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Monday, March 5, 2012

They Will Know We Are Christians

Too often, communities of color find it difficult to differentiate between white Christians and white non-Christians when it comes to issues of racial justice. In his co-authored book More Than Equals, Spencer Perkins observes that:
Book cover: More Than Equals. Picture of authors Spencer Perkins and Chris RiceWhite Christians’ decisions to choose the comfort of their own race over the Christian ideals of brotherhood and oneness that our gospel so boldly preaches have undoubtedly weakened their witness to the African-American community.

His convicting statement reflects the reality that, in racialized debate, people of color feel they cannot count on their white Christian sisters and brothers to have their back.

Too often in moments of racial controversy, the white Christian response to those hurt by such events has been either muted, late, or nonexistent, leaving the marginalized to wonder if our sermons about unity and diversity were just for show. True, some folks may take a stand, but often they act (and are perceived) as individuals, rather than as representatives of Christ and his Church. As a body of believers, we distance ourselves from controversy, and we fail to manifest Christ’s love in solidarity. At our worst, white Christians add to the voices second-guessing the cries of racism.

Tshirt: "They will know we are Christians by our t-shirts"
Yet we know from scripture that we are to “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression,” and “to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke” (Isaiah 1:1758:6). If we are to be the Body of Christ, we have to understand that the reconciliation for which our souls long cannot come without the justice that our racial brokenness requires.

After all, isn’t that the miracle of Christ? That “we have now been justified by his blood” (Romans 5:9), as a gift from God “who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18). In his death and resurrection, Jesus accomplished both perfect reconciliation and perfect justice, both of which are necessary for the redemption of a broken world.

So too must we achieve reconciliation through acknowledging racial injustice, followed by action against it. This means going beyond proclamations of unity and community, and gaining a willingness to bear with each other’s burdens.

"They will know we are Christians by our doctrine [crossed out], by our love.White Christians can start by educating ourselves about the issues important to our sisters and brothers of color. Listen. Don’t argue, don’t try to refute. Begin to un-train the years of learned biases. Grow churches that are places of sanctuary, where all can be confident that their voices will be heard and their concerns will not be dismissed.

Once we commit to educating ourselves and bearing with each other, we then must become active agents of change in our communities. We become the first to speak up against injustice and ignorance. We initiate partnerships, and support the efforts of racial reconciliation initiatives already in place. We show up, we participate, and we make our voices heard.

Book cover of Kingdom ComeAnd then we will be different. Then we will bear witness to the power of Christ for justice and reconciliation in today’s world.

In his book Kingdom Come, Allen Wakabayashi asserts, “the world needs to see that our faith really does make a difference for life, especially as we deal with some of the most vexing social struggles, like race, gender, and class suppression.”

As we go through our daily lives, are we living the witness of Christ when it comes to racial justice and reconciliation?

Do we bear the same fruit as the rest of the world or are we different?

Do they know we are Christians?


  1. I would have to substitute making places of worship more comfortable for "people of color" to "people who are marginalized." One person of color might be more successful at ingratiating into the system than someone who is white. Should their voice be heard more than the one who is hurting? What about others who are marginalized that aren't poc like people with mental health problems or the poor or the widows? I know this blog focuses on racial injustice and what Christians should do about it BUT there's also a whole wide spectrum of inequality that extends past the lines of color as well and one shouldn't be focused on one issue to the exclusion of all else. So where does it end? How do you pick and choose who to help and if some people are more dedicated to helping the homeless but feel that focusing on racial inequality isn't something they can handle, what then? Just some thoughts. :)

  2. You're right! The Church should most certainly be a place of sanctuary for all those who are marginalized. As you mention, this happens to be a blog about race, so I focus my writing on that. But that certain doesn't exclude the need for other reforms! I'm am glad there are people passionate about other issues--one person cannot do it all. In point of fact, there are many different axises/demographics along which folks can be underprivileged or feel marginalized, and the existence of one does not negate or belittle another. One person may even identify with multiple such group. Thus, these are not mutually exclusive goals and all remain important. 

  3. Another great post. At the Anti-Racism training I attended several weeks ago, they suggested that a "just system" that is multi-cultural needs to afford poc of leadersthip veto-power. This is one [hard] example of how to go beyond proclamations of unity. 1. Education. 2. Become active allies. On #2 I confess I recently let a friend down in this department. Her invitation was not even perceived by me as an invitation to be an ally. So an important #3 and #4 are Relationship/Partnership, and then a Cycle of Action/Reflection. You have to keep doign these over and again, keep learning, keep becoming, keep relating, repeat as needed.

  4. Good thoughts! The veto-power bit is an important one--but really hard, I'm sure. Great practical example!

    Even before tackling that, many churches need to simply work on the make up of their leadership. I see far too many churches (including aspects of my own) that want to do good work for justice but fail to reflect their goals within their own leadership, leaving a 'white savior' after-taste. Often there may be one or two POC leaders, but always ultimately under a main white pastor/church board/CEO etc. 

    Gaining diverse leadership means intentionally training, supporting, building up, and then submitting to POC leadership. Sometimes it even means white folks actively stepping down from leadership roles, while maintaining solid support for new leaders, in order to create space for the new leadership to thrive and change the shape of a congregation's attitudes. 

    It's a tricky dynamic that can be uncomfortable to navigate. It's something I have been giving a lot of thought to lately in my own church, both for the those 'higher up' than I, and for my own leadership roles. Not sure what the best solution is sometimes. 

  5. Perhaps this is more directly related to the *WHITE SAVIOR* entry, but I would argue that those of us who are white reconcilers need to watch our pride when talking to our more physical, achievement oriented white peers. Speaking for myself and only for myself, I was outsider in a macho american mainstream. I was intellectual and artsy, and any time I got to help other people, I felt more worthwhile. I've noticed sometimes that speaking up gave me the feeling of being more cultured, even subtle smug superiority to my white peers who still espoused the color blind ideology. Maybe they do need to learn, but we, the reconcilers, might be holding the unjust system in place if we need to have a gold-star-on-my-homework feeling every time we speak up for what SHOULD be a given, anyway!What if we are in the way of pocs AND our white, color-blind peers?

  6. Important points, all! The 'gold star' phenomenon is well worth it's own post sometime...also, 'responsible white allyship'


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By Their Strange Fruit by Katelin H is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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