The racial silence of white churches

Across the U.S., protests over police shootings, excessive force or related incidents against Black individuals, like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor or Jason Blake, are amplifying the conversation on racial discrimination. Americans are reflecting on the racial tensions that coexist in the American system and mentality, particularly their place in white churches. The Public Relations Research Institute revealed in 2018 that over 60% of white Christians believe that recent killings of Black individuals are isolated incidents.

Christian churches are a predominant sector facing backlash for not effectively addressing the situation. Although churches reference racism and diversity, the result is not yielding enough substantial changes and drawing in harsh criticism from inside and outside the community. The avoidance of the topic in churches originates from their awareness of its uncomfortably charged energy in rallying discussions.

Moreover, subtle racial tensions are evident in the predominantly white congregations that attend Evangelical, Catholic or Mainline churches, while ethnic churches tend to focus themselves on their specific minority group. Cases of churches achieving a multiethnic population in their congregations should be celebrated, but the spectrum of these unique cases are minuscule to the predominantly white populations in churches. It is not for a lack of trying that produces these predominantly white churches, but the lack of diversity that is reflected in their communities. Unfortunately, the introduction of minorities produces a wave of unsettling tension or belittling desire for these individuals.

Aaliyah Maurice, sophomore psychology major, spoke of her experience. “It always made me feel isolated … [and] it didn’t feel godly,” she said, regarding being one of the few biracial individuals at her former church. She recalled memories of Christian kids making racial jokes, expecting everyone to laugh but forgetting her African American and Italian heritage. Such sentiments continued until the issue was directly addressed to the church leaders.

Over the past few decades, church leaders have kept mostly quiet about the topic of racial injustice due to the heavy baggage it brings with diverse public opinion. Granted, strides are made to bring awareness to their congregations, but the collective does not always refer to the subject.

“One of the Ten Commandments says not to use the Lord’s name in vain,” Maurice said, “Yes, there is a blatant way of saying it… but there is sin to do His name in vain.” She later added, “this is how they are exploiting the Bible for their lifestyles… trying to justify their actions… [which] for the non-Christian they don’t want to join it.”

Maurice highlights that verbal blasphemy is reprehensible to the Lord, but heinous actions taken in His name are just as deplorable. For instance, Christian consensus claims that slavery, segregation and white supremacy are contradictory to the teachings of Jesus Christ, yet the image of a light-skinned Christ plasters every Sunday school curriculum. Additionally, Christianity has historic racial stains of the Bible used as evidence for African American inferiority and  support of white supremecy in the U.S.

In his opinion article, CEO and founder of PRRI, Robert P. Jones, concluded that, “While most white Christians think of themselves as people who hold warm feelings toward African Americans, holding racists views is nonetheless positively and independently associated with white Christian identity.”

Jones’ statement generalizes that white Christians are consciously or unconsciously holding these racist views because of the subtle racial beliefs that certain churches practice. However, not all white Christians hold these views, and some recognized that these views are inherently wrong to hold while attempting to love others like Christ.

The discussion of racism in the church varies throughout the U.S. but is generally heading toward positive mottos of inclusiveness at varying paces. Ted Song, Ph.D., an engineering professor and coordinator for diversity and innovation at JBU, emphasized that multiple churches are offering efforts and intentionality when communicating the topic. Song said that geographic locaion is the cause of where racial tensions exist, but asserts that each church is unique in its awareness to the issue. Furthermore, he stated, “I have seen some churches that are active in topics of racial diversity or racism, but others… that don’t have the diversity to handle such topics.”

With the acknowledgement of racial discrimination rapidly spreading across the country, many white churches and Christians are attempting to reconcile with this harsh reality. These changes in ideals are a vital commodity for churches to thrive and imitate the lessons that Jesus Christ sent before His followers.

Maurice reinforced that that leaders should educate themselves by listening to others’ experiences, feeling uncomfortable with their stories and then enriching their congregation with their findings to heal these racial wounds and stigma. Also, Maurice declared that, “People should look at God as a creator who embraces diversity… He is there to comfort the victim… [and] to reinforce His love.”

Song stated that Christians must have the humility to see and love people as their neighbors in their community. “Hospitality is understanding where this person comes from, what values these people have… and how they differ from mine,” he said. He furthered the point that education and awareness about the stories of minorities can deepen the sentiment of the church to become more inclusive about the topic. He added that racism and diversity are biblically addressed and should be approached theologically in order for the church to understand these issues. “Become the people of hospitality, and we do this for God’s glory, not our sake,” Song said.

Many white Christians are becoming aware of these issues and are recognizing the disturbing frequency of these documented cases. Confrontation with this hard topic may reveal the dark underbelly of Christianity’s history, yet it can strengthen the church to rediscover something analogous to Revelation 7: To discover the meaning of the Kingdom of God where every nation, tribe, language and people can congregate and praise under the one powerful, wise and caring God of the universe.

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