I'm beginning to believe that the racism topic is taboo for most Christians. White evangelicals predominantly refuse to have the conversation. Billy Graham spoke against engaging in antiracism: "Only when Christ comes again will the little white children of Alabama walk hand in hand with little black children."
While he spoke of the unity in Christ, he believed that addressing the “race problem” would become another flame out of control. Reformed folks are not too different. Rather than have conversation, pastors and leaders craft statements about racism. The CRCNA Synod of 2004 vision statement reads:
Because the Christian Reformed Church’s unity and diversity must mirror that of God; the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; the members and agencies of the Christian Reformed Church are called to be reconciled with one another as a community of racially and ethnically diverse people of God. It is the vision of the Christian Reformed Church to live out this calling by:
- Rejecting and resisting the practice and tolerance of racism in all its forms.
- Confessing that racism diminishes us all and putting into practice biblical principles of sharing insight, courage, access, power, and resources.
- Celebrating the image of God in all people of every race and culture.
"Rejecting and resisting the practice and tolerance of racism in all its forms" is a provocative statement. Social conditioning, however, blinds beliefs and assumptions of all but a few. The few being those seeking to uncover the bedrock of their racial bias. Unless people expose the underlying beliefs that inform cultural patterns, rejecting racism or the tolerance of it will be foreign at best and threatening at worst.
A church uniquely identified with one’s own culture transitioning toward diversity is often felt as harmful to community. If creating an anti-racism culture disrupts the cultural patterns that form community, why do it? The answer given by the CRCNA Synod of 2004 is that a community that is not antiracist does not mirror God. Jesus did not speak for the church to be at peace and not be anti racist. He was against the community that was unto itself.
Most people in the church would agree that racism diminishes us all. However, only those who are intentional in being antiracist see the benefit of sharing insight, courage, access, power, and resources. The practice is easier said than done. Church leadership at the local and denominational levels rarely create mutual space for overcoming racism when it comes to sharing decision making power and distribution of resources. Instead the opposite is common. Antiracism and justice budgets are the least funded and first cut. Leaders who are stewards of the dominant community create the norms and delegate power to those that will maintain cultural patterns.
An area of hope in many churches is celebrating the image of God in all people of every race and culture. Historically most Reformers and Reformed followers were of European descent. The face of being reformed on the web, in brochures, or expositors of Reformed World and Life have been for the most part Caucasians.
Many ethnic churches seeking to be reformed assimilated to the point of sacrificing cultural patterns. Rather than adapt cultural identity to a reformed identity, most minority ethnic congregations insisted on having the more somber services of the dominant reformed culture. Minority ethnic leaders felt compelled to mimic a Eurocentric worship style. That has changed and continues to change.
The face of the church in its communications is more diverse. Pastors no longer insist on emulating. Minority ethnic leaders embrace both being reformed and celebrating their cultural identity. The preacher’s delivery is more charismatic, congregants more responsive. Worship services include testimony, hymns, and gospel songs. An increasing number of leaders are casting vision not just for their ethnic group but for being a reformed church in a North American context.
Moving antiracism forward depends on the commitment and support of key leadership in every part of the church. The first step is to clarify the 2004 Christian Reformed Synod mandate. For Race Relations to take initiative for training, programs, and actions would assume the Office of Race Relations has the power to take initiative.
Currently results on the mandate vary depending on commitment and vision of individual leaders in agencies and congregations. Pastors rarely articulate a vision that stands against racism. Lay leaders either disregard or are uninformed of the need for integrating antiracism into their ministry. When a church member “gets it” they are on the margins of congregational life or cast out. Unless pastors and church leaders embrace this vision, addressing any racial injustice in the church will be very foreign or even taboo. The onus for the mandate has to be closer to the leadership who has power to initiate.
Race Relations staff along with ministry partners and volunteer facilitators have the background and knowledge of resources. The Office of Race Relations is committed to the vision of antiracism because it mirrors God.
Where to start? It starts with leadership. Commit yourself and the leadership of the church to this vision. Take time to have the conversation and don’t dismiss anyone’s concerns or fears. Conversation helps people discover their blind spots.
Once you have made a commitment to move this vision forward, you will want a road map. This is where Race Relations staff, ministry partners, and even local groups could advise. However, you know your church and your community and it will be up to you to decide the training and actions you will take. I pray that this article will spur you on to good works and not be a spur in your saddle.