10 Things Churches Need to Do Racial Reconciliation

16 07 2015

  10 Things Racial Reconciliation

I’m laying everything that I (think I) know out there because deep down in my soul, I think there’s something to this racial reconciliation thing in churches. I believe in it as one expression of the work Christ has already done for us (there’s also gender, sexual, economic, etc. forms that fit under the notion of “reconciliation” as a whole as well). I really, deep down believe it.

What the church should be asking concerning racial reconciliation is not “How can we reconcile to one another?” but “Do we even know that we are reconciled?” In other words, when we pause to think about it, we are working backwards. Reconciliation has already happened; we are merely trying to catch up to it in real time. We are trying to catch up to the reality that Christ has already set before us. Our reconciliation attempts are outdated moments where we hope to stumble upon a way of being that propels us into the truth of Christ’s redeeming work.

So we mess it up, because none of us have the answers. The best we have is the difficult opportunity to learn what it is literally as we go. We learn about its complications church bombings and shootings, we learn about it staunch history in denominational splits. We allow death, pain, suffering and loss to be the lamentable good of our reconciliatory consciousnesses. They are lamentable teachers.

So, no, I do not have a template for you. But I have thoughts, ideas, inklings, the best that I can do that I hope will do the work of drawing us away from death. And maybe that is how we should think about what it is we are engaging in in the risky calling of racial reconciliation. It is the dangerous work that we do together on and with each other drawing us all away from death, thus it will require the most intense focus on those closest to or living in death. It is hard for white people and minorities at different levels, for different reasons, requiring different amounts of commitment and sacrifice. It is work that feels like death in order to draw each other away from death – death that can look like racial injustice or white privilege, economic disadvantage or false perceptions of boot strap mentalities, death that can look like “I am worthless because society has told me so” or “I am worthwhile because the society those like me built still tells me so.”

So without further ado, here is a painful and honest list that churches need to do racial reconciliation:

1. A serious desire to do it

This means that white churches cannot set the example for what reconciliation looks like, because they’ve never done it before. But neither can minorities. What is crucial to hold near is that minorities should take the lead – not because we know anything more, but because we know what being reconciled to someone does not look like, and it does not look like white power in ecclesial form. Those who have the most experience on the underside is…well, experienced about the underside. If racial reconciliation aims to level out what life means and can offer to all, it must be a student of the underside.

2. A majority minority congregation (or at least half minority congregation)

Minorities remaining minorities does not make any sense. If it did, then I’m not sure it’s racial reconciliation. Here it is wise to take a page out of the book of the Civil Rights Movement – white people joined a black majority and bold people of color and their allies in the faith were a force so strong that they made major moves in changing the political landscape of the country. Pay attention to where, why, how and through whom change has happened. And again, become a student.

3. Righteous anger as a staple (and even requirement) in the reconciliation agenda

Anger is a part of reconciliation. Let me say it again: Anger is a part of reconciliation. If you plan on doing reconciliation by running away from, concealing it or snuffing it out – I would call your practice reconciliatory supremacy, not racial reconciliation. Anger can be attached to pain, hurt and suffering, thus when it is ignored as a barrier to reconciliation instead of an aspect of it, pain, hurt and suffering is ignored. And what is reconciliation for if it is not mending work? To deny someone the full range and scope of their feelings in light of their experiences is to deny them their being. Let me say that again: to deny someone the full range and scope of their feelings in light of their experiences is to deny them their being. Don’t do that – unless you’re okay with supremacy.

4. A minority-created or minority-led reconciliation ideation    

Basically minorities need to be the primary visionaries behind what reconciliation could look like for that body. That’s it. Will it super-structured and neatly mapped out? Maybe. Maybe not. The point is that people who experience the “racial” part of racial reconciliation most intensely get to name their own solutions, get to take charge in efforts to work through things that might have been plaguing them for most of their lives.

