3 Different Responses to Racism By The Church
The names of Ahmaud Arbery and, more recently, George Floyd have been circulating in the news and in social media of late. What do these two have in common?
Both were unarmed African Americans, both were killed by white assailants, and both of their deaths were filmed and posted to social media. Arbery was jogging when he was shot and killed by a father and son who suspected him of theft. Floyd was killed by a police officer who was filmed placing his knee onto his neck for almost 9 minutes over an alleged fraud valued at $20.
Their senseless deaths (particularly that of George Floyd) have provoked nationwide outrage, with some protests leading to violent acts of their own.
How should the church respond to all this? Since the North American church is predominantly white , many of us are on a learning curve when it comes to racism and the responses can typically be narrowed down to three types: denial, indifference and change.
Perhaps you don’t feel like racism is an issue. Since it doesn’t affect your daily life, then why bother dealing with it? Perhaps you live in a predominantly white community, where it’s “out of sight, out of mind”.
Distancing oneself from the reality of racism does not eliminate the problem, it exacerbates it. Such an attitude exposes the truth behind white privilege.
Understanding “White Privilege”
White privilege means that there are inherent advantages to being white in a society characterized by racism and injustice; and such privilege is often taken for granted. White privilege means that a white shopper is less likely to be followed around by a store clerk than a black shopper.
It means that a white employee is more likely to get a promotion over his/her black colleague with similar credentials. It means a white driver is less likely to be pulled over by a cop than a black driver.
Ultimately, white privilege means that a white suspect is less likely to be killed by the police than a black suspect. Does this mean that white people can’t face hardships? Of course not.
White privilege simply means that, in our society, there are considerable advantages to being white than there are in being black. Once we can accept this truth, we can begin a conversation about race.
Indifference acknowledges that there is a racism problem but that it’s somebody else’s problem. Many white people feel that, just because they have some black friends or because they have never used the n-word, then they’re off the hook. If you’re Canadian, as I am, perhaps you think that systemic racism is only a problem in the U.S.
Is God colorblind?
One of the phrases we use to dismiss the notion of our part in racism is by claiming to be colorblind. While well intentioned, Scripture reminds us that God isn’t colorblind; He is the Author of this diversity.
The apostle John testified of seeing “a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands” (Rev. 7:9). Instead of avoiding the topic of diversity, we must embrace it as the heavenly vision describes it.
How do we respond to “Black Lives Matter”?
When confronted with the slogan, “Black Lives Matter”, the impulse is to respond “All Lives Matter”. But is this really the right response? Of course, all lives matter but to ignore the disproportional amount of black victims of police violence is to deny the facts. One has said, “all lives will not matter until black lives matter”.
The church is quick to condemn antisemitism when Jewish people are persecuted, and rightly so. I reckon we would be more accepting of a “Jewish Lives Matter” slogan because we understand it in its proper context. Such a slogan would serve to highlight the fact that Jews have been targeted for persecution through the ages.
We recognize that the Holocaust of the last century is a historical fact resulting in 6,000,000 Jewish lives being extinguished. So, my question is, why are some of us still offended by the phrase, “Black Lives Matter”? For African Americans, the institution of slavery was their Holocaust, the effects of which have lingered to this day. Are we sensitive to the black experience or are we indifferent to it?
The church’s response toward racism, which I feel to be the most appropriate, should be to acknowledge that there is a problem, that it’s our problem, and that we need to change. Here are some things we can do to promote change:
- Listen: It’s time to stop lecturing our black friends about their own experiences. Rather, it’s time for us to listen to them and take them seriously when they tell us that there is a problem.
- Learn: Even if you live in a predominantly white community, that alone doesn’t prevent you from learning about the black experience. Online resources and books about African Americans are not just for Black History Month; they’re relevant at all times.
- Lend your support: If your church is looking for a cause to support, why not research a cause that serves to advance minorities? While there are many worthy causes in overseas missions, there are plenty of needs on the home front as well.
In conclusion, we haven’t begun to scratch the surface when it comes to confronting racism. It’s a process, and I’m still learning. But if we are committed to saying that Christ died for all (2 Cor. 5:15), are we then committed to serving all for whom Christ died?