Pastor’s Column: Stepping Out of Racially Isolated Christian Spaces
A Christian Perspective Reflecting on African American History Month:
I wish I could be an educator, instead of a black educator. Am I a black Christian? Does the Lord label or identify me as a black Christian, father, husband, servant, speaker, citizen? How often do White Americans say or write White pastor? The naked and authentic question is: what do White people accurately know about the lived realities of people of color who have been on the receiving end of documented factual aggression at the hands of White Americans, many who have identified themselves as Christians? And, what is the racial autobiography of White Americans? Are Black authors and Christian leaders highlighted and quoted throughout the year? Otherwise we run the risk of going back to our Christian racially isolated spaces at the moment of dusk February 28th annually. Do Whites know where the term “White” came from and why it was used, as the rest of the racial language that is currently ascribed to? Do Whites know race doesn’t exist, and that it was created to enforce a hierarchy based on skin color, rooted in a common value of worshipping wealth and false beliefs about people of color to justify the harm? I am familiar with Smith Wigglesworth, John Piper, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and other Christian leaders. But I don’t call them White. I called them vessels the Lord chose. The element that is missing is critical.
Every space and conversation is a cultural and racialized space, whether culturally incompetent people know it or not. For example, the reason Black History month (and others like it) exist is because of the legacy of White supremacy ideology and institutional racism. These months are times to recognize and affirm people who have and continue to be overlooked, exploited, and unable to tell their own narrative in regard to identity. Most of our White brothers and sisters live, work, play, worship and exist in racially isolated spaces by choice. As a person of color, I don’t have that option. This conversation is usually superficial for most White Americans because they are more White [in their thinking patterns] than they are Christian. This is one of the primary reasons my time as a professor at Bethel University (St. Paul, MN) was challenging. Most of the White faculty and staff could not receive from the people of color, even though we were all supposed to be Christian brothers and sisters. They did not want to read from authors or intellectuals who were of color. And when they did, it was in a defensive and arrogant posture. This response is not unique to them, this is a national historical pattern. White Americans who call themselves Christian only have this dialogue if it keeps them in comfort, advantage (power, decision-making, promotion, flexibility to be average and still advance or be in leadership) and doesn’t cost them anything. This pattern is consistent with White American cultural norms but inconsistent with being a cross-bearing Christian. In summation, it’s vital for Christians to receive from whoever the Lord is speaking through. I want a word from God, regardless of who the vessel is.
African Americans can relate to being isolated, ignored, pacified, attacked, overlooked, dehumanized, devalued, persecuted, and falsely accused. Can some white pastors relate to this, yes? But not for the same reason. White pastors can locate some analogies because someone may not like their family, what they stand for, or personality. African Americans in the United States have always been on the negative receiving end of a disdain for their presence based on a false category (race) identifiable by negative stereotypical meanings (i.e., Blacks are less than Whites) attached to skin color. In summation, it is my sincere desire that panels, summits and workshops come from this piece. Those are cosmetic in nature, but the true identification of success is when we see multicultural congregations and organizations in mass numbers, and reflective in the leadership. It is also when CCCU schools have authentic institutional policies and procedures that are not patronizing or surface level, which create a space where all are welcome and thrive. The Act Six (www.actsix.org) program is positive because it provides opportunities to students that perhaps would not have been available to them. We need college campuses to be glad they are there, and that their presence is giving more to the campus than what the school is giving to them. The extended version of this article can be found at www.chosenpathllc.com
Dr. Keith Stanley Brooks
Copyright © 2016 by Chosen Path Consulting LLC. This piece or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner that misrepresents the original context without the express written permission of Chosen Path Consulting LLC.
Dr. Keith Stanley Brooks is currently the Dean of Academic Foundations at Minneapolis Community & Technical College. Periodically with Chosen Path Consulting Brooks also shares his expertise as an author, facilitator (educational leadership, intercultural competence, goal-driven staff development) and inspirational keynote speaker. Brooks is also an ordained Elder at the Holy Christian Church (www.thcci.org) under Archbishop Wayne R. Felton in St. Paul, MN.
Recommended Author list:
- The White Racial Frame: Centuries of Racial Framing and Counter-Framing by Joe Feagin
- Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church by Soong-Chan Rah
- Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America by Christian Smith and Michael Emerson
- America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America by Jim Wallis
- Bridging the Diversity Gap: Leading Toward God’s Multi-Ethnic Kingdom by Alvin Sanders
- Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart by Christena Cleveland
- Wisdom Beneath the Surface by Bishop Wayne Felton
- Letters To a Mixed Race Son by Frank Robinson and Bishop Charles E. Blake
- Anything by Howard Thurman and Dr. James Earl Massey