[Editor’s Note: In honor of Black History Month, we’re featuring conversations with a few Christian leaders who are working toward racial reconciliation. Yesterday we looked at how the Church can talk about race, today we’re looking at personal steps toward reconciliation.]
“Racial reconciliation” is a term that gets tossed around quite a bit in the Church, but it can be hard to know what it actually looks like.
We talked to a few Christian leaders who are working toward racial reconciliation about why it’s important, steps everyone can take and how the conversation is changing.
Latasha Morrison is a speaker with over 16 years of experience in the business, nonprofit and church world who led a conversation about race at this year’s If: Gathering conference.
Leroy Barber is the Executive Director of Word Made Flesh Ministries and author of Red, Brown, Yellow, Black, White: Who’s More Precious in God’s Sight?
Austin Channing Brown is a Resident Director and Multicultural Liason at Calvin College who collaborates with Christian ministries working toward reconciliation.
There’s No Set Path to Reconciliation
Austin Channing Brown: I’m of the mindset that there’s no one way to do reconciliation. I think there are multiple ways, and those multiple ways depend on your context. That allows for a lot of creativity, but it create a lot of frustration, as well, because everyone wants the 10 point plan for how to achieve racial reconciliation—and I don’t believe there is one.
I think there are specific components, like dialogue, lament, celebration, repentance. There are elements that must be considered, but there are classes that can happen, there are intentional dialogues that can happen. Preaching can move forward racial reconciliation. Writing can move forward reconciliation. There are a number of ways we can participate in the work.
You Have to Know the History Before You Can Begin
Latasha Morrison: [You have to] educate yourself on the disparities and the injustices that people are talking about, and approach that from a biblical standpoint. For me, a part of my journey was when I did a study on justice.
Austin Channing Brown: I appreciate the passion when people really feel led to participate in this work, but it does really require knowing and understanding history. And that’s a hard thing for people to do because we really just want it to be in the past, and unfortunately, what’s in the past has lived on, transformed, mutated into the systems and structures that we have today. So if we’re going to fight against those systems and structures, we have to know how they were created. Understanding how racism was developed and how racism was enacted over the course of history really is kind of step one.
Diversity is a Vital Part of Reflecting the Image of God
Leroy Barber: The Gospel, at its core, calls us to be a multiethnic expression, because that’s who God is—He created us all to be together.
Austin Channing Brown: God created diversity. We are each made in His image, and to celebrate that image is to know God more fully. We do ourselves a disservice when we create homogeneous communities and we only see a singular reflection of God when we could have such a larger picture of who God is.
Reconciliation is Personal
Austin Channing Brown: In this culture of Christian celebrity, it’s easy to believe to doing the work of racial reconciliation will somehow launch you onto a national stage, but the work of reconciliation is local. It’s between you and your friends, it’s between you and your church, it’s between your church and your community. We have these national voices that can help guide, that can help strategize, that can help push us, that can help encourage us, but the work of reconciliation is local, even for those of us who are constantly talking about it from a national standpoint.
Leroy Barber: If you talk to John Perkins, you would know that he actually has really deep, long-term friendships with people of different races. I think that that’s where it starts. That’s not the end of it, but I don’t believe there are enough basic relationships that people have and will work on cross-culturally. That is the basis for getting to the end goal of reconciliation and of justice. We can’t get to those places unless there is some relational context.
Latasha Morrison: Seek out someone that’s unlike yourself, try to find a friend of a different race that you can talk to and dialogue—not just a token friend, but someone you are truly trying to be in a relationship with.
Reconciliation Requires Examining Your Own Heart
Latasha Morrison: A lot of it begins with prayer and saying “Lord, show me! Show me my blind spots. Show me where I need to begin.” That first step is always you start with yourself. You can’t do for your church what you’re not doing for yourself.
Austin Channing Brown: Nobody can do this work for you—you have to go read the books, you have to watch the movies. I think having an accountability partner helps to talk through any emotions that arise from finding this history, any feelings of guilt or shame or anger or unforgiveness. There’s a lot to unpack there.
We Have to Talk About Race
Latasha Morrison: We know not talking about [race], it’s not going to go away, and it’s not going to get any better. It’s only going to get worse, because time has proven that. Iit’s systematic, so we have to address it. Just like in any relationship, we have to communicate, we have to dialogue, we have to talk.
We are capable of having a healthy, godly dialogue about race.
Austin Channing Brown: What issue in your life have you ever resolved by ignoring it? That’s not how issues get resolved, whether it is a conflict with a friend or a family member or a church. The way you get through it is by talking it out. You talk about the history, you talk about your feelings, you talk about what you want for the future, and you talk and you talk until there is healing.
Reconciliation is Messy, But it’s Worth it
Austin Channing Brown: It’s costly, and it’s costly on all sides. You risk so much—family members who don’t get it, friends who are like “I’m so tired of hearing you talk about race,” a changing worldview and what that will mean—whether or not you have to change churches because your church is not on board with the work of racial reconciliation. It can be very, very costly.
Latasha Morrison: There’s a process of shame and guilt that people go through. We have to cast that shame aside. We confess it, and then the next thing is dealing with that confession of that shame and guilt. Confession, repentance, reconciliation.
It’s not always going to be pretty. Scripture Isn’t pretty. It’s messy, but we have to embrace that. It doesn’t mean it’s not healthy. Those things I have in my heart, He knows, so I might as well confess them and say “Help me with this.” We can’t do it on our own. The transformation of the heart—you can have all sorts of tools and resources, but it’s God that does that.
Dargan is a former RELEVANT editor turned freelancer. Find her online at darganthompson.com or follow her extremely random train of thought on Twitter @darganthompson.