Throughout the history of the white church in America, when offered the choice to stand against division, it chooses to be complicit in maintaining racism. Large denominations within the American church have explicitly supported slavery while others were started on the basis of maintaining ordination as a slave-owner. Many white Christians still view those who made these decisions as heroes of the faith. It is painful when you realize that defenders and preachers of the Gospel such as Jonathan Edwards or George Whitefield were also staunch defenders of slavery and slave-owners themselves. Many sought to use Scripture to defend slavery and the idea that Black men and women were truly created as lesser than or had been cursed and brought lower than white people. Other well-known preachers, such as Billy Graham, upheld a system that disenfranchised and marginalized Black people by remaining silent when they had opportunities to take a stance against it.
Unfortunately, these are not facts taught throughout seminary. Students would have to discover these things on their own. Yet most white seminary students lack the understanding that their coursework isn't all-encompassing and therefore maintain and perpetuate the harm done by not knowing this information.
There are innumerable Biblical scholars and theologians of color to learn from and yet barely any of the required texts in seminary or Bible college include these important authors and Christian scholars. These key thinkers in the Church’s history are left out of the reading and lectures. Furthermore, there is a wonderful Black church tradition of Biblical interpreters who have much to offer by way of understanding God’s word in richer ways. Yet, the white majority often condemn these scholars for intending to read their own cultural lens or experience into the text as if white interpreters are not always doing the same thing. We all read from our own social context and to deny this about ourselves while simultaneously indicting people of color for this is to imply a belief that white people are closer to the text and culture of Scripture than Black people are, which is simply not true.
Many pastors are quick to say they or their congregations are not racist because they’ve defined racism as an individual hatred for another based on their skin tone. However, racism adapts. It is more systemic today, creating disparities and implicit biases that we don’t even recognize unless we intentionally reflect upon it. This plays itself out in a number of ways. It can be seen in the way a sermon is prepared, studied for, and applied. A good sermon begins with reflection on the intended audience of the sermon and is formed through deep study. However, most sermons portray a homogeneous community of research with which the pastor has consulted. There are many incredible theologians and Biblical scholars of color throughout history and alive today. Unfortunately, these are commonly not the voices that are quoted from the pulpit or who have influenced the message of the white pastor. Furthering this problem is that it results in myopic applications which fail to educate the congregation on diverse ethnicities and cultures and the unique problems which people of color face here in America. To top it all off, when a Black pastor might come in as a guest it is typically just expected for him/her to address racism, which fails to provide the congregation with the much-needed diverse perspective on any given text of Scripture.
Another way racism pervades the church is through how it addresses mission work. Typically the focus is primarily on going out to other nations and helping the Black people in Africa or the Latino/a people in regions of Latin America. This wholly fails to address and help those communities of color that have been impoverished financially, mentally, or emotionally by the systemic racism here in our country. People are hurting in our very own neighborhoods, cities, and churches, and it goes unaddressed because that would mean acknowledging and accepting we are part of the problem.
White Savior: Racism in the American Church (available on Hulu)
Pass the Mic (podcast)
Truth’s Table (podcast)
Jude 3 Project (podcast)
United? We Pray (podcast)
The Church Politics Podcast
Southside Rabbi (podcast)
The Disrupters: Change What Is (podcast)
Lord, we come before you and ask for your repentance from our ignorance, willful or not. We lament the injustice taking place within your Bride. We ask you to move quickly within the Church, removing obstacles from the path towards racial justice and conciliation between all who proclaim you as their savior. Please, Lord, breathe fresh life into those who are hurting and broken because of the church's lack of responsiveness to the cries of our Black and Brown brothers and sisters. So often the church has chosen to turn its back on those who are in pain and we declare that it stops now, that the enemy will no longer have a foothold within the church. Equip us, energize us, and lead us in this work. In Your Name, amen.