5. Leaders willing to hold minority pain without becoming fractured, impatient, insecure, or feeling (egotistically) threatened

Hopefully taking seriously the suffering of others should fortify resolve. Yes, despair is kin to resolve and needs adequate space to live and breathe, but resolve should have the final say. Being pained towards action should be the driving force of leadership in churches called to racial reconciliation. If the truth is painful, this can mean one of two things: 1) Your heartstrings are pulled where you feel a mixture of hurt, shame, but ultimately painful clarity. Something is clicking within you about what spaces of power you occupy and need to surrender; 2) Your heart is hardening and you’ve hit your discomfort limit and may or may not use language of not feeling safe (and yes, the majority using safe language in a space difficult to exist in as a minority is power language), feeling that what is occurring is reverse racism (also a poor showing of power), or that race is brought up too much (avoidance = power, seeing a trend?). Either way, painful truth is an important discerning tool for the minority; it shows quite clearly whether someone is in or out of the reconciliation efforts.

6. Minority leadership

Half of the leadership should be minorities, because (cough, cough) they have experience being a minority and might have an idea about what is important to minorities – not to “bring or draw more in” but to be considered equally as the church. Minority leadership is not a gimmick or advertisement, but a practice of a church who has minorities who also should be seen as part of the church. This notion is not novel; it is civil and just to allow minority voices to have presence in their very own church.

7. Minority context

Because, let’s face it, minorities will not come to white churches to be their reconciliation “project.” Churches need to be in spaces where it can know a variety of people. If a church is in a diverse space and still attracts white people, that is a warning sign that some type of barrier is in the way whether it’s denominational, racial, economic, cultural, etc. Something needs to be named and teased out, honestly named and adjusted.

8. Built in time and space for minorities to retreat 

Reconciliation exceeds being a job. It is lifestyle, and thus for people who think about and/or have experienced powerless a great deal of time, it can be a life drain. Minorities do not want to be around people in power operating in their power all of the time. We need breaks. We need retreat. We need time and space to be around those like us where we do not have to teach others how to see us and others. Space to simply be away is important. It may look like attending another church, it may look like a minority caucus within the church or with other churches. Either way, it is necessary for sanity and the presence of minorities to continue in reconciliation work.

9. Willingness to have desires dissected

Everything will be questioned on a large scale: Why are we doing this? What does this mean for us? And on a small scale: Why do I feel like I want to leave? Why is this so hard for me? Have I always lived in supremacy? How do I unlearn it? Reconciliation requires everyone, minorities included, to be unmade from harmful and inaccurate depictions of the self and others. If you are raising a family, this will be heightened as you are literally passing along your life lessons to your family. This is scary ground to be on, but necessary.

10. The courage to risk denominational exile  

If churches aren’t asking why minorities cannot thrive there, but can thrive amongst their own, they miss the opportunity to see where privilege might be built into the structures of their denominationalism. But this is a silly point to list as most are not willing to risk “that much.” Reconciliation is not an agenda, but a way of being church. If churches are not willing to take the ultimate risk and be church away from or outside of denominations with tainted histories and present practices that favor some over others that it is not willing to address, then that church is not ready for all reconciliation as a way of life requires of them.

Risk of angering and stepping away from their denomination if they do not advocate for just reconciliatory practice – this is the most dangerous practice. The security of a denomination is basically a god. Funding, support, progress, placement, even community are all perks of denominational affiliation. To have the heart to risk angering or leaving a denomination is a risk most are not willing to take. But when reconciliation does not fit inside denominational confines, the rubber must hit the road. If one’s denomination is built on majority ethnocentricity, which, if we’re frank, many mainlines are, hence black and immigrant churches, it should be a candidate of things that need to be reformed in your church’s life.

When it gets down to it, all ten things can be summarized in risk. Risk hurts, costs a lot a lot of the time, and has a slim chance of reward. It is not good business practice especially with such low return rates. But it is the stuff of our faith. To avoid risk is to claim identity as a church that simply isn’t true.

