For the last several weeks white Christians have woken up to the reality of systemic injustice against people of color. The murders of Breonna Tayla, Ahmad Arbury, and George Floyd have stirred inside of many previously ignorant white church leaders a passion to be on the forefront of racial reconciliation. Yet in this desire to do what is good, many churches and leaders have been left wondering, “What can we do? What should we do?”
As I, a white pastor who admittedly has much still to learn, have asked my black brothers and sisters what I can do and the church can do, three themes have emerged.
Before we fight for change, we must repent of our indifference of the past. We must repent for assuming that issues of systemic injustice either did not exist or for assuming it wasn’t a spiritual matter. We must repent for being the white religious leaders that Dr. King spoke against in his Letter from Birmingham Jail:
“In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: "Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern." And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other-worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.”
Sadly, things, up until recently, have not changed much with the predominantly white church. Before we march, we must get on our knees and repent for healing to take place. That’s why James writes, “Confess your sins to one another so that you may be healed.” (Jms. 5:16)
After repenting, the next vital step is to relate to people of color. Reconciliation always begins with friendship. I often laugh when I mention this to my white friends because they will respond, “But I have a black friend.” Yet when I push them a little further on it, they really don’t.
Instead, we, as white Christians, must intentionally seek deep relationships with people of color. I asked a black pastor friend about whether we should force this or just wait for it to happen. I love his response, “Of course you should force it. Of course, it will be awkward. Just be honest and upfront about your desire for a relationship and how you don’t know what to do but you want to do it. And then start to listen.”
We must sit down with each other and ask the simple question, “Tell me what it is like to be you. Tell me what I need to learn about what it means to be a person of color. Help me understand.” When that takes place no longer is this a theoretical issue, it is a human issue. We should listen and learn from each other’s experiences.
It doesn’t mean that every conversation needs to be about race, that would be strange! Instead, you get to know the person, invite them into your life and they will invite you into yours. Reconciliation must be rooted in vulnerability.
Finally, only after we repent of our indifference in the past and then build relationships with people of color that we take the next step of fighting for restorative justice. We join the battle against systemic injustices by helping create jobs, changing law enforcement, bridging educational gaps.
So the call to white Christians, the call to predominantly white churches is simple yet hard: repent, relate, and then, and only then, restore.
About Jason Webb
Jason Webb is a gifted fundraiser and entrepreneur with a track record of leading multimillion-dollar campaigns in Milwaukee and around the world. He has helped start, lead, and mobilize volunteers for domestic and international non-profit organizations. Mr. Webb is a movement leader and a devoted advocate for racial reconciliation. He recently started working as Team Manager and Groups Director for Great Lakes Church.