Fighting Racial Injustice and Understanding Racism in America
This October, several hundred gathered for Transform Minnesota’s Fighting Racism event at the Bush Lake campus of Westwood Church. Speaker Jemar Tisby promised an “honest diagnosis” on racism, the Church, and the correlation between the two. His book, The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism, sheds light on how to move beyond systemic oppression to reconciliation through repentance and the ARC of racial justice.
Jemar addressed the consequences we see in a nation that has not only been segregated in social status, education, housing, etc., but in worship and fellowship. He challenged those present to see that racism is not a sin confined to the past, but one that adapts over time, undermining the credibility of the Gospel along the way. Jemar introduced the concept of a racialized society as possibly “the most important social dynamic Christians need to understand in order to make meaningful progress in race relations…”
Racism is not alleviated through individual and interpersonal interactions; it runs deep throughout institutions…
Racism is not alleviated through individual and interpersonal interactions; it runs deep throughout institutions, policies, and practices and continues to govern us through inequality “across time, generations, and geographies”. Jemar reminded those present how tangible racism is, and that until the Church recognizes that viewing racism through an abstract lens distorts the reality of racial injustice, “…we will continue to offer shallow solutions and superficial statements about racial reconciliation. But let us commit ourselves to breaking down sin in our own souls as well as the sin embedded in racist policies and structures.”
The typical white household has sixteen times the wealth level of a typical black household, and unemployment remains twice as high in the black community. Jemar challenged the Church to consider its posture while looking at these and similar statistics and to consider whether we assume that black individuals lack initiative or wherewithal—or recognize that American society only works really well for a small group of people.
Jemar encouraged the group to look at the individual aspects of racism within their own church practices and ministry structures. In emphasizing the need for the Church to focus on policies, he highlighted that while reconciliation is necessary, it is insufficient for achieving racial justice, which is a matter of obligation—not generosity. As equal image-bearers, we must each be granted equality and dignity, and as Christians, “…we live in two kingdoms”. Our higher kingdom holds every nation under judgment, offers Christ as the perfect example of reconciliation, and calls us to feel a sense of urgency towards our brothers and sisters resting beneath the weight of today’s racial oppression. He also recommended moving beyond politicized binaries and referenced A Quiet Exodus and the negative impact political allegiance is having on evangelism.
…while reconciliation is necessary, it is not sufficient for achieving racial justice…
Awareness includes dismantling American exceptionalism, learning about the history of your own neighborhood and the collective history of our nation, and asking questions about race experiences. It assumes a knowledge of race both historically and today, understands the difference between personal and systemic racism, and acknowledges current racial oppression. Awareness leads to relationships.
Relationships between races have intentionally been disrupted by policies, and evangelism has historically tended towards individualism –to the extent that we often overlook today’s systemic societal roots. In addition to raising awareness around racist policies, the Church needs to create and strengthen relationships between races. Relationships provide context to policies and systems, and stir a need for commitment.
Commitment transforms passivity through awareness and relationships to intentionality, advocacy, and anti-racist action.
The ARC is a lifelong process of building awareness, developing relationships, and improving commitment.
Laurel Bunker, Campus Pastor at Bethel University, discussed the ramifications of a racialized society on primary and higher education policies and outcomes. “Many of our brilliant young people are not getting equal opportunities to learn, not because they lack the minds or the ability, but because of socioeconomics, because of the violence they are experiencing…” According to the Brookings Research Institute, Minnesota has some of the worst school readiness statistics in the nation. Many are encouraged that we are seeing a national increase in overall school readiness—but this statistic does not extend to the black-white gap.
“Many of our brilliant young people are not getting equal opportunities to learn…”
Laurel encouraged Christians to advance conversations bridging theology and sociological issues. She challenged those present to plan for inclusive hiring at all levels, reject tokenism, look beyond athletic scholarships when accepting applications, and move from proximity to community. “We are simply waiting for the courage of the Church to stand up and walk alongside us…may we rise up today as the church in the streets and the church in the educational system to do the work of the kingdom for the sake of all God’s children, black, white, yellow, brown and anyone in between. Because in it, God would be glorified.”
Greater Friendship Missionary Baptist Church also hosted Jemar Tisby for an evening event: Understanding Racism in America. Jemar spoke about the Church’s documented complicity in slavery and racism since 1619. This was followed by a panel discussion joined by Pastor Billy Russell of GFMB, Pastor Jason Meyer of Bethlehem Baptist Church and Carl Nelson, President of Transform Minnesota.
Jemar emphasized the importance of looking at the history of slavery and racism. “History is just truth-telling. We know from the Bible that when you tell the truth, it sets you free. But you have to tell the whole truth…even the truths we don’t like to dwell on because they are too painful.” Jemar shared the truth that “the most egregious acts of violence occur within the context of compromise.”
He closed the evening with encouraging words from Joshua and reminded those present that God equips us to be courageous. “The time is now for a courageous Christianity.”
Additional Speaker Recommended Resources:
- Bryan Stevenson: Just Mercy / eji.org
- Howard Thurman: Jesus and the Disinherited
- Fanny Lou Hamer: The Life of a Civil Rights Icon
- Martin Luther King, Jr.: Letter from a Birmingham Jail
- James Cone: The Cross and the Lynching Tree
- Michael Emerson: Divided by Faith / Stamped from the Beginning
- Ibram X. Kendi: How to Be an Antiracist
“I’m thankful that Transform Minnesota is willing to host a controversial speaker; a lot of people are unwilling to discuss racism.” – Melissa Carey, New Hope Church
“I work in the public school system and our staff is on a journey of racial restoration. I’m excited to see the Church joining alongside public schools in this conversation; it is so great to have someone keeping the fire lit. Keep asking the hard questions, even if they are messy.” – Angela Faransen
“I no longer attend church, but I came to this event because I have not seen the church addressing racism and I was curious to see this speaker!” – Anonymous