Racial Conversations and the Church
Over the last week or so, a couple of opportunities have presented themselves to engage in conversations that are sometimes challenging. Racial conversations often seem weighty and we fear offending or hurting one another. There is so much to learn as we open ourselves up, form relationships and engage in dialogue. If we can’t have honest and grace-filled conversations around race in the church, where can we have them?
Rev. Tom Greener convenes a group that meets monthly to look at some of the narrative experience of African-Americans through a reading group facilitated by Dr. Joy J. Moore, assistant professor of preaching and director of African-American Studies at Fuller Seminary. Last week we looked at Richard Wright’s Native Son and struggled with the world-view of some of the characters in the story and tried to understand what may have shaped the way these fictional characters made certain decisions. Most (if not all) of us engaged in the conversation had grown up with a very different background and set of experiences and we wrestled with how things sometimes come to be.
Another conversation followed the screening of a Racial Taboo documentary with a group of old and new friends as the first step in planning a Racial Taboo Event. Those of us who gathered included a mix of people from my predominately white congregation, new friends from a predominately black congregation and old and new friends from a multi-cultural young adult congregation that meets on NC State University’s campus. The documentary stirred emotions and challenged us and some were more willing to talk about it than others. We left the room committed to work together to plan a Racial Taboo event to include our three congregations and beyond, hoping to provide an opportunity for relationships to form and dialogue to begin.
The bottom line is this – there are issues that challenge and sometimes divide us all around, and there must be a place for dialogue with an openness to learn from the perspective of one another. The church needs to provide an environment for such discussions to take place, with ground rules established for healthy, balanced and grace-filled conversation. And if we (as middle age and older adults) don’t think these conversations are necessary for ourselves, we owe it to our youth and young adults, because studies and experience show that they want to be a part of a church that is relevant to conversation, followed by action, surrounding justice issues. (Sort of reminds me of a guy I’ve heard about named John Wesley!)
In his new book America’s Original Sin, Jim Wallis boldly states “When racism is tolerated, the reconciling work of Christ on the cross is contradicted.” Racial tension in our country is heightened. The church has been slow to respond as old patterns of white privilege collide with the changing demographics of a diverse nation, but we should be helping to lead the way in conversation, potentially followed by action as we feel led, for racial justice. Let us seek opportunities to do just that.
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