Posts tagged ally
Break the Silence

I need to start this by saying, it is not for everyone. In this season where so many people at different stages in understanding racial injustice are asking, "what should I do?" the answers must be given with care. This post is for those who are not surprised but disheartened at the no-indictment decisions and the police response to Ferguson. This is for those who have been studying quietly and developing cross-racial relationships intentionally. If you are new to the conversation, this is not your time to lead but to listen. I have a different post coming for you.

To those of you who have been fearful to speak, its time to break the silence.  

By Andy Miah [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Andy Miah [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Its time for churches across the country to break the silence on racism and racial injustice. There are many who have chosen the way of silence, believing it to be an apolitical stance. Except that we all know the truth. We all know that silence is a political tool used to plead ignorance or plan avoidance. In this moment in history, there are many tools made available to you, and silence is certainly one of them, but I encourage you to smash silence into pieces. 

If you believe that racism and injustice are not sitting in your churches, indicting your credibility as a witness of God, you are sadly mistaken. If you have ever heard one story about injustice. If you have ever had one complaint from a person of color. If you have ever been  in a meeting and heard one insensitive joke, heard one racial stereotype, heard one racial slur, heard one inappropriate comment- than you have work to do. Silence cannot be an option for you. 

If you proclaim to believe that we are all created in the Imago Dei, you must break the silence. If you say you believe we are all brother and sister in Christ then you cannot hold back. If you believe that we are all one body and when one body suffers- we all suffer, then you must break the silence. If you profess love as a defining characteristic of your body, prove it. Prove that you love all people. Prove that black lives matter. Your silence speaks more than you realize. 

The other side of silence is scary. I know. Because silence once broken gives opportunity for the hearts of people to be revealed. Anger. Hatred. Frustration. Confusion. Grief. Hurt. Fear. Bitterness. Outrage. If these come pouring out, you must then know they were sitting in the room the entire time. You must know that if this is what leaks across the floor when silence was broken, then Outrage was already sitting in the pews, Frustration was teaching the class, Hatred was baptizing the people. Your silence doesn't make these things disappear- only keeps it hidden, keeps it protected, keeps it festering. We must smash silence to let these loose and let understanding in. 

Silence must be broken, never to recover because your one sermon will fix nothing. Racism and racial injustice has been a problem for centuries. Silence must be broken so hard that no one can put back together the pieces. We must remain committed to giving voice. We must remain vigilant in our storytelling. We must remain absolute in our commitment to watch, to see, to hear, to unpack, to learn. This is not a one-time event. This is not a check list. This is a structural change to the way your church operates.

Silence must be broken so that action can break forth. If we won't talk about it, how will we fix it?  Smash the silence with protesting. Smash the silence with advocacy. Smash the silence by speaking truth to power. Smash the silence in your services, in your classrooms, on social media. Silence never breeds hope. If you will be a place of hope for our families, a place of hope for our children, a place of hope for the future, a place of hope for tomorrow- you cannot remain silent. 

There are many who have chosen silence in our nation's past. There were those who chose to be silent during abolition. There were those who chose to be silent during civil rights. You would certainly not be alone in choosing this way of being- but is that the company you want to keep? Or will you chose to join the company of the outraged, the grieving, the defiant, the hopeful that things can and will change. Will you choose to stand for oppressed? Will the world outpace you, Church, in declaring the human dignity of all? 

There are black churches who can lead the way- who are skilled in protesting, understand community building, and preach regularly on the affirmation of human dignity. Why would you recreate the wheel? For too long you've thought of yourselves is little independent bodies, functioning more like business trying to retain customers than a unified body of believers. Its time to break the silence between our churches. 

What does the Lord require of you? Can you do justice silently? Can you love mercy silently? Does your humility require silence in any other area of your life? 

Break the silence as pastors and teachers. Break the silence as lawyers and journalists. Break the silence as counselors and doctors. Break the silence as artists and innovators. Break the silence as students and professors. Break the silence wherever you are, using the influence you have, employing the gifts you possess. Break the silence on racism and racial injustice. 

