Common Ground, Hard Truths & Next Steps: A Panel on Racial Justice
In recent weeks, the United States has seen a significant rise in both peaceful demonstrations and contentious riots as people across the nation demand justice for the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other black Americans. How can Christians across the country be ministers of peace and reconciliation in a time of unrest and injustice? Are some chasms too wide and some differences too stark?
At Barna, as David Kinnaman shared recently, we believe research is one tool that, at the least, can help us see someone else’s point of view. One recent example comes from Where Do We Go from Here?, a 2019 report assessing our nation’s reputation of racism, both past and present drawing from recent data as well as commentary from a panel of expert voices in the space of racial justice. Below, we’ve compiled some of their insights into into how churches and individuals can work toward equality in our country.
What terminology, approaches or callings can Christians agree upon in pursuing racial justice, regardless of political ideology or affiliation?
“We start from our initial bond in Jesus. Yes, there are hard things that must be said. The reason we can deal with these hard things is because God has already dealt with the hardest thing: our sin. All of it. In the context of God’s grace, we must engage in truly open and constructive conversation. But there must be awareness and sensitivity for conversations to be productive. There are different roles in the conversation for the community that has done the wrong and the community that has been wronged. –Rev. Dr. Eric Mason, Founder & Pastor of Epiphany Fellowship Church (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
“The starting place is biblical unity in the body of Christ. Society in general plays by a different set of rules. But we have a theological foundation we can work from. Now, we have to share the view that a problem does exist, or we can’t begin, but our theological framework gives us room to try to find a place to begin.” –Dr. Mark E. Strong, Senior Pastor of Life Change Church (Portland, Oregon)
What are some practical ways that pastors and churches can confront racism or mitigate inequality?
“I believe the place we should always begin is education… As you become educated, you will see the myriad practical ways white supremacy continues to negatively impact people of color and communities of color in America. There are conditions, such as, mass incarceration, voter suppression, housing inequality, unsafe drinking water, health inequalities, police brutality, etc. that pastors and churches can target for service and advocacy. Pastors should lead their congregations in partnering with organizations that are already working in these areas, instituting programs that consistently meet physical and other needs of those impacted, and / or developing ways to actively engage the sources of these injustices through nonviolent direct actions.” –Nicola A. Menzie, Religion Reporter, Founder of Faithfully Magazine
“The Bible, Genesis to Revelation, is about relationship. With God, and with one another. We need to foster organic relationships, to eat and talk, to facilitate real opportunities for people to connect. There needs to be preparation and groundwork for that. Most people today don’t have the relational tools to have meaningful friendships with people who are different than they are.” – Dr. Mark E. Strong, Senior Pastor of Life Change Church (Portland, Oregon)
How do you see the concept of white privilege—its absence or its presence—influence your own life or career?
“Being white in America means having a lot of ‘bubble wrap’ over your life that insulates you from feeling pain. If I have lived my whole life in this wrap and suddenly I’m exposed to the truth about what happened on the west coast of Africa, the trafficking of human beings to the United States or the lynchings and institutional injustice that happened in our country, that is traumatic; it’s easier to look away. It’s hard to come to grips with the fact that there are forces in our lives that have protected us, many of which are invisible to us and operate on our behalf without our ever asking them to. But those forces don’t work in the same way for our black or brown neighbors.” –Andy Crouch, Partner for Theology & Culture at Praxis
“Part of coming to terms with our culture’s racial realities is becoming able to recognize the ways in which, through no fault of their own, some people have received a benefit, and how through no fault of their own, others received a burden… Just one example: At 15 years old, my daughter was made to feel as if she did not belong—in a condo where she has lived longer than those who looked at her as if she didn’t belong. I told her, ‘This is not about you. This is about them.’ That’s vital to understand. There is a tendency to internalize these experiences in a way that diminishes self. I wanted her to understand this is not about her being of lesser value. This is about something deficient in that person. I wanted her to see that not every white person will treat her the way that person did. In situations like that, we must not allow bitterness to fester in our hearts, but have the courage and strength to forgive.” –Bishop Claude Alexander, Senior Pastor of The Park Church (Charlotte, North Carolina)
What should the Church’s next steps be?
“We need the repentance that comes with spiritual revival. When God’s people gather in prevailing, humble, united, Kingdom-centered prayer that seeks the exaltation of Christ alone and shows forth in an outpouring of love towards others, unity, peace and the advancement of the gospel in the world are its fruit. Starting from a place of weakness and defeat is a good beginning. The theology of being and doing Church as a reconciling, beloved community is not too hard to see and understand. But it is impossible to apply. We need a gospel greater than our sin. Only when the gospel of Jesus Christ becomes bigger than our cultural comforts and idols, only when his call to being spiritually and visibly united in the world is greater than our cultural controls, pride, anger and offenses, only then, according to Jesus, will the world know he was sent. Our unity that Christ accomplished on the cross is a miracle the world longs to behold.” –Rev. Dr. Craig Garriott, Executive Director of Baltimore Antioch Leadership Movement, Dean of Church Planting & Urban Missions at Metro Baltimore Seminary
“The Church plays a pertinent role in helping its congregants grapple with what most of the general population already agrees on regarding America’s history of slavery. The years of racial segregation that followed aided a nation in its mistreatment of populations of color. This legacy is still being felt across the country. What happens in the larger construct of our nation must also have ripples within the microcosm of the Church. Pastors and church leaders have a responsibility and the opportunity to restore the image of a loving God within their communities—a God who shows compassion for the vulnerable and is always near to the brokenhearted.” –Dr. Heather Thompson Day, Associate Professor of Communication at Colorado Christian University