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The Church Will Never End Racism by Ignoring It

Race and its progeny – prejudice, racism and stereotypes – are the elephants in our pews.

It’s a jungle in here on Sunday mornings and more than a tight squeeze as we attempt to lift our hands in worship, to fold our hands in prayer, to grab the hand of our neighbor in fellowship.

Let’s be honest. They are not visitors but members of the church in North America.

Disregarding our attempts at colorblindness, we can see that this is not working. Still, we gave them all the right hand of fellowship the moment we accepted a new creation narrative: “In the beginning, God created white people and then, beige, brown, black, red and yellow people.”

Yes, this is the way that the race story goes, and we are its narrators, its co-creators. Race comes from our mouths. Race is the covenant that we have made with each other – not God. It begins, “Only my people are God’s people.”

It is the word we have fashioned with our own tongues and made fact by our decision to treat each other accordingly. It is the way we choose to perceive people and consequently, certain places in the world.

It is the way that we choose to know each other, its categories help us keep track of where people belong or are expected to be if only for our self-serving purposes.

And it is antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ, in whom we are made one body, one people and one nation.

No race card. No race baiting. Race and racism are a part of our personal theology and its practice.

We hear it in our reading of Scripture and its interpretation: “Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as wool” (Isaiah 1:18). And in our singing: “Jesus loves the little children / all the children of the world / red and yellow, black and white.”

But, this is not how Jesus loves us; this is how we love each other.

Most obvious, the social construct of race informs and influences our fellowship. Buses and schools, water fountains and restaurants, hospitals and even cemeteries have all been integrated, but, not the church.

Our willingness to see persons created by God as somehow lesser or greater than based on the social coloring of skin is the issue.

Race is the word we made flesh. White is the color we have deified and those who are identified as such are made socially righteousness.

This is good news in the U.S., which should not be confused with the message of the coming kingdom of God.

Persons labeled socially colored – beige, brown, black, red and yellow – have no chance of experiencing this kind of salvation; there is no deliverance for them. They are subjected to seemingly endless abuse, aggression and assault.

And no matter how many times it happens, this narrative asserts that it is their body’s fault. No body else’s.

We have to take responsibility now. With countless video recordings of racial profiling, harassment, false arrests and even death, we have to change the story of the Good Samaritan.

True to the parable, this generation assumes that the church will not get involved. See no evil.

But, there is much that we can do. I do not offer three steps to a more inclusive church, seven steps to a multicultural ministry or 12 steps to a race-less church.

The moves are not so easy as they must ensure that we all get there together because we are not as far along in our conversations about the social construct of race as we thought or had hoped to be.

No local church is doing it right until the church universal rights its wrongs concerning race.

So, let’s start from the beginning.

Rather than race introducing us to ourselves and to each other, we need to learn more about race, where it comes from, what it does and how it predetermines our relationships with others. Not simply repeating after its prejudices, we must question them.

Rather than continue to pretend that race does not exist or claim that we are all a part of one human race, let us accept that it does exist and that it does not help us.

Then and only then can we deal with the meaning of its reality and its implications in our practice of discipleship.

Because we must also interrogate ourselves, asking, “What would the Lord have us to do about race and racism? How am I complicit in the compromise of Christian community formation? What of my sight needs to change for me to see persons across cultures as my brothers and sisters?” And then listen for a response.

Let us begin. Say, “Hello, Racism.”

Starlette Thomas is interim pastor of Village Baptist Church in Bowie, Maryland, and minister to empower congregations at the D.C. Baptist Convention. Her writings also appear her blog, Race-less Gospel, and you can follow her on Twitter @racelessgospel.

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series focused on racism and the local church.

Previous articles in the series are:

Recognizing Hidden Racism’s Grip on Our Society by Ryon Price

When Will Churches Begin to Reflect Racial Diversity? by Timothy Peoples

Engaged Advocacy: Working Together for Racial Justice by Stephen K. Reeves

Starlette Thomas

Starlette Thomas is interim pastor of Village Baptist Church in Bowie, Maryland, and minister to empower congregations at the D.C. Baptist Convention.