Three Starting Principles in the Dismantling Racism Process
1. Root the work of dismantling racism in the values of the group you are working with.
“We need to find out what your values are, and start building from there,” said Dr. Rivera. He urged workshop attendees to think of the multitude of identities and values that any one group would have. “It is not possible for you to only be a Christian. We cannot ignore cultural captivity and in-group bias, and think, ‘I’m just a Christian’,” said Dr. Rivera.
Dr Rivera gave this equation when thinking about the variety of values & identities Christians have:
Take Christ the one way + Christ to you + your particular social location (examples: when and where you’re living, where you’re at on the political spectrum, the color of your skin, your gender, your socioeconomic status, educational experiences) = the Diversity of the Christian Expression.
“Ruben’s approach to getting people on board to understanding what racism is, by starting with their own value system to get buy-in and come to a place of understanding. I appreciate that he starts with recognizing our own biases that we’re not even aware of, what he calls ‘cultural captivity,’ because then we stop looking at things through our “culturally captive” lens and can start seeing our own biases,” said Karen, a participant.
“I appreciate that we are taught not to approach people with ‘we’re talking about reconciliation and racism,’ but rather, we’re connecting to where your values lie. And by doing the work in their values, we are not belittling others as we have this conversation,” said one Cru staff person, who attended the event.
2. Don’t start with race. Come through the back door.
“Start with things the group or individual will resonate with, and build from there,” said Dr. Rivera. “I have spent an enormous amount of time simply trying to convince people that what we are doing is actually Christian. I often hear ‘this is hard for me because it’s liberal’ we need to move people to ‘this is hard for me because it’s biblical’,” said Dr. Rivera.
Rivera emphasizes that this is not just a racial justice issue, this is a Christian issue, and the hard word is only possible because of the salvation and transformation that Christ provides.
“Christ died and reconciled us to God for our sin, this is what I call “vertical reconciliation” – through Christ to God. We, as evangelical, are good at getting people vertically reconciled to Christ. What we are not so good at is getting people reconciled horizontally to each other, our neighbors, and our enemies. The horizontal part is the only part others can see. What makes the invisible believable is what I do to you and for you. That is all of my religion the world can see,” said Dr. Rivera.
3. Get at old resistances in new ways.
“Spend time doing an eye exam, which is a self-discovery experience,” Dr. Rivera encouraged attendees. “That self-discovery can be accepted in one area of life, and can later be applied to race and racism.”
One participant from Bethany Baptist Church said he learned a lot about his full identity through self-discovery, “I am a white man. I am proud of my Finish heritage. I am college educated at a liberal university, so I have a liberal lean, I was a political science major during the Vietnam War, I work in a professional field; those are all circles that impact how I think. When I started seeing all of those identity circles, I realize those circles make up who I am, just as much as my Christian faith, which is very important to me.”
“I’m having a tough time reconciling my identity as an evangelical, and loving my older family members who love Jesus, but yet we are on different conversation pages when it comes to race. Reconciling those things as I live out my faith; but acknowledging that I am not just a Christian, and I don’t do Christianity in a bubble,” said one participant, on staff with Cru.
Dr. Rivera started the workshop with a powerful quote to motivate us as we attempt to dismantle racism:
“We are not called to love and include people into our lives because they are like us. We do so because we are like God.”
“I like Ruben’s approach of going through the back door, because the moment you say, ‘we’re going to talk about racism, or crossing cultures,’ I know there’s this defense wall that goes straight up and that people already are defensive. I like that Dr. Rivera is breaking it down in a really non-threatening way,” said one participant who works with college students.