Racial justice and reconciliation are central to the gospel. Here’s how predominantly white churches can join the cause.
As a pastor of color who leads a very multiethnic and multicultural church, I often get asked by other pastors and leaders around the country how white, homogeneous churches can embody the gospel’s claim that a new communal identity is possible in a setting not given to reconciliation. I want to suggest that while not every church is going to reflect multiethnicity, predominantly white churches in predominantly white neighborhoods can still do their part in connecting the gospel to race.
In these kind of settings, for many (if not most) of the churches, the spectrum of interest in this matter ranges from apathetic ignorance to hardened resistance against any thought of proclaiming the gospel over matters of racial hostility. Yet, I believe that many white, homogeneous churches and pastors of predominantly white churches want to be part of God’s work of overcoming racial hostility and dismantling racism in all its forms. They often simply don’t know where to begin.
I want to offer a few ideas to help move you in this direction, even if there’s no foreseeable change in neighborhood demographics. To be connected to the global church doesn’t necessarily mean a local church will reflect the diversity of the world. But it does mean that the history, unique pressures, gifts and grace of the Spirit from those around the world shape the imagination of a local church in some form.
5 WAYS YOU CAN AWAKEN YOUR PREDOMINANTLY WHITE CHURCH TO RACIAL JUSTICE AND RECONCILIATION
1. You can connect the gospel to the issue of race.
If white churches and leaders cannot make this fundamental connection, no well-meaning strategy will suffice.
The deep trouble the church (in many respects, the white church) finds itself in related to race stems from a bad theology that sees racial justice and reconciliation as optional to the gospel. This point of concern must be regularly repeated in our day. As long as the gospel is reduced to a personal decision, resulting in private discipleship and a self-centered preoccupation, we will tragically miss the core of the gospel, which is a declaration of Jesus’ Lordship resulting in a new family, called from different places in life.
This fundamental theological perspective has often been “outsourced” to people of color. But we are at a point where a theology of the “new family of Jesus,” or in Dr. King’s words, “The Beloved Community,” can’t be seen as a specialization of theology for people interested in that kind of “secondary” content. The gospel’s application to race must be seen as part of the core content for every Christian.
If our white brothers and sisters can make this connection, then we can move on to some practical ways to flesh this out.
2. You can preach against racism in all its forms.
Even in the context of a homogeneous community, white brothers and sisters can take their place in preaching against racism. The pulpit, especially in evangelical, charismatic/Pentecostal communities, is the primary place of community culture shaping and heart formation. In an increasingly connected world, we are exposed to the social ills of racism on a daily basis. No longer can anyone claim to lack specific information on the reality of racial hostility. The ubiquity of social media and 24-hour news networks have presented a perpetual flow of stories plaguing many lives of people through racist ideology and practices.
By preaching against the image-marring racism that impacts people of color, you can proclaim to your congregation the wide-ranging application of the gospel. Sure, some may quizzically look around the room as you preach and wonder whether this has anything to do with them, but by leveraging your preaching ministry to look outside your local congregation, you are living out a deeply gospel value. As Paul says, “In humility, value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3–4).
3. You can publicly pray when news of racial injustice surfaces.
This is related to preaching, but creating space in your worship gatherings to pray for healing and reconciliation is a powerful practice in the life of the church. At New Life—where I pastor—we regularly pray for churches and issues plaguing people around the world. Whether in Syria or Flint, Michigan, we lift our voices to the Lord in intercession.
The practice of public, intercessory prayer has a way of forming our hearts. Whether through guided prayers or extemporaneous ones, to pray over issues disproportionately impacting people of color is a key discipleship moment and practice in the life of a homogenous church. You can tell a lot about a church by what a church prays for.
4. You can allocate resources to churches and ministries working for racial justice and reconciliation.
Generous support towards churches in the trenches of reconciliation ministry expresses a commitment to the gospel in powerful ways. Whether a special offering is collected or a fixed practice of financial support is implemented, supporting churches (especially in your city, if possible) is a sign that the gospel has not just touched your mind, but the deep places in your heart.
5. You can learn from nonwhite leaders in different parts of the country and beyond.
After reading this, go to your bookshelf or Kindle app and see how many authors of color you’ve read. Chances are the vast majority of what you are consuming is content created by other white men (and maybe a woman or two). Certainly, this speaks to a larger systemic issue in the publishing world, where people of color don’t have as much access, opportunity and visibility to write, but the point remains. The theology and stories of white men have been normative. But this doesn’t reflect the theology and stories of countless numbers of people.
So reconsider the conferences you attend. Search for conferences where the majority of people are not white. Listen to preaching outside of your tradition. And don’t limit what you can learn from people of color. People of color have much to say beyond matters of race. That’s not all we offer.
As you prayerfully consider implementing ideas like these, you demonstrate that you are part of a larger, multicolored body, and by God’s knitting love, you cannot turn a blind eye to what is seen as clear as day for many.
Even if your church is totally or predominately white, by God’s grace, you can live out a gospel of racial reconciliation and justice.
Rich Villodas is the lead pastor of New Life Fellowship Church. New Life is a church community with people from over 75 nations in the heart of Queens, NYC. This article originally appeared on MissioAlliance.org.