Is Your Church Truly Anti-Racist?
Dr. Monetta Bailey is Associate Professor of Sociology at Ambrose University
May 6 2020, the world saw footage of Ahmad Albury’s murder. May 25, 2020, a video surfaced of a white woman, Amy Cooper needlessly calling the police in feigned hysteria over Christian Cooper, a Black man (no relation). May 25, 2020…George Floyd.
Two months after going into shut-down due to a global pandemic, we are now faced with the reality of a pandemic that has gripped the world for centuries. What does this mean for Canada?
When critical race theorists speak about racism we begin with the recognition that racism is overwhelmingly ordinary. Think about this, thus far this year in Canada we have seen national anti-Indigenous racism during the Wet'suwet'en protests, anti-Asian racism in response to COVID-19 and now the reality of anti-Black racism. Racism sits as an ever existing backdrop upon which the dominant group draws and galvanizes to their benefit. WHERE IS THE CHURCH POSITIONED?
The Sunday after George Floyd’s murder I read a tweet from a pastor stating that he was tired of the “If my pastor doesn’t preach about ‘X’ on Sunday, I’m leaving my church” sentiments. I’m a PK so I get the pressure pastors face to deliver a sermon that moves mountains. However, as a Black woman I also know the feeling of listening to a sermon that is tone deaf to my reality. It makes me feel invisible. It erases my Blackness because “We are all created in the image of God”. It erases me.
Things for your church to consider.
Churches must be truly anti-racist: All institutions, including churches, need to be explicit about their anti-racist message. It is not enough to say you are supportive of racial diversity or that you don’t see race. Colourblindness as a practice maintains the status quo of racial domination. Search your policies, your doctrine, your preaching. How explicitly anti-racist are they? How explicitly supportive of racial diversity are they? Research shows that people will orient to guiding principles in their organizations and societies, if there is no strong and definitive statement that you are anti-racist, then the racism that prevails in our society will be the guiding principle of your church.
Individuals must focus on their actions: Definitions of racism no longer focus on the intention of the actor but rather the impact of the action. Yes, this means that you can be racist without meaning to, and yes without knowing it. Any act, committed by a person who is afforded racial dominance by a society, which then contributes to the further domination of one race over another, is racist. Many people don’t like this because we like to think that our intentions are all that matter. You need to STOP and consider the impact of your actions.
Churches must engage in difficult conversations about racism with humility: Abolitionist Frederick Douglass was known for supporting “public discourses” on slavery, publicly speaking about the atrocities of slavery as a tool to abolish it. Without public discourse the norm of slavery or racism persist unchallenged. Public discourse can include formal conversations, or even taking to social media or other forums to publically state where you stand. Centuries of direct and indirect racial dominance have influenced how we perceive members of racialized groups. To combat this we have to be intentional about the images, the words, and the discourses that we put into the public. People often critique “social media warriors” but research shows that language, words and public discourse all matter. So yes, those tweets from celebrates actually contribute to social change. So GET TWEETING.
Conversations about change must be led by racialized people: For centuries whiteness has been equated with “raceless”. Whiteness has been established as the norm while race has been “assigned” to others. Now that we are talking about racism, whiteness cannot lead the conversation. Conversations on race reconciliation require everyone, but they must be led by racialized people. Hopefully these people are also leaders in your church.
If you don’t have a racialized friend, this is a problem! Find one! Be intentional about this. Find a racialized friend with whom you can converse, preferably someone with a very different world view than yours.
What happens next?
The truth is that, much like with COVID-19, no one knows where this will end. But we must do the work and pray deeply for a more just new normal.
United Church of Canada - Although we believe that God is found in our common diversity, the sin of racism is present in our society and in our church.
Canadian Council of Churches - The Canadian Ecumenical Anti-Racism Network has taken up the challenge of resourcing and accompanying communities of faith in their journey toward truth and reconciliation.
Christian Reformed Church - ORR Canada offers contextualized resources to resource and support churches and ministries in the work of racial reconciliation in Canada.
Seeing Race Again: Countering Colorblindness across the Disciplines
Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Luke Charles Harris, Daniel Martinez HoSang, and George Lipsitz (2019).
Beyond Hospitality: Migration, Multiculturalism and the Church
Charles A. Cook, Lauren Goldbeck & Lorajoy Tira-Dimangondayao,