This proposed solution is based on the notion that racism is primarily about individual acts of hatred.
It is part of the American obsession with individualism, an obsession that many forms of Christianity in America share: “if we only faithfully preach God’s love for everyone and get as many individuals as possible to accept it, then that is enough to bring about widespread change.”
Racism is not merely a matter of individual acts of hatred, but it is interwoven into every institution in the United States.
The over-emphasis on individuals “accepting God’s love for everyone” can prevent Christians from examining the deep-seated, structural roots of racism embedded into the way America educates our children, pollutes our cities, police our neighborhoods, and administers punishments.
One can be a “nice person” and still support policies and practices that disproportionately harm Black and Brown people. One could say and fully believe in your heart that God loves every person regardless of skin color and yet still endorse policies that imprison and kill Black and Brown people.
You don’t need to individually harass Black and Brown people in order to be racist. And just because you have Black and Brown friends doesn’t mean you don’t have to do the hard work of exploring and renouncing the ways in which you benefit from the oppression and silencing of Black and Brown people.
Talking (or preaching) about God’s love won’t magically eradicate racism.
Let me say that again, Talking (or preaching) about God’s love won’t magically eradicate racism.
There seems to be a misconception amongst some well-meaning Christians that if people truly embraced God’s love for all, then suddenly racism would end.
Look, fully embracing God’s love for humanity can be a very powerful impetus in encouraging people to advocate for large scale change. However, changing the hearts of individuals, a critical theological idea for some forms of American Christianity, won’t necessarily lead to a more just and equitable world.
You could go to a predominately white church that has a sign that says Black Lives Matter, and that claims to fully embrace the idea that God loves everyone equally, yet the church could still grapple with racism and white supremacy.
You could even attend a multi-racial church that describes themselves as a snapshot of the diversity within the Kingdom of God and that claims to have transcended issues of race, but if the church remains silent on racism and white supremacy, then they too are part of the problem.
Christians and churches need to understand that individual acts of racism are only symptoms pointing to American society’s pattern of dehumanization and subjugation of Black and Brown people.
As a result, telling people, they need to “embrace God’s love” is not an adequate response or solution to racism. Embracing God’s love alone won’t end the caging of migrant children or the shooting of Black and Brown people.
Whenever I hear Christians proclaim that embracing God’s love can somehow end racism, I frequently wonder, how many Border Patrol agents and Police Officers go to church each week and describe themselves as faithful Christians?
And yet, despite their deep faith and personal acceptance of God’s love for everyone, they willingly participate in an institution that regularly dehumanizes and kills Black and Brown people for simply existing.
I then ask myself, do the churches these Border Patrol agents and police officers attend ask tough questions about the ways in which law enforcement criminalizes Black and Brownness?
Or do these churches think that telling their law enforcement members to remember that everyone they interact with, including those they arrest, are loved by God is somehow enough to prevent brutality and violence?
Do they teach their members that you can still work for a racist institution that regularly beats and kills Black and Brown people with impunity, as long as you, as an individual, do not carry “racism in your hearts?”
It is not enough for churches to preach, “well, God loves everyone and demands we treat every person with respect, regardless of skin color.”
What we need is for institutions, yes, even white progressive churches and multi-racial congregations, to examine how they have collectively benefit and support white supremacy.
We need churches to explore how they have allowed anti-blackness and anti-brownness to gain a stronghold within their congregation.
Congregations need to be willing to critically examine every facet of their existence: from the songs they sing to the neighborhoods they live and worship in, to the sermons preached.
It is not enough for Christians to proclaim God loves everyone, regardless of skin color, but Christians need to actively embrace a God that seeks to dismantle the very structures that imprison and kill Black and Brown people.
Christians need to be willing to rethink their cherished theological ideas and explore how they may contribute to anti-Blackness and white supremacy.
If you are looking for a place to deepen your knowledge around this read or listen to I’M STILL HERE: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown. A powerful account of how and why our actions so often fall short of our words. Austin writes in breathtaking detail about her journey to self-worth and the pitfalls that kill our attempts at racial justice, in stories that bear witness to the complexity of America’s social fabric–from Black Cleveland neighborhoods to private schools in the middle-class suburbs, from prison walls to the boardrooms at majority-white organizations.