In this moment, many white congregations are trying to figure out how they can better be supportive of brothers and sisters of color. When congregations reflect this moment we often hear what we need is friendships with people of other ethnicities and integrating our churches.
David Swanson, however, has a different starting point, namely, rediscipling the white church. He argues persuasively that the white church as been discipled into a racial discipleship. What this means is that white Christians have been taught a way of life that sees the white race and its ways as best and sees all other ways as inferior. Being discipled in this way creates biases in white Christians that cause them to be separated from other Christians in ways that damage everyone. Swanson writes,
“White Christianity has been blind to the powerful racial discipleship that has formed the imaginations of white Christians.”
Because of this reality the first step toward reconciliation is rediscipling white Christians into the ways of the kingdom of God. The heart of racial reconciliation is discipleship.
Swanson, following the lead of Jamie Smith (and Augustine), points out that we are what we love, therefore, white Christian need to be led to love the fullness of God’s kingdom. This is a kingdom in which the dividing walls of hostility have been broken down and in which people from every language, nation, tribe and tongue worship at the throne of God. The way white Christians will be led to love the fullness of the kingdom is by robust habit-shaping practices. These practices must take into account the reality that most white Christians don’t see how they’ve been discipled into racism.
Swanson spends a good deal of time in laying out these practices— which are mostly communal in nature contra the individualistic nature of most discipleship in white churches.
Overall the book is a powerful statement on the central place of discipleship in reshaping the church.
Because of the focus on discipleship there is not a lot of history on the white church and its role in promoting and sustaining racism. Two books that can help in understanding that important piece of the story are The Color of Compromise and Healing Racial Trauma.