterScott).

We can’t breathe (#EricGarner).

We can’t live (#FreddieGray).

We’re tired.

Tired of making hashtags.

Tired of trying to convince you that our #BlackLivesMatter too.

Tired of dying.

Tired.

Tired.

Tired.

So Very Tired.

 

From my experience, churches (Protestant and Catholic) have been generally silent in the face of racism. This seems to have changed slightly during the recent BLM protests when it wasn’t uncommon to hear prayers for racial reconciliation and maybe some mention of the evils of racism during the service or homily.  Contentious topics, such as racism and LGBTQ+ issues, are rarely raised delved into apart from the occasional mention by priests of the violence of abortion.  What is this hesitancy and silence about?

I attribute it to White culture and wanting to please the wealthy majority. 

White culture, with the exception of some subgroups, seems to emphasize conflict avoidance and keeping a clean façade.  It’s the stereotype of suburbia, where real life issues are swept under the rug and it’s best to keep your lawn manicured.  Doing things like taking a knee at the Super Bowl are seen as annoying and as just stirring the pot.  There’s almost a desire to return to the good ol’ days when people were peacefully segregated – uhm, what?!

Additionally, White people value hard work and are displeased with complaining.  Arguments are done quietly, or not at all, so as to avoid a scene.  If you are offended, it is best to keep your head down and submit to authority.  There is gossiping and complaining behind the scenes, but that is not to be done in a public manner.  If someone is unsuccessful in life, it is attributed to their lack of effort. It’s the “Myth of Meritocracy” at its finest. 

“It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.”  -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sunday mornings seem to be the most segregated time in America, which leaves us with a whole bunch of White churches.  As a White person, I was raised in White churches.  And the thing is, I actually like White churches as far as being comfortable and relaxed are concerned.  They were just churches to me (#privilege) before I went to college.  White churches have provided me space to know and love Jesus.    

There are probably 70 x 7 number of problems with having so many White churches.  White churches have more wealth that is not naturally circulated into the areas of need in the larger community.  We are more likely to give our friend or nephew fifty dollars as a graduation gift than the Black kid ten miles away who we will likely never meet.  We are more likely to use businesses within our church system for our vehicle maintenance, our landscaping, our home remodeling, or our childcare. The wealth stays mostly within our circles, within our bubbles, within our close-knit churches.  Therefore, you have White churches building and expanding and Black churches barely scraping by.  This is an example of how the system works against those who are in the minority and works for those who are in the majority.    

Perhaps what’s most striking to me is that a lack of diversity is not what heaven looks like. The body of believers who are beholding the Beatific Vision is certainly not White.  It’s a rainbow of people, and predominantly White churches are not a reflection of that. Therefore, we should feel a level of disappointment to look out upon a sea of Whiteness on Sunday morning.

One more thing in this regard: church isn’t supposed to be about comfort.  Yet Whiteness really values comfort, peace, and conformity.  One of the Whitest ways to be White is to post ample pictures of family beach vacations during spring break where there is plenty of relaxation and safe fun.  These aren’t inherently bad traits of White culture; however, a constant striving for comfort only broadens the gap between races because racial reconciliation requires a great deal of discomfort.  Our churches are hopefully places where just that sort of role up your sleeves, get into the trenches, break a sweat, uncomfortable work can be done.  

We should ask ourselves…how can we make this different? 

A few ideas about making White churches more colorful and inclusive: be sure to have people of color up front every week.  They should be on the worship team, doing readings, greeting outside, administering communion, and provided leadership roles in some capacity. If your church leadership is all White men, that should be concerning. 

What else…Have diverse music! Is your worship music 99% written and performed by White artists?  That’s a problem! Every week there should be some diversity in the worship set that does not all sound like White, evangelical, contemporary Christian, Hillsong rock music.  Heck, sing a song in Spanish! That would be a huge way to make a Latinx person feel welcome.  As a side note, this is a major reason why I love the Latin mass: the music and language is not bound to contemporary Christian Whiteness…it’s totally timeless, other, and culture-ascending.  The Latin mass is bound to neither location nor time period and is celebrated equally across the globe.  That’s awesome.      

One final way to increase diversity in churches: throw some events that appeal to a diverse crowd.  Find out what persons of color in the church want.  Maybe they want to have a block party where we listen to loud music and eat soul food.  Maybe the church could host a movie night that is focused on racial reconciliation or a movie with a predominantly Black cast.  For Catholics, maybe parishioners want a church celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12th.  Take time to ask the people what they want!    

Now let’s also take a minute to be honest with ourselves…much of the avoidance in White churches is about money.  Marketing to White audiences keeps up attendance which equals more income for the church. Avoiding uncomfortable and contentious topics like racism is unfortunately a successful business strategy, and that’s disgusting. 

I want to highlight that there are mainstream churches and organizations dedicated to diversity and multiculturalism.  InterVarsity does an excellent job at providing students with resources to explore racial disparities and understanding Whiteness.  They make bold attempts to shift their campus ministries so that their large groups are diversified and reflective of the Kingdom. I saw posts from two White churches in my area that cried out against racism in America right now, and I’m sure there are more.  From InterVarsity:  https://intervarsity.org/news/campus-ministries-unite-against-racism-anti-semitism-white-supremacy.  There are also world changers in the Christian sphere who routinely speak out against racial injustice.  Fr. James Martin routinely speaks out again racism and doesn’t shy away from the issue.  The Ignatian Solidarity Network recently posted a Novena for Racial Justice (https://ignatiansolidarity.net/novena-for-racial-justice/). I saw photos of clergy attending local Black Lives Matter marches over the last month.     

On a final note, I wrote the first version of this post on Pentecost Sunday.  Pentecost is extremely important because it marks the start of the Church.  And what’s more?  This first day of church involved massive diversification.  The Holy Spirit descended upon each of the apostles like “tongues of fire” that enabled them to speak in many languages.  This was necessary, because Pentecost occurred on the feast of Shavuot, a popular Jewish holiday that drew in people from “every nation under heaven.”  Diverse people from across the known world were given the gift of the gospel. 

God chose to diversify His Church at its very conception.  Let’s continue this work today.   

“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful
and kindle in them the fire of your love.”

 

 

July 19, 2020 - 6:34pm
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