In our Bible, the Divine regularly requires that we give voice. Regularly. Will you break the silence?

Top 10: Conversation Deflections

Recently, my friend Grace Sandra wrote a risky article for CT on the vulnerabilities faced by black women. In it she discusses the links between her personal experiences, current events and statistics. Grace explains how this trifecta weighs on her personally, and by extension other black women as well. She ends by requesting that the Church not shy away from but instead engages the hearts of black women who feel as weighed down as she.

Sounds simple right? It rarely is. Unfortunately for many people attempting to speak truth to power, sharing our hearts on these issues (not just theories, but how they make us FEEL) is always risky. Sometimes those listening engage well, but we always know there is a chance things will fall apart. It doesn't always matter what the justice issue is- mass incarceration, education, immigration, or in this case racial justice- there is always a risk that our hearts will leave as broken as when we came.

I use Grace's recent experience as a backdrop 1. because the article is good and you should read it. 2. because the comments section managed to use ten of the most common deflections known to racial reconcilers. If it wasn't so frustrating, it would be amazing. So I thought it might be helpful to make a Top 10 List for those who are new and perhaps frustrated by how quickly these conversations can devolve.  

10. "No, it's a different -ism… " 

More than one -ism can exist in any given situation. Your denial that racism was present in the story I am telling you is insulting my experience and my intelligence. It might not be wise to assume you are the most learned in an -ism that you don't experience. 

9. "My singular experiences trump your lifetime of experiences."

Its really nice that you work in the 'hood, attend a church with some black people, learned Spanish, travelled to an underresourced community, have an Asian friend etc. Yeah, no. Your short-term experiences will never "trump" my lifetime of experiences.  Additionally, if none of these experiences have opened your eyes to the realities of racism, you're not paying attention. So you should probably listen to these stories. It will make you a better friend. 

8. "Why aren't you listening to me?"

This comes in numerous forms: Shouldn't we all be heard? Why doesn't my voice matter? We're tired of listening to {insert race} people. Haven't we talked about this enough? No matter the form, this is an attempt to silence people of color and exert power to control the conversation. Resist the desire to control. A conversation is going to be the easiest form of releasing power; if you can't do that, you will have little success doing so in systems, structures and interpersonal relationships.  

7. "You're feelings aren't valid until I'm convinced the cause of those feelings is just."

Ouch. This can often be an incredibly painful response for someone who is sharing the pain of their lives. If I said, "I had a bad day today," and continued to express what happened, would you judge whether or not my experiences legitimately add up to a bad day? Would you pick apart what you think valid and what is not? Would you dare tell me that you don't think my bad day is valid and walk away? Why is greater grace given to a single bad day than a lifetime of struggling against racism?  You don't get to be the judge and jury over anyone's feelings. Stop picking apart people's stories. 

6. "But what about what this other black person said?"

Newsflash: We are not all the same. We are allowed to have varied experiences, perspectives, and ideas. And we trust that you can take them all in. If you are basing everything you believe about race on one person, thats a problem. You should be quiet and take in a few more perspectives. 

5. "Scripture, Scripture, Scripture… All clear now?" 

Ummm, can we stop assuming that people of color haven't already reconciled their ideas, experiences, and studies of racism with the Bible? Please don't try to fix me with Scripture when I'm busy trying to fix a broken world. 

4. "History is not tied to today's problems"

Yes. It is. History matters, including slavery which is what most folks mean when they want to dismiss history. Racism wasn't created in a vacuum. It was constructed and you would do well to know how, when, and why. This information leads to all the ways race has then been reconstructed over time until today. 

3. "But others have it worse"

The fact that other people have been/are being oppressed isnt a good reason to stop having the conversation about this particular oppression. And it certainly doesn't dismiss it or make it okay. People of color are generally well aware of the different forms oppression has taken throughout history. We could probably school you on some of the connections between them, but lets be honest. You're not trying to dive deeper, you are trying to dismiss. Stop. Focus on this oppression. We can talk about the others later, if you can have this conversation well. 