This entire list can be summed up as “risk as faith.” Racial reconciliation work takes both. Faith in this form will take on the uncomfortable form that it was intended to be. Faith was never meant to be easy, pleasant or fun, but true. And what is truer to the Christian faith than battling the ways of the world – the church world, where comfort and power dressed in the holy linguistic garb of “love” reigns. “The world” is not out there, but in here – the world is in our churches, churches that can learn a lot about what some in the world get right about loving our neighbor as ourselves and thus fighting and putting comfort and safety on the line for their just treatment. The world is internal; it is in us. Until churches pursuing racial reconciliation acknowledge this fact and get treatment for it (minority spaces being one form), it is running in self-righteous circles. The world is not a place or people who need us as the church to save it, it is the moment in ourselves where we fail to see another equally, and choose to attribute this feeling to sin. It is missed opportunities to try to do better in some strange hope that the Spirit will make us better and move us towards wholeness. Racial reconciliation is a terrifying proposition for terrifying and terrified people. I have no idea why, but it seems like God wouldn’t have it any other way.

Racial Reconciliation Power Check

16 07 2015

So, I also deleted this post for fear of being too controversial. Glad I’m over that…


Racial Reconciliation Power Check photo

Those invested or involved in racial reconciliation in the church, consider if you recognize the following in yourself. In trying to do reconciliation those in power need to be aware of the following:

1) Excuse-ing: where those in power ex-cuse themselves out of a situation they perceive as too hard, uncomfortable or difficult. Excuses become the language one speaks as permission to leave these situations. But they fail to consider the whole church; they fail to imagine how it is for those with less or no power.

2) Wall-retreating: emotional oppression where the angered, upset, critical, observant minority is perceived as too emotional or mean and thus unhearable and/or one to run away from. The person in power hits a wall, but instead of deciding to pick up a sledgehammer and join their minority brother and sister to knock down that wall, they retreat from it, giving up, or worse yet, decorating the wall while vehemently denying that it is a wall. They instead call it a foundation – a foundation they are proud of because ironically, and horrifically, they helped build it.

3) Selective solidarity: identifying with an oppressed group on some level, but denying their truths on another level, or, bypassing oppressed groups in front of them completely in order to join with others they have fantasized helping full ignorant to the fact that this solidarity operates in a mode of exchange: I, the person in power find myself or secure my morality in helping poor (insert minority here), where (insert minority here) have minimal desire to enter into this contract but see the potential to have some of their needs met, so reluctantly and strategically agree. Survival becomes evident on both ends, the question becomes surviving what?

Racial reconciliation is amazing and nearly impossible because it leaves absolutely no room for bull, no space for lies, and no time for theological mannequins.

Either you do it or you don’t. And to be clear, “doing it” implies actually entering the throes of knowledge alerting you to the fact that everything you thought and much of what you think is reconciliation actually is not.

Racial reconciliation thrusts those in power towards having different teachers, teachers that they cannot pick and teachers who care less about how truth hurts feelings and more about how hurt feelings perpetuate injustice.

Reconciliation is not for the faint of heart. It is for all Christians, though – many, unfortunately, who are faint-hearted.

Where might help come from? Jesus, of course. But let’s not also forget that the body of Christ is present in the church – therefore, I encourage those in power to explore the body they are part of. Perhaps they might realize that they are a fingernail instead of eye, a knee cap instead of a arm, an eyelash instead of a torso.

What wonders would body exploration bring? But of course, we must recognize that even “exploration” is such a loaded concept in itself.


Adventures of a Racist Diner, What Happens when Rich White Ladies Think They Can Tell Black People About Themselves

16 07 2015

So, a few months ago I took this post down that I wrote either last year or the year before out of a stupid fear of being judged as too controversial or combative. Now I know that there is no such thing. My experience deserves to be heard as just as credible as anyone else’s. So alas, it is back!


Rich White Ladies

I have often found that racism veers its ugly head in the strange course and condition of vocal accents.

And it is always so strange meeting this ugly monster that so many are positive has already been slain in such a slight place, the accent.

