A Lament on Embedded Racism: A Brief Reflection on the Resolution on Anti-Racism for the Covenant Mi
As a Covenant Minister, I was asked today by my conference superintendent to review and affirm my commitment to the Resolution on Anti-Racism passed at our Annual Meeting last June.
I have to confess that my mind was distracted by other matters at that meeting and that I failed to give this resolution the serious consideration it is due. I post it today, in edited format, as a way of meditating on what it has to say, of repenting of my initial inattention, and of bringing it before a larger audience at a cultural moment where its words seem especially pertinent.
My hope is that we as the "white"* Christian community in the United States would take seriously the issues of race that are before our nation at the dawn of summer 2020; would not let ourselves off the hook too readily; and would carefully avoid confusing our political loyalties with our biblical responsibility to pray for and fight for God's justice "on earth as it is in heaven." I invite you to read through these words carefully and prayerfully.
We white members of the Evangelical Covenant Church Ministerium, affirm the biblical call outlined in the 2008 Resolution on Racial Righteousness. Over a decade later, the structural and relational expressions of racism, racial bias, and white cultural dominance persist within our fellowship. We lament the ways we have maintained our cultural power while silencing colleagues of color.
Our behavior has divisive impact on the body of Christ as a whole and colleagues of color specifically and has taken various forms such as:
Centering our public discourse on white experience;
Diverting attention and resources away from racism and topics connected with racism, such as immigration, incarceration, and reconciliation;
Utilizing leaders of color selectively, for our own ends;
Not being aware of how both systemic and relational power imbalances specifically impact and threaten women of color from multiple sides;
Failing to help carry the particular work that women of color face in educational spaces, ministry contexts, the credentialing process, and positions of leadership;
Failing to have skin in the game on the particular sins of racism and cultural supremacy;
Assuming we are prepared to deal with immigration, mass incarceration, racial reconciliation, and other expressions of injustice before dealing with our institutional racism;
Taking up emotional space by centering our own pain;
Asserting that our spaces for public discourse are safe for people of color and other marginalized groups without actually hearing from them that they are safe;
Responding to public feedback on white cultural dominance with defensiveness, argumentativeness, silence, or opting out;
Complaining when invited to respond to problems that have not been our priorities;
Using our history selectively to determine which narratives can be used to set agendas and frame decisions;
Controlling narratives that support white superiority;
Defining respect, authority, and rules of engagement in ways that devalue constructive conflict, escalate hostility, and marginalize those from different cultural backgrounds;
Using secrecy, privacy, and culturally white communication styles to protect our cultural power;
Assuming that access to information and the ability to participate in public discourse is universal or equal;
Speaking in binary, either-or, all-or-nothing, and win/lose ways which obscures systemic issues and makes it difficult to understand the conflict clearly;
Protecting our own world view and failing to recognize its limits;
Pitting marginalized groups’ interests against one another.
For far too long our racism has made us lukewarm to the gospel imperative to pursue justice. We have allowed critical affairs of justice such as immigration, mass incarceration, and racial reconciliation to be perceived as merely secular issues, peripheral to our identity as the Body of Christ rather than central to Christian discipleship. By abdicating our responsibility, we have turned our backs to the lived realities and concerns of many of our brothers and sisters of color.
Our apathy and silence is a sin against God and our colleagues. It has damaged our witness. We therefore confess our racism and supremacy, asking forgiveness even as we commit to lives of repentance through the power of the Holy Spirit.
*I place the word "white" in quotation marks, recognizing that whiteness is a loosely defined category--a social construct that can be and has been harmful. In this context, it is simply a way of addressing, as Ta-Nehisi Coates would put it, "those who think themselves white." I include myself in that category, recognizing the limitations and biases implicit in the term.