This week we’re continuing to lean into the work of antiracism that as a church we committed to in our most recent Map. Our proverb says that “We will do what it takes to be an anti-racist, diverse community that represents the new humanity,” but this remains aspirational for us. Especially as a majority white church, we cannot move from racism to antiracism without a lot of work in between. Professor Ibram X. Kendi says that “…the heartbeat of racism is denial, and really the heartbeat of antiracism is confession.” This week’s prayers are rooted in confession of the ways we remain entrenched in white supremacy culture. Our God is loving and ready not only to forgive, but to equip us to do better. Lord, hear our prayer.
Today’s Bible reading
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have. Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”
More thoughts for meditation
Our prayer this week has been focused on acknowledging our complicity in white supremacy, and as a majority-white church, doing the work of confession and repentance. A popular tweet recently expressed the shift we’re trying to make:
“One of the problems is that slavery is taught as the history of Black people and not the history of white people.”
We both want to acknowledge the history of European-Americans as racist oppressors, and see the throughline that connects us to that history in the present day. To name white-skinned people as racist oppressors feels painful, and it should. It is an onerous legacy. To see how that onerous legacy continues to shape the present day and produce benefits for European-Americans is even more painful, and that is as it should be too. It’s natural to want to avoid that pain, but we must not. There’s too much at stake, for even as we talk about the emotional pain white people experience in confronting our racist past and present, BIPOC continue to be oppressed by white supremacy, suffering tangible harm. That harm, let us remember, is seen in the racial wealth gap, in vast disparities in educational outcomes, housing access, healthcare, life expectancy, and so much more. So we must not center white pain, but we do need to experience it enough to prod us to action.
It perhaps goes without saying that one of the biggest legacies of slavery is the exploitation of BIPOC labor. We see this obviously in the “peculiar institution” of chattel slavery, but if we’re learning anything about white supremacy it’s that when confronted with enough resistance to a particular expression of it, that expression may not endure in the same way, but the oppression at the heart of it does. So chattel slavery became sharecropping, Jim Crow, and the prison-industrial complex, to name a few. Racism adapted to create the educational gap and force disproportionate amounts of BIPOC into low-wage jobs that lacked healthcare. These systems work to perpetuate these inequities down through the generations so that generational poverty is one of the many injustices we’re now confronted with.
The “rot” of this inequality goes all the way to the core of the American “tree.” Enslaved persons literally built not only the White House, but the wall for which Wall Street is named. According to Living Cities:
Policies, laws and practices have conferred advantages and disadvantages along racial lines—including in education, jobs, housing, public infrastructure and health. As a result, racial disparities exist across all indicators of success. Median Black household income in 2017 was $38,183 while the median white household income was $61,363—a gap of $23,180. Data from the Urban Institute showed that, in 2016, median white household wealth was $171,000 compared to median Black household wealth of $17,409.
For a thorough and devastating interactive timeline of 5 centuries of the racial wealth gap from Living Cities, go here. As Jesus-followers, it is incumbent upon us to resist this particular facet of white supremacy. We’re called to resist all of it, of course, but one of the hardest truths about the exploitation of BIPOC labor and the racial wealth gap is that white Christians have it within their (ill-gotten) power to do much to change this. If every white Christian kept a budget that included reparations, for example, we could provide definitive relief and take tangible steps toward reducing some of the harm caused by white supremacy.
It goes deeper than that, though. One of the ways in which BIPOC labor continues to be exploited among us is seen in how hard we make our BIPOC siblings work to stay in covenant with us. By meeting the heartfelt expression of BIPOC pain with defensiveness and retrenchment; by countering the accounts of harm caused within our church by white supremacy with debates about definitions and deflection of responsibility; by refusing to acknowledge or be aware of power dynamics in relational difficulties; the list could go on and on, but in all these ways we force BIPOC to work extra hard just to be with us. And the truth is that the ongoing presence of BIPOC among us is nothing short of a herculean labor of love on their part. There is a whole movement of Black folks leaving predominantly white or multiethnic churches in which they are not appreciated, loved, and valued for who they are. As The Witness puts it:
To #LeaveLOUD is to tell our stories, to name things for what they are, to take back the dignity we’ve lost while being in institutions that don’t value the fullness of the image of God within us, and to go where we are celebrated and not just tolerated.
If we want to be a community in which BIPOC are celebrated and not just tolerated and in which their dignity is affirmed and esteemed, we must act- quickly.
Suggestions for action
Explore some of the stories that The Witness (link just above) chronicles. Look for commonalities you may find in them with our own community. What can we learn from these stories? Pray that God will give us the courage to bear witness to BIPOC pain, and the will to act in response to it. In Circle of Hope we have a compassion team dedicated to just such action, Circle Mobilizing Because Black Lives Matter. They also produce a podcast, Color Correction. Take time to listen to the stories they tell. Pray about how you might support them, and then reach out to offer that support. Read this recent piece written by our pastor Jonny about his personal experience of racism, including racism in the church. We’re always becoming the next Circle of Hope as we learn, grow, and change. Ask God for the wisdom and strength necessary to create the next version of our church and let it be one in which we reduce the harm BIPOC experience among us. Let us hear their pain without defensiveness. Let us stop debating whether we should be antiracist or not and get to work doing it. Let us be aware of racist power dynamics in our relationships and work to subvert them. God is with us in all this. Let us pray that we can continue to become a community in which BIPOC can be fully with us as equal partners too.