It is one thing to theorize racism and one thing to face it head on, full force – clothed in subtlety and language of reconciliation. Clothed in the muddy waters of how language is received and heard, even the English language.

It is one thing to think that racism is still living, but not be so sure. It is the creeping suspicion that it is not a coincidence that retailers try to dupe your parents because they speak with an accent; that you have to step in and act as the translator, even though they speak English perfectly fine. English from a Masters and Doctoral education.

It’s one thing to think they are being overcharged. It’s another to see your American accent wield its power and stun the retailer back to reality that they can’t pull the wool over your eyes, because they are American eyes decorated by an American accent.

Racism. It is one thing to theorize it; it is another to encounter it. For encountering it is always a surreal place.

In my experience in the South it is the Christian space between already conquered and not yet destroyed.

It is the well-meaning white woman asking someone from central Africa with all sincerity, “How on earth did you get to Duke?” in one breath and in the next breath, “So many people in my church don’t understand reconciliation. They’re so close-minded.”

I was invited to a very important dinner yesterday. I lot of rich people were there and a lot of non-rich people were there as well.

And what I gathered from my time there was that rich people have certain perceptions about poor people, especially poor minorities, especially minorities, especially Africans.

But perhaps I should be fairer than this and offer some back story.

I encountered one rich woman who held interesting (at best) views about minorities, but particularly Africans. And in that encounter I came face to face with ignorance so extreme that it was laughable. When I arrived home, away from the shock of that interesting environment, I sat on my bed and literally laughed out loud.

And then I cried.

Because it was ludicrous. I cried because even though I have taken multiple classes where racism is being theorized, it is another thing to see the subject of our study, to see the specimen of prejudice, and assumption, idealism and whiteness sitting in front of me speaking some of the most ignorant things I have heard in a while and assuming that her speech represents a progressive viewpoint.

Let me name a few quotes from last night:

Rich white woman to my fellow colleague from another country in Africa:

“How in the world did you get to Duke? I mean how did you hear about it from your country? Did the Center for Reconciliation bring you here?”

Rich white woman to me:

“Oh, you’re from Nigeria! Isn’t that a Muslim country?”

And when I tell rich white woman that the northern half of the country is mainly Muslim, and the southern half mostly Christian, she asks:

“Do the Muslims try to kill the Christians?”

Oh, so now we’re getting somewhere!

She sheds some light on her racism.

This racism is not some isolated misconception from a white lady from the mid-West. No, this racism is deeply intertwined with her faith.

As her world-view continues to irritate myself and my colleague beside me, I see that her “progressive” (her words, not mine) views have everything to do with a Christianity that taught her to view Africans and Africanness in a certain way.

Her Muslim comment was not random, nor the only comment.

Her fear, or in other words, her faith is rooted in her desire to see a Christian world and to bring that dream to pass.

Her desire for “reconciliation” (her words, not mine) is a desire to reconcile the world to herself, and to those like her.

Her faith colors her whiteness. Because somewhere along the line for her, Christian equated to “like me.”

Her identity as a Christian is one where she “encourages missions” at her church “not just to India” but a need “to go to Africa too!”

Her faith is a missionizing faith towards a Christianity that somehow stopped being for the Gentiles and started being for the black people of the world. It was no longer Gentiles joining the movement of Jews who followed Jesus, but it became black people (or those who were non-white) joining the moral, ethical, and aesthetic cult of white people who all-of-a-sudden are kind of, maybe, perhaps, definitely starting to think, and act and believe that they are Jesus.

Her speaking slowly and demeaning to my colleague (who is also pursuing a doctorate) was not a coincidence. The change in her body language once she saw that she would be sitting beside me did not go unnoticed

(And just a quick note to my white sisters and brothers in Christ, when your body language changes around a person of color, we always notice).

Her eyes were trained to do the simple math of dark-skinned equal marked-sin.

But I noticed something interesting.

She never talked about African-Americans. She never mentioned slavery (thank God!)

In fact the only time she mentioned America was in relation to missions work in Africa or India.

