Race Relations ministry staff is pleased that the Council of Delegates recently approved a new, temporary, US-only mandate for the CRC’s Race Relations ministry (see the entire new mandate below.) Before describing all these modifiers, I want to explain a particular word used in the new mandate, the word “racialized.”
The bullet points of the mandate describe a progression from envisioning intercultural conciliation to working to dismantle racism to experiencing biblical reconciliation. Along the way, the mandate says that we need to develop “greater awareness of racialized injustice.”
Why use “racialized injustice” instead of “racial injustice”, especially because the word “racial” is a more familiar term?
To understand the difference, we need to understand the origin of these two words. “Racial” is the adjective formed from the noun “race,” and “racialized” is the adjective formed from the verb “racialize.” That difference between a noun and a verb makes a deep and important point about the origins of what is commonly called “race” (that noun). The new mandate uses the word that comes from the verb.
The problem with the noun “race” is that its normal usage reflects a social construct that is not real. The noun “race,” when used to name differences between people based on external characteristics such as skin color, hair color and curliness, eyelid shape, etc., falsely divides people into separate groups, almost as if we were separate species.
The US census form, for example, asks people to specify their “race,” and gives people choices such as Black, White, Asian, and so on. These categories are socially created and do not reflect the kind of biological differences between individuals that the word “race” implies.
Humans do not comprise a variety of “races.” We humans are one race, the human race, made in the image of God, called to be fruitful, multiply, and steward creation. The new mandate avoids the adjective “racial” to avoid giving credence to the false notion that humans actually comprise separate “races.”
Instead, the new mandate refers to racialized injustice, using an adjective that comes from the verb “racialize.” Although we humans comprise one race, the human race, a long history of oppression of various groups of people based on external, physical characteristics has created distinctions among humans based on these externals. This social creation of race based on external characteristics resulted from a series of actions done by humans to humans. Though we comprise one human race, people over the centuries have racialized humans into separate categories as if “races” describe real and lasting differences among people.
Though we are one human race, this racialization of people has created real differences in the way people are treated. Statistics show that people of certain “races” enjoy clear advantages over others including better access to health care, employment opportunities, and housing; better treatment within the legal system; and much more. On the flip side, people of other “races” experience many disadvantages compared to people of other “races.”
The CRC formed the ministry of Race Relations 50 years ago because those advantages and disadvantages show up not only in society but within the church. Our own history is replete with examples of racist behaviors and decisions. The sin of racism continues within our denomination today. If we deny that racism affects policies and practices in the CRC nowadays, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8).
Although the whole of Scripture proclaims that we humans comprise one race made in God’s image, although the New Testament declares that in Christ there is “neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28),” we persist in advantaging some people over others and disadvantaging some over others based on differences of skin color and facial characteristics.
Racist behavior, policy, and practice has been and remains within the CRC. For this reason, Race Relations was created and continues our work today to help congregations, classes, and ministries dismantle racism and work toward the biblical vision that we are all one in Christ. The new mandate better reflects this vision of Race Relations work, that we work not as the ministry assigned to dismantle racism in the CRC, but we collaborate with all the assemblies and ministries of the CRC in this responsibility to which God calls all of us.
As to why this mandate is “temporary, US-only,” the CRC in Canada has created an important new position: Senior Leader for Anti-racism and Intercultural Conciliation, and has hired Pablo Kim Sun to serve the CRC in Canada in that role. This new position has been intentionally created to evolve based on input from Black, Indigenous, and People of Color throughout Canada, and has recently established an advisory team to assist in that effort.
This new work in Canada will require time, humility, wisdom and a great deal of input from many people as the work progresses. Because the work remains in progress, the new mandate for Race Relations is US-only, and considered temporary. Our hope will be that a new mandate for antiracism work in the US and in Canada can be ready for approval by Synod 2023.
Although the mandate for Race Relations is new, our work will continue within CRC churches, classes, and ministries by consulting, providing resources and workshops, and assisting the CRC in moving toward a more loving community in which we can engage with one another with the love with which Christ loves us.
RACE RELATIONS MANDATE
CRC Race Relations staff will create and provide effective and collaborative training programs and organize actions with congregation, classis, synod, and agency leaders to increase their commitment and competence in addressing racism. With the guidance of Scripture and in a commitment to living into God’s Diverse and Unified Family (Synod 1996), staff will seek opportunities to engage leadership and to field inquiries for collaborative learning programs and organizing actions that
envision intercultural conciliation throughout the CRCNA
mobilize congregants and staff members to help lead them into greater awareness of racialized injustice
engage them to stand against racism in their personal lives
work to dismantle racism in all its forms
experience true biblical reconciliation as a diverse and unified people of God. (Approved by the CRCNA U.S. Corporation Directors, October 15, 2021)