In a recent episode of ChurchPulse Weekly, returning podcast guest Nona Jones—Head of Faith-Based Partnerships at Facebook, author, speaker, co-pastor at Open Door Ministries (Gainesville, FL) and founder of Faith & Prejudice—joins Carey Nieuwhof and David Kinnaman to discuss white Christians’ apathy toward racial justice, the keys to having meaningful conversations about systemic racism and how to stay energized while pursuing equality.
On Facing Apathy & Defensiveness
Barna president David Kinnaman opens the conversation with data from Barna’s recently released report, Beyond Diversity. Past data collected for this project show that, by and large, white practicing Christians are far less likely than their Black brothers and sisters in Christ to say the United States has a race problem. In light of this and in acknowledgment of the lived experiences of Black Americans, Kinnaman shares data from Barna’s upcoming report, Trends in the Black Church, which shows Black adults’ affinity for the Black Church, with over two-thirds with some level of affiliation saying “being associated with a Black church is comforting because it is a place where Black people have control over their lives.” This number grows to 80 percent among churchgoers who attend a historically Black church.
Responding first to the data on the Black Church, Jones shares, “I was not surprised by [this data.] When you understand the historical context out of which the Black Church emerged, it would make sense that people of color would feel safe and empowered in spaces that are filled with people who look like them.”
On white and Black Christians’ differing perspectives on racial inequality in America, Jones quotes Amos 3:3: “Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?” She states, “That fundamental disagreement is very problematic.”
What has been surprising for Nona is the apathy and defensiveness often expressed by white Christians when conversations of systemic racism or racial justice arise. She says, “If people only knew, they’d have to take action; because that’s what the Christian ethos is about. Faith with works—that’s what we believe. And yet, what has happened on the flip side is that people have said it’s not about justice, it’s about casting your cares on Jesus … I think that ends up being a very passive type of faith.”
On Creating Space for Meaningful Conversations
Data from Beyond Diversity show that, when asked how they can individually help improve race dynamics in our nation, practicing Christians offer “by building friendships with people outside of my racial group” (70%), “by teaching that the Bible encourages special kindness to marginalized groups” (34%) and “by supporting the economic thriving of people of color” (34%). Jones and the team at Faith & Prejudice are helping to improve race relations and bring awareness to systemic injustice by creating space for open conversations on social media.
However, conversations around faith and race in America can be heated and divisive. In order to have meaningful and loving conversations around these topics, Jones and her team focus on asking questions rather than pointing fingers.
“[We] try to ask questions. I think part of where we fail is we’re so quick to make statements and share data, that I’ve actually told my team, ‘Do not go point, counterpoint, point, counterpoint. Ask the person why they believe that and how they got to that place.’ … Let’s just start there, and have a conversation about it.”
On Staying Energized in the Fight for Racial Justice
When asked by Nieuwhof how she finds the energy to stay engaged in these conversations, Jones shares a vision God gave her back in November of 2020 when she felt like she didn’t have to sustain the work to which she’d been called.
“God gave me this vision and said to me, ‘If you were driving down a busy highway, and you saw a blind person standing on the side of the road with their cane, and you saw they were about to step onto the highway, what would you do?’ And I said, ‘I’d pull over and help them.’ He said, ‘Exactly. Help my people because they are blind; they cannot see. I’ve called you to this work.’”
“When he gave me that vision,” Jones continues, “I said, ‘But Lord, this is exhausting. And he said, ‘That’s why I called you, because you cannot do this in your own power.” Jones goes on to share how she sees the battle for equality and justice, a topic that divides not just our nation but also the Christian Church in America, as spiritual warfare. She adds, “The easy route is to not get involved, and you can have a nice easy life but the problems with that is, there’s going to come a day when we’re all going to stand in front of the judgment seat of Christ and we’re all going to have to give an account of what we did.”
Jones concludes, “That’s what keeps me on my toes. When I stand before Christ, I want God to say, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. I know you’re exhausted, but you stayed the course and fought the good fight.’”
To read more Barna reporting on Race and the Church, check out:
- Beyond Diversity (use promo code ChurchPulse15 to get a discount on your purchase)
- Trends in the Black Church
- Race Today briefing excerpt on Barna.com or the full briefing on Barna Access Plus
- Past ChurchPulse Weekly interviews on Race and the Church (A Call to Action Part 1 and Part 2 with Nicole Martin and Albert Tate; Derwin Gray and Darryn Scheske on race, Bryan Lorrits on racial reconciliation)
- Black Practicing Christians Are Twice as Likely as Their White Peers to See a Race Problem
- Barna’s perspective on Race and the Church
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About the Research
Beyond Diversity data: This multi-faceted research study involved multiple phases of data collection in 2019 and 2020.
Qualitative research: Focus group interviews were conducted with 200 individuals from 20 churches and five cities. Group types covered men and women and multiple races, with the goal of examining the extensive diversity of peoples. Additional leader interviews were conducted with 67 leaders and experts and 68 church staff members from three churches.
Quantitative research: This study of 2,889 U.S. adults was conducted online between July 19 and August 5, 2019, via a national consumer panel. The survey over-sampled practicing Christians and Black, Asian and Hispanic adults. Statistical weighting has been applied in order to maximize representation by age, gender, ethnicity, education and region. The margin of error is plus or minus 1.9 points at a 95 percent confidence interval.
In 2020, Barna (in partnership with Dynata) repeated some questions in a survey of 1,525 U.S. adults conducted online between June 18 and July 6, 2020, via a national consumer panel. The survey over-sampled Black, Asian and Hispanic adults. Statistical weighting has been applied in order to maximize representation by age, gender, ethnicity, education and region. The margin of error is plus or minus 1.8 points at a 95 percent confidence interval.
Trends in the Black Church data: Any effort to capture a political snapshot of the “Black Church” is complicated due to the theological and denominational diversity that characterizes Black churches in the U.S., not to mention the many other ways individual congregants may differ. There is not a “Black Church;” rather, there are Black churches. Furthermore, common categories (i.e., conservative, moderate, liberal) commonly used in polling may only offer limited insight into a wide array of ideologies (i.e., Black nationalism, Black feminism, liberal integrationism).
2020 data: Online survey of 1,083 U.S. Black adults, plus 822 Black Church churchgoers, conducted April 22–May 6, 2020. The sample error is plus or minus 2.3 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.
Practicing Christians identify as Christian, agree strongly that faith is very important in their lives and have attended church within the past month.
Featured image by Duncan Shaffer on Unsplash.
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
© Barna Group, 2021