If we treat the work of justice like a one-off formation event, or only consider content, we will miss out on the transformative work of being anti-racist churches.
The church is called to resist injustice and work against racism. As many churches and ministers have become more attentive to issues of racial justice and the movement for black lives, we look for next steps in addressing our institutional racism. Perhaps you’ve started parish book clubs or found guest speakers to boost awareness around racial justice. If we treat this work of justice like a one-off formation event, or only consider content, we will miss out on the transformative work of being anti-racist churches. These four principles move beyond content to our methods, and can orient our programs, formation, and worship toward antiracist practice.
Point to BIPOC Wisdom
(BIPOC is an acronym for Black, Indigenous, People of Color, and indicates those groups of people while acknowledging that not all people of color share the same history, identities, or experiences)
Writer Ijeoma Oluo says that something is about race if a person of color says it is about race, so when it comes to developing language and understanding around issues of racial justice, defer to the expertise and experience of BIPOC folks as the primary authority. This doesn’t mean that white people never speak, write, or have insight for antiracism, but that our voices are not the final authority.
As you learn and then bring your growth into your ministry, attribute appropriately to the folks who are forming you.
Are you preaching with insight you learned from Wil Gafney’s Womanist Midrash? Tell your listeners her name, direct them to her books, explain why you appreciate her insights and considerations of gender and race!
Have you been influenced in your leadership of small group prayer by the mysticism of Howard Thurman? Take time to share a bit of his story and leadership with your groups.
Are you writing an article about white antiracist ministry principles for Building Faith? Include the person who taught you the importance of practicing attribution: Latinx writer and theologian Prisca Dorcas Monica Rodríguez, founder of Latina Rebels.
Tell the Truth
We can’t grow or change ourselves or the culture and social conditions of racism if we’re living in untruths about our personal and communal histories, about privilege and power, or about not seeing race.
What’s the story of your church’s racial history? What’s the story of your family, your neighborhood, your city around race? Whether you’re proud of a multiracial and liberating heritage or struggling with a legacy of slavery and segregation, our stories shape us. Find your history. Study it. Face it. Tell it. Learn how Memorial Episcopal Church in Baltimore did just that in this Building Faith webinar.
Christianity in the United States of America holds social power and privilege. White people and majority-white churches hold social power and privilege. We have to learn about these terms and their concrete realities. When we know and tell the truth about how this works in our communities, we start to be more responsible with our power and privilege, lift up others’ voices, and understand and address more complex situations of harm and healing.
A well-meaning sentiment, particularly among white people, is “I don’t see color.” This claim not to see is a way of not telling the whole story of our communities and not acknowledging others’ identities and stories.
If you’re new to this work and process, or don’t always know the answer, tell the truth about that, too.
Embody Your Learning
Romans 12:2 tells us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. As we increase our formation and education around antiracism, let’s not forget that true renewal of our minds, true formation and learning, should transform all of us.
Use embodied practices, such as those in the work of Resmaa Menakem, and spiritual practices that build emotional intelligence, like the wisdom and practice of angel Kyodo williams, to increase racial resilience in your community. As white and multiracial congregations increase their tolerance for discomfort through grounding in these practices, they will be better prepared for the struggle and ambiguity of antiracist justice and healing work.
Live out your antiracism learning through activism and addressing the social conditions of racialized harm. What are the movements for racial justice in your community and how can you support them? Begin to bring an antiracism lens and language to your existing parish outreach work.
As you grow in knowledge, encourage and model the practice of standing up against racism in both interpersonal interactions and public policies.
Commit to the Process
Dr. Catherine Meeks, founder of the Absalom Jones Center in Atlanta, Georgia, frames her work in terms of racial healing, and speaks and writes often about the need for commitment in the ongoing work of change and healing. Antiracism takes healing, because we have been taught that a broken system is normal, and need to repair and renew every aspect of our spirits and society. It takes commitment because it is a long process and work, and we must set our hearts and communities toward the work long after the heated moment of response to incidence of racial violence or the flashy pilot of a new program.
One book study is not the completion of our antiracist work. One article, sermon, or conversation does not complete this call. As you study and learn from the wisdom of BIPOC, as you tell the truth about racism and your community, and as you embody your transformative learning, know that antiracist practices of repentance, confession, justice, healing, forgiveness, and formation are the work of a lifetime.
The Rev. Claire Brown is an Episcopal priest, writer, partner, and mama living in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Claire is the co-author of Keep Watch with Me: An Advent Reader for Peacemakers, a diverse collaboration of stories, reflections, prayers, and spiritual practices to sustain and challenge the faith of those who work for justice and peace. She blogs at revclairebrown.com about parenthood, embodiment, theology, and the church.