An anti-racist church
Practically speaking, I think of my church as being an anti-racist one. This is who we are. We are not fully there yet, but we are working on it. Here are some of the ways we are doing this, writes Gerard Goshawk
In Romans 6, Paul asks: “How can we who died to sin go on living in it?”
I think he had a great handle on how we can get stuck in our sin. We know what we shouldn’t be doing, but we still find ourselves doing the bad stuff, as Paul himself goes on to confess. We bear this in mind in the way that we exist as churches and individual Christians who are opposed to sin and who encourage and enable each other to defeat sin. We acknowledge our sinfulness.
And, there is this really big sin called racism. It goes against the word of God and the very nature and practice of Jesus.
It is an institutional thing and individual too. It can be subtle and it can be blatant. Racism ticks all of the “sin boxes”. This is why we need to take it very, very seriously as an endemic sin.
I believe wholeheartedly that just as we might view our churches as being “anti-sin”, we should logically also be anti-racist.
One of the ideas that has gained momentum since the murder of George Floyd is that silence and inaction are not just inadequate but actually harmful in the face of racism. So, all churches must be anti-racist. No matter the make-up of the church.
Being a diverse and inclusive community of believers is good, and that’s how I often describe my church; but it is a step up from this to be anti-racist: definitely and quite clearly opposed to the sin of racism in the way that we do church together.
Practically speaking, I think of my church as being an anti-racist one. This is who we are. We are not fully there yet, but we are working on it. Here are some of the ways we are doing this.
We talk about race. We acknowledge the experience of racism. Speaking about racism is woven into our services and activities: not every time, nor every sentence, but as part of the reality that we share.
We provide spaces where we can talk about race and racism. Since George Floyd’s murder we have had regular Racial Justice Prayer Meetings where we have not only prayed together but shared experiences and learnt from each other. For many years we have marked Black History Month and made the most of this as a time for people to talk with honesty about issues from the past and the present.
With other local churches we have held Truth to Tell sessions, a forum for Black and White people to come together to listen and to learn.
We challenge racism. When things are said, when incidents occur, these are tackled, with a proportionate level of sensitivity, but tackled they are. Sometimes this is about a very public incident that has happened. Sometimes it is in those “White spaces” where there is the low level racism of people saying “they do this…” or when something bad has occurred and the skin colour of the perpetrator is highlighted.
We create a climate where there is no room for racism. Paul, (again), in Philippians speaks of filling our minds with good things so there is no room for the bad thoughts that will prevent us from knowing the peace that Jesus brings.
In the same way we fill our church with a positive, inclusive, anti-racist culture that means there is no room for anything that goes against this. We should do this with any form of sin, but this is specifically about the powerful and entrenched way of sinning that is racism.
How might we do all this? Well, there is the aforementioned speaking and challenging.
We promote and work at being inclusive across the board. We intentionally, until it becomes natural, seek out and form relationships with Black and Brown people and people who are on board with being anti-racist. We model behaviour and relationships in such a positive way that new and existing people get to see that this is how things work here.
There is also something about the sharing of the treasures of our different cultures and what happens when we mix it all up. When we put a White person and a Black person together to work on some church activity, I love seeing how the White person’s racist attitudes and assumptions are undermined and relationships are strengthened.
We have had some White people who don’t like all of this and they have left. Sadly, this “White-flight” is inevitable. Some people can’t handle being challenged about their sin. But we have also seen White people change, bit by bit.
We work at it. It is a continual process and it takes effort. It means thinking through the implications of what we do, how we do it and who does it. Questions like: Who is on this team? Who is leading? Why aren’t there any Black people involved?
One time we set up a pastoral care team and all the members on it (apart from me) were Black people. A White person in the church queried this with me. They had never asked the same question about any of our teams that had been all-White. I pointed this out.
We call ourselves an anti-racist church. Well, actually, we don’t. But we need to.
If we call ourselves an anti-racist church, we will live out that title. Naming is important. Declaring our identity is powerful. Wouldn’t it be good for Baptists Together to declare the same? We are an anti-racist denomination!
Gerard Goshawk is minister of Six Ways Baptist Church in Erdington, Birmingham
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