“You have heard it said, ‘Whatever you do unto the least of these,
you do unto me.’
I’m a white guy who has been working through my lack of understanding of systemic racism over the last twenty years or so. While I have engaged and taught on injustice, reconciliation, and all “ism” themes through the years, my depth of understanding was insufficient compared to the realities of life for so many people of color. I have needed to stay engaged by doing the hard work of continual learning. I wrote previously about being complicit, complacent, convicted, and confused in an earlier post. I won’t rehash those thoughts here, what I’d like to do is offer some materials for you to begin doing your hard work of seeing the need for race equity. My journey has lead to repentance, listening, and doing more work. While the list isn’t exhaustive, it is a good starting point.
Glenn Harris, the President of ‘The Center For Social Inclusion’ notes that racism affects us all when he states:
“Racial equity is about applying justice and a little bit of common sense to a system that’s been out of balance. When a system is out of balance, people of color feel the impacts most acutely, but, to be clear, an imbalanced system makes all of us pay.”
I was one of many in the energy-filled room for an organic neighborhood church conference in Seattle several years ago. One of the speakers was Dr. Christina Cleveland, and she was speaking on her book “Disunity In Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces That Keep Us Apart.” Christina was a powerful and compelling speaker. As I began entering into her words, stories, and images, I hadn’t consciously connected how racial reconciliation and church planting might be linked. I left that day with a renewed conviction. I bought her book, and my journey of awakening went to the next, more rooted level.
Previously, I would have been one of those who said, “I see all colors the same because Jesus has called me to love everyone regardless of skin color.” Or, to put it another way, “I’m color-blind, I treat everyone the same.” While there is some truth to that, the whole “colorblindness” is part of the problem as well. My journey has caused me to see and celebrate skin color because our skin color creates a lived experience and tells the story of generations.
In actuality, being “colorblind” continues systemic injustice towards people of color. When I acknowledge color, I recognize a real human story, a tangible experience, a reality that our neighbors of diverse ethnicities encounter every day, and their stories are heartbreaking.
But, once you see, you can’t ever unsee.
As I began to grasp the more significant, accurate picture, I knew I had two choices. I could decide to live for justice and inclusion, or I could play it safe and try to keep everyone happy. I chose the former because the truth of the latter will leave us blind and numb to the plight of our brothers and sisters of color, and that is not the Gospel Jesus proclaimed. A Gospel devoid of social justice implications is a truncated Gospel at best, a half-Gospel that continues the generational curse rather than inaugurating generational blessings. I long to be prophetic, not political.
If you are a white person, and especially if you are a white pastor, it is time to do your homework. It’s your responsibility to educate yourself on these issues. Please don’t expect those who have experienced the boot of systemic injustice to try to teach you, that is not their job.
Let me list some things you can do to begin this journey, as well as some great resources to consider. There are many more books than the ones that I have read (I am still in the process), so if you have some that have impacted your life, please post them in the comments.
Things You Can Do:
1. Read books that make you squirm.
2. Watch documentaries and films that make you uncomfortable.
3. Shut down racist tirades by your friends, family & co-workers.
4. Share what you’re learning with the people you know.
5. Listen to the voices of People of Color without diminishing their story.
6. Let the lament of people of color become your lament.
7. Do life with POC, not as projects but as friends.
8. Start a discussion group using any of the resources I will list.
9. Speak out, show up, and say no to the status quo.
10. Never stop learning.
11. Repent and confess the bigotry and racism that you begin to see in your life.
Learning to “see what you don’t see” is an uncomfortable process. You will lose many of the illusions with which you have lived. Your pre-suppositions and pre-understandings will shake to the core. But lean into the disruption anyway, it will benefit us all.
As we begin to see every person as Jesus in disguise, as divine image-bearers, we will fulfill Jesus’ commands of the high ethic of love and Micah’s prophetic vision revealing how God desires we live:
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”Micah 6:8 (NIV)
Some of the Books, Documentaries & Films I have learned from:
These titles are an excellent starting point. I would appreciate hearing what resources have helped you grow in your understanding. Please leave your suggestions in the comments below.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Archbishop Desmond Tutu:
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”