RACISM: the perception and treatment of a racial group, or member of that group, as intellectually, socially, or culturally inferior to one’s own group.
We live in a society where racism is accepted and hatred is desensitized—and history is steadily repeating itself. How do we, as followers of Christ, recognize the brokenness within our world and, specifically, within the Church?
Hidden racism is a form of racial discrimination that is disguised and subtle, rather than public or obvious. Personally, I have faced hidden racism throughout my journey and I have to say that as a young Haitian-American woman, I felt ostracized, uncomfortable, and hurt through other people’s actions.
There was a time when I was going to a predominantly white church with a friend of mine, and we were going to attend the first college/young adult gathering. As I approached her house, she explained that it would not be a “good look” if I came with her and the rest of the girls. I looked around during the conversation and felt a weird discomfort and tension in the atmosphere. Other girls avoided eye contact with me, and when I asked “why?,” she simply looked at my hair and my face—not my eyes. This hurt me deeply because I considered them friends and a part of my community during that particular season of my life. Do I hate them? No. I’m sad for them because I don’t think they understood the true love Christ has for everyone—no matter their color or nationality.
My hope and encouragement to those who feel affected by hidden racism is:
- Know that you are loved deeply.
- Pray hard and deep.
DOES RACISM EXIST IN THE CHURCH?
Yes, I believe the church can be segregated. It’s so sad when the place where we come to worship and gather in community can create a toxic environment of hate when it comes to racism. Racism in or out of the church is an act of sin. The church is the foundation for the behavior of God’s people and it is supposed to be a safe haven.
We are dividing ourselves based on what someone looks like, instead of loving one another because we are all brothers and sisters through Christ. When we choose to be silent, we continue to build the wall that separates us, and it keeps us from being one body of believers. When we choose to dismiss people’s hurt instead of embracing our brothers and sisters, we have chosen to turn our backs on them.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18, NIV). How can we be one with Christ when we hate His very own people? The church is called to be inclusive in the midst of a world that is racially divided.
Tasha Morrison, a speaker at the Southern Territory’s Young Adult Conference (TYAC) in January, said that the church hour is the most segregated hour of the week. I believe this segregation is coming from a spirit of comfort and fear. There is comfort in maintaining the “club members” and keeping them happy, instead of being missional-minded and demonstrating inclusiveness. We keep those who look like us inside the four walls, instead of reaching outside of the church walls. Fear can keep us from talking about the issues of race, segregation, bias and/or prejudice. We, as the Church, sometimes don’t want to rock the boat by picking the side of justice. We would rather be safe and straddle the middle line. We must own our bias and fears when it comes to a heavy topic such as racial tension—specifically within the Church. We should demonstrate reconciliation.
“BY INVITING COVERSATION,
WE WILL HEAR HOW OUR OWN SILENCE
HAS HURT PEOPLE”
Courageous Conversations is an initiative created by Lt. Colonels William and Debra Mockabee (Secretary and Assistant Secretary for Program, Southern Territory), in partnership with department heads in the Program section. Courageous Conversations calls Salvationists of the Southern Territory to discuss controversial topics with others, with the purpose of building a spirit of unity and acceptance within the Church.
This initiative first started in August 2017 when Lt. Colonels Mockabee shared their hearts to have hard conversations, face-to-face, without hiding behind a screen or being combative. Through such dialogue, people could learn to really listen to those around them. They wanted to make a difference not only in their personal and spiritual lives, but within our territory. They both recognize that we cannot remain silent about topics like race reconciliation, and that there is a way to have these conversations with grace, mercy, and peace.
The first discussion guide we used, A Bridge to Racial Unity, created by the Build the Bridge organization, provided resources for discussing white privilege, bias, and racial reconciliation. Included in this guide are suggestions for how to form and lead respectful discussion groups that include people of different ages, races, backgrounds, and political affiliations.
“There are so many things going on in our country right now,” Lt. Colonel William Mockabee said when asked about Courageous Conversations. “We wanted to at least give guidelines for how to have a conversation that you would normally be afraid to have. For many young Salvationists, a territorial response to divisive issues, especially racism, is long overdue. We are creating a safe space, but we are not sugarcoating the issue. By inviting conversation, we will hear how our silence has hurt people.”
The goal of the initiative is not to reach agreement on every issue, but rather to remind Salvationists of how to accept another’s point of view and how to disagree respectfully. If we don’t learn how to do this, Lt. Colonels Mockabee anticipate that the divide between us will continue to widen.
Captain Daniel Nelson (Territorial Youth Secretary, Southern Territory) fears that people will leave The Salvation Army.
“We want our young adults to feel heard and valued,” Captain Nelson said. “If they become convinced that we are only interested in what concerns the organization—that we don’t value individuals over the organization—we lose them.”
Our young adults value these conversations and want to be educated on how to engage in a courageous conversation regarding race reconciliation. In January, we had a Courageous Conversation with our young adults at our Territorial Young Adult Conference. We created a space for our delegates to learn, share, and embrace vulnerability. Our hope in the future is that we will not be afraid to stand up for what is right and to show the love of Jesus Christ.
WANT TO GET INVOLVED?
It starts by having conversation about the issue and inviting people to be in relationship with one another. We can get involved in our communities, our town city halls, and be a bridge to reconciliation. What I always encourage others to do is to start allowing themselves to enter a place where they have the expectation of listening to their brothers and sisters around them.
3 WAYS TO COMBAT A SEGREGATED CHURCH
Jovanie Smith suggests these action steps:
- Identify communities surrounding the church that are different from you, and make intentional relationships and connections with them.
- Our leaders and church goers need to be educated on the terminology such as racism and reconciliation.
- Create small groups within the church to speak about these issues and also pray for those who are angry, hurt and/or may have an understanding of what is happening.
“The universality of God’s love is clearly declared in Scripture, and must be actualized in the daily living of people. Racism is a wrong that needs to be countered and calls for truthful acknowledgement, rectification and reconciliation on an organizational, individual and societal level.” — Excerpt from The Salvation Army’s Positional Statement on Racism
As we strive to be a church of reconciliation, let’s join in the prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi:
“Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace:
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.”
— Jovanie Smith, Territorial Young Adult Mission Deployment Coordinator, Southern Territory