So I recently wrote this thing. I was sitting at a beach, steaming from all that was unfolding in Ferguson. I said some things. Things I stand by. But I also included a list. A list of what individuals who are tired of easy answers can do. I also stand by my list which came from the inspiring decisions my friends have made to change their lives. But in my emotional state, I made a mistake. I made a list that was highly individualistic and didn't talk at all about what churches could do as a body to respond to racial injustice. So, I'm back to fix that.
This too will not be an exhaustive list. Sadly, there is so much work to be done, I'd have to write a series of books to name everything that we have to work on as a Church. So this list is just what has been churning in my head and heart. I pray that it serves as a good starting place, a match that the Holy Spirit might strike.
1. Study with honesty and integrity the history of your church from a social perspective. Admit if your church body has always been centered on whiteness. Admit that it ignored racial tensions of the [insert decade here]. Admit when whiteness failed AND how that effected communities of color. That second part is really important. Its not enough to pretend that your choices as a church existed in a vacuum. Your choices as a church effected people. Families of color didn't feel safe coming to you. Multiracial families were isolated in your church. Your church members didn't allow a shelter to be built. You were so busy running the food pantry, you didn't vote for wage increases that could have helped every family who comes. Your members moved when people of color started to arrive. People of color are regularly pulled over on the way to your church because its so racially isolated, and your church has done nothing about it. I don't know your story as a church, but you should. Confess the ways your church has promoted whiteness and then move to confessing how that impacted the rest of God's Church.
2. Stop talking around the racial realities that your church is already involved with. You have homelessness ministries, food pantries, prison ministries, after school programming and more. Some of them you have had for decades. You consume books on how to improve the ministry, how to be better, how to stretch those dollars further, how to be of help to those who partake of the services. And yet you cannot recite one statistic on the racial injustice therein. What is the connection between urban renewal, the displacement of African Americans and their overrepresentation in shelters? You should know that. Why are there food desserts in black and brown neighborhoods that force folks to come to your food pantry? You should know that. How are laws constructed and enforced that allow for the gross overrepresentation of black and latino people in the criminal justice system? You should know that. What accounts for the lack of after school programming in under resourced communities? You should know that. Become an expert. Trace how these institutions, policies, and laws have changed over time, how they effect the lives of the people you serve. Its time to stop patting ourselves on the back for having these services; we need to start figuring out what injustice has occurred that makes them necessary in the first place.
3. Racial reconciliation can't be talked about once a year during MLK. Your church is committed to teaching the Word of God, right? Do you only do that once a year? Your church is committed to prayer, right? Do you only pray when a tragedy happens in the congregation? Your church is committed to families, right? Do you only talk about families once at Christmas time? If you are only talking about racial reconciliation during MLK and perhaps if a national tragedy takes place, your church may be interested in racial reconciliation, but it is not committed. Racial reconciliation must become a consistent part of your conversation as a Church; otherwise its not going to happen. If you need some examples for how churches are making this a sustained conversation check out: Quest Church, Church of All Nations, Willow Chicago, River City Community Church, and Bridgeway Church. I'm sure there are others I am forgetting; find the ones in your area for inspiration. But don't be afraid to carve your own way. Your steps may be different based on your responses to #1 and #2. What I can assure you, is none of these churches sacrifice prayer or Scripture, or family picnics to give space to racial justice and reconciliation. Its just a part of who they are.
Again, this is not a complete list by any means. Its only three suggestions. But I hope my point is clear. If you are tired of injustice (not tired of your feelings when injustice occurs), your Church can choose to be different. Your Church body is absolutely capable of making the world better. But you must decide whether or not you get a small high from reciting all your service projects. You must decide whether or not you enjoy being the savior for families or if you want them to never have to come back your pantry ever again. You have to decide if you're ready for confession and the repentance that confession will require. You have to decide if discussing reconciliation will be your church's hobby or if practicing reconciliation will be your legacy.