I remember when I fell in love with the words “racial reconciliation.” Growing up, my limited understanding of Christianity told me that I was basically buying fire insurance and would learn to be a nicer person in time. But as a Latina, when I heard a leader say that God cared deeply about racism and justice, it resonated with my advocacy streak. “Racial reconciliation,” he said, “is God’s will.”
I was on board, but, of course, I wasn’t sure how it all worked.
And for a long time, I just accepted that racial reconciliation meant that people of all colors and ethnicities would try to “get along” within the same Christian community. “Getting along” meant we occasionally added a song in a foreign language or a gospel hymn into the worship set; that would be enough.
The main preacher could (and probably would) still be white, but when possible there would a team of pastors of all colors who would preach.
Of course, these preachers of color would have to appeal to everyone (i.e. be very assimilated into white culture, able to code switch, and willing to talk about race…but not make everything about race…) or else it wouldn’t work at all. It simply did not occur to me that the leadership should also be as diverse and inclusive as the worship and preaching style, because I had never seen that.That’s what I thought it meant to have a multi-ethnic church.
I didn’t know it, but my faith and theological imagination were deeply colonized.
I was still centering on white leadership, white comfort, and white experiences.
Over the years, I read books and learned more about racial reconciliation. People would quote Revelation and talk about how everyone from every tribe and nation would worship together. I heard more people say that this was God’s desire for the church.
Meanwhile, I attended white churches that never seemed to become more diverse. And as I looked around I just didn’t see any churches that reflected this racially-reconciled reality. If this is God’s heart for the church and we want to carry out God’s mandates, why isn’t it happening in every church?
Most churches I knew of or attended were all white or all black or all immigrant.
But everything changed for me when I moved to Baltimore. My friends here never talked about racial reconciliation.
They only talked about white supremacy and the way the Church was complicit in maintaining the status quo of systemic racism. White supremacy was no longer only referring to the KKK–although there are still a large network of white supremacist organizations.
Overt and Covert Racism by Ellen Tuzzalo
White Supremacy is the worldview behind these organizations–a worldview that extends far deeper and wider than hooded men and Nazi flags. It is a pervasive ideology that says white people are superior to those of all other races, and should, because of that, dominate society in all aspects: social, political, historical, and institutional (that includes the Church). What’s tricky is that it’s so woven into the fabric of our society that people don’t even realize how they prefer and perpetuate white systems. It’s the water we swim in, and it permeates everything.
That’s why I did not realize that all the churches I’d been a part of promoted white supremacy by making white expressions of faith the default for everyone.
The only way I can explain how this knowledge hit me is that it was like finding out I’d been betrayed by someone I thought loved me. I knew it was true and as the knowledge sunk in I began to see the Church with new eyes.
The language of “racial reconciliation” makes it sound like both parties did something wrong and now they must be reconciled to each other.
This language bothers me because it focuses on relationships between individuals rather than the systems that are in place that maintain white supremacy. It makes it personal rather than systemic. My problem with that is that in a broken system it doesn’t matter how good and well-intentioned (read: reconciled) the individuals involved are–the system is still corrupt and it won’t produce good fruit until it’s dismantled and rebuilt.
The truth is that one party did something wrong and the other party was wronged. It was white supremacy that instituted:
- The transatlantic slave trade
- Jim Crow segregation
- The war on drugs that disproportionately incarcerated people of color
- The deportation of immigrants, many of them native to North America
- Redlining that prevented black Americans from building wealth through property ownership
- Stealing native land and breaking treaties to further marginalize Native Americans
I also knew that there had never been a time of racial conciliation so what exactly were we trying to reconcile? True reconciliation would look like…
- Telling the truth about the harm done by white supremacy without rushing to seek forgiveness
- Paying reparations to black Americans
- Having congregations and pastors receive unconscious bias training, diversity training, and paying anti-racism missionaries to come to their churches
- Subsidising seminary for people of color
- Paying church loans for non-white churches
The white church must repent and make amends for the sin of white supremacy, and then, and only then, can we be racially reconciled.