2. Hyper focus on a micro-issue 

This may be one of the most effective tools for derailing a conversation. Hyper focusing on a minor example, story, or media event has the ability to shift the conversation into a fight over arguable specifics instead of connecting the dots between multiple forms of racism.   

1. You're making me feel bad; make it stop.

Ultimately, most of the above responses are an attempt to guard against feelings of guilt, shame, sadness, frustration, anger and helplessness. Even when there is nothing accusatory spoken, just the race conversation- the retelling of painful stories- is enough to elicit an emotional response. Rather than let the emotions live, it is quite common for participants to resist. 

Now, I am sure there are more, but I hope this is a good starting place. Before I close, I would like to offer another thought. Just sit in it. I know its hard. I know its uncomfortable. I know there is a lot of emotion. I am having feels. You are having feels. But it will be okay. Just join me in the pain, muck, mire. Don't resist it. Let down your defenses. Pull up a seat and be witness, be a friend. 

Finally, I would like to acknowledge Grace, Brenna, Kathy, and others who chose to engage specifically in the convo that inspired this post. Despite the refusal of some to just sit in the pain being expressed in the article, it was incredibly encouraging to see these women tag team responses. You should also check out their responses in the comments section. It was beautiful and encouraging the way they encouraged folks to return to Grace's words.  

*For more on participating in race conversations well, check out this post by Emily Maynardthis one by Esther Emery, and this one by Christena Cleveland. Can you tell I just keep adding? Okay, I'm done now.*  



Look up the word ally in the Merriam Webster dictionary online, and you will find this definition, "to unite or form a connection between". That's not a terrible definition for this post, but I want to clarify what I mean a little more. Every reconciler attempting to move an institution towards a change in policies, systems, and structures will need some allies. It is quite natural for the institution to buck against change. There is always too much room to be known as the "the-one-who-is-never-satisfied" or "the-one-who-is-not-a-team-player" or "the-one-who-always-points-out-what-we're-doing-wrong". When that happens, you will need some allies!

Allies are the people who will stand with you when the excitement is gone, when MLK Day is over, when its time to speak truth to power. Your allies are the people who will ask the hard questions, will advocate when you're not in the room, will carry on this work even if you leave. Your allies are the people who stand with you because they, too, are committed to racial reconciliation within the Church- that is your connection, that is where you find unity. 

In my work, I have discovered that it's best to have allies in three key areas. 

#1. You need an Ally of Influence.  In small churches this might be the pastor, the pastor's spouse, or the worship director, whoever has a great amount of influence in the church. But it doesn't have to be those traditional visionaries. I worked with a Christian university in the Midwest where the best ally of their Multicultural Director was the Chief Finance Officer; you can imagine how that position of influence was a powerful ally! Someone responsible for directing the mission and vision of your church must be united in this work with you. 

#2. You need Allies of Peers. This work is not meant to be done alone. Whether formal or informal, you need a team of people who walk this journey with you. They can be fellow staff members, congregation members, church volunteers, or community leaders. It is imperative that you share the work of reconciliation with others. It is essential to your mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. It is also vital for strategizing and implementing a plan to move the church forward; that is not work you should be doing alone. 

#3. You need an Ally of Guidance. Important note... this should be someone who knows the organization but is outside the organization. When you truly start to challenge the culture of your church, it will be necessary for you to have an outside voice that provides mentorship, coaching, and prayer when things get sticky. You will sometimes be too close to the issues to clearly identify them or think of creative ways to tackle them. Your guide, your mentor will be able to offer you perspective that can be increasingly difficult to grasp the longer you are in the trenches. Your mentor can also remind you of who you are when you get weary, and you will get weary. 

The hard thing about identifying your allies, is that it can take a long time for them to appear. After all, we live in an age where it is not very popular to be against diversity! So, there will at first appear to be a number of allies, proponents and supporters of your work. Be prayerful and discerning. If possible, bring friends with you on the journey- people who have proven themselves committed to racial reconciliation and have a shared vision for your church.

Having allies in these key positions will help ensure that you have the sustainability necessary to be an effective agent of change. 


Austin Brownally, communityComment