That caught my attention. In America, how does one slow down and pay attention to racism’s roots?

I am of the belief that the history of American slavery was once of the most atrocious acts of human sin and evil to ever exist on earth. But this belief is rooted in one truth: African bodies were deemed enslavable.

So American and Caribbean slavery hinge on the fact that Africanness as an essence (of being non-white) deemed black bodies unhuman and worthy of treatment as such.

For rich white lady, something about Africanness is unsettling. Perhaps it is the contrast of skin tone, language, hair, food, family structure. But perhaps it is something else.

Perhaps it is religion.

But what makes African faith so scary to rich white woman from Indiana?

Perhaps what is ultimately and glaringly being exposed is the fact that there is another way of living life, which confronts the reality that her life might not be the only right way to live.

Her way of life comes into question if other peoples, other ways of life, other views about God may be right as well.

So to be clear, her issue is and is not one about faith.

For her being White-Christian is proper and correct. Being black-christian is still a phenomenon to her. But being black-religious or black-non-religious is entirely unfathomable and completely wrong.

The issue is that her faith has to be the right way of being. In her mind, her ontology is the only ontology there is. Everyone else is reaching for but is not quite nor will ever be, her. She is the God-man (shout out to Anselm!) or, excuse me, the God-woman.

Her being, her being a creature of God is in jeopardy if there is space for others to know God in their own way, through their own culture, on their own terms.

My colleague and I, “those people in India”, “those people in Uganda and Rwanda” etc. pose a threat to rich white lady’s omnipotence.

And the amazing thing is, her power is in her control: in feeling elevated because she gives money to Africa, that she loves reconciliation, that she can tell my colleague and I precisely who are the bad people in Africa, who are starting wars, and confidently tell us that American presence is necessary, because global pursuit of oil and precious stones really is not the problem – the lack of democracy is.

I am sure that she felt proud that she could enlighten the Africans at her table that Africans are Africa’s problem, Muslims are a threat, and that churches like hers need to help them.

Well, thank you ma’am! I had no idea!

I tried my best to offer my diplomatic (and fluffy) view of colonialism’s role in world affairs, but she brushed it off continuing to name other countries that she cared about but her church did not and how that saddened her.

It is safe to say that sad is the appropriate word here.

And scary.

It is especially scary because she considers herself the progressive one. She loves reconciliation efforts in North Carolina. She is the progressive racist with Christian prejudice and Enlightenment enlightenment.

But I hope that Durham, that this place can speak back to her that there is certainly more to faith and reality in general other than the fantasy going on in her mind.

I hope.

Until then, I think that I will attend as many of these dinners as I can, because they prove to me that I am not living in a fantasy world. Rich white lady proves that my interests and work to offer a rich account of African and African Diasporic theology is necessary.

But most importantly, conversations (of monologues) like last nights’ grant me an opportunity to offer gentle correction to a sister in Christ.

That is the hard yet amazing part. We are in the same body of Christ and I have to figure out how to be church with and to her. We all do!

I hope to speak out and correct her views. I hope to call out her eschatological racism where the already but not yet of Christ’s return has somehow become co-opted by a mentality that blackness has already been conquered but not yet destroyed.

Blackness is not something to be rescued from nor blamed, but celebrated as what God called good. I hope that she learns that God called everything God made very good. Including humanity, not just white people.

I think it is time for the body of Christ to grow a backbone or perhaps stand on the cornerstone and ask, especially people of power (who are not always just white) who claim to be serious about reconciliation or who affiliate themselves with organizations or spaces as such, why is reconciliation needed in the first place? What role do I play in diluting the goodness of God’s creation even now?

Until this accountability happens (and I mean really happens and is not just discussed about at a cool talk or amazing conference), I will attend as many of these dinners as I can and missionally minister to the rich white women of the South, Mid-West, North, West and Europe who also need salvation too – who need Jesus.

But I don’t think I’ll bug my church about starting a ministry for them just yet. Emphasis on yet.

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