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The Role of Church in Racial Justice
Transcript of The Role of Church in Racial Justice
Responses to racial issues in society
Colonialism was the principal form in which modernity spread throughout the world. "Discovery," evangelization, and colonization went hand-in-hand and provided more power to expansion. Columbus was animated to begin his first voyage to the Western hemisphere because he believed the Second Coming of Christ was near. This propelled him to take Christianity to all parts of the world.
With colonialism came the combination of ideas that cemented racial differences. The "Color Line" was one of the ideas that became a major constitutive dichotomy in conceptualizing humanity and the human difference, which still occurs today.
As classification continued, race emerged in regards to a person's spirituality. Natives peoples without religion were considered devoid of souls, which led Europeans to dehumanize native peoples. This allowed for a system to be created that defined race as a category and tied Christianity to being a White European
The church is
to be involved in combating racism.
The church has the means and ability to promote racial justice.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Barndt, J. (2011). Becoming an anti-racist church: Journeying toward wholeness. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.
Cobb, R.J., Perry, S.L., & Dougherty, K.D. (2015). United by faith? Race/ethnicity, congregational diversity, and explanations of racial inequality. Sociology of Religion, 76(2), 177-198.
Emerson, M., & Smith, C. (2000). Divided by faith: Evangelical religion and the problem of race in America. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Harvey, J. (2011). Which way to justice? Reconciliation, reparations, and the problem of whiteness in US protestantism. Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics, 31(1), 57-77.
Hinojosa, V., J. & Park, J., Z. (2004). Religion and the paradox of racial inequality attitudes. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 43(2), 229-238.
Jezreel, J. (2012). Gospel-driven communities: Being a church with the biblical vision of justice. Congregations 2, 15-18.
Maldonado-Torres, N. (2014). Race, religion, and ethics in the modern/colonial world. Journal of Religious Ethics, 42 (4), 691-711.
Massingale, B., N. (2014). Has the silence been broken? Catholic theological ethics and racial justice. Theological Studeies, 75(1), 133-155. doi: 10.1177/0040563913520090
McBride, J., M. (2014). Christ existing as concrete community today. Theology Today, 71(1), 92-105. doi: 10.1177/0040573613518548
McGreevy, J.T. (1994). Racial justice and the people of God: The second Vatican council, the civil rights movement, and American Catholics. Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation, 4(2), 221-254.
Racial justice: Advocacy and education. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.unitedmethodistwomen.org/racialjustice
Racial justice ministries. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.elca.org/Our-Work/Publicly-Engaged-Church/Racial-Justice-Ministries
Richardson, L. (1991). Church of Christ urges action against racism. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/local/1991/01/12/church-of-christ-urges-action-against-racism/fdd1e153-3a74-44ba-9e24-f67db81aa66f/
What is racial justice? (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.uprootingracism.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/What is Racial Justice_.pdf
Williams, R., L. (2014). Christ-centered concreteness: The christian activism of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King Jr. Dialog: A Journal of Theology, 53(3), 185-194.
The church is an influential institution that must play an integral role in the promotion of racial justice and the prevention of racial inequalities to obtain Christ-likeness.
The Church's Role in Society Today
Definition of Racial Justice
Racial justice is a proactive reinforcement of policies, practices, attitudes and actions that
produce equitable power, access, opportunities, treatment, impacts and outcomes for all (Uprootingracism.org, n.d.).
Biblical Context for Justice
Racism in the Past
Racism is viewed by most people as an individual action: personal prejudice or stereotyping, and as an intentional act of discrimination by individuals.
Racism is defined as a set of societal, cultural, and institutional beliefs and practices that subordinate and oppress one race for the benefit of another.
The definition of racial justice includes these beliefs and acts and considers individual acts of prejudice only one dimension of racism.
Racial Justice Seeks
To evaluate the social injustices, systems, policies and laws occurring in the world today and if inequalities are present, to hold those policies, and laws accountable and demand systemic change.
Justice from Dr Martin Luther King Jr.
“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”
Church Tensions with Justice
Issues of sin, salvation, and eternal life are kept as purely spiritual matters that are easily dealt with. However, issues with justice are agreed as important, but remain in the background. Justice is at the center of the Bible. Therefore, racial justice is an important liberation for everyone on all sides of the racial divide.
Jesus has called Christians to participate in His ministry of justice. Unfortunately, ending earthly injustice has not been taught as a central theme in Christ's mission.
Overcoming racism by dismantling it in the church and society is part of God's redemptive plan to restore justice and wholeness in the world and to all His creation.
The gospel of freedom for the oppressed is unchanged and unchanging and will continue to be the message used in order to create a better world and provide liberation for those who suffer underneath marginalization and subjugation (Barndt, 2011).
Christians created the classification of religious versus non-religious. This led to more secular terms becoming produced such as colonizer and colonized, white and indigenous, white and black and more combinations that preserved differences.
This created the path for racism to distort fundamental ethics and established systemic dehumanization (Maldonado-Torres, 2014).
The purpose of race and racism was to establish and justify European dominance of other races. White supremacy became the foundation for systemic marginalization of other people groups.
The racist church (Ruler's Church) used the cross as God's endorsement of military conquest of land, people, and resources.
The anti-racist church (People's Church) used the cross for spiritual strength and provided hope to the oppressed and maintained the vision of freedom.
Both types of churches were not perfect, but interpreted God's characteristics differently to suit their needs (Barndt, 2011). This would evolve into church support for and against slavery and ethnic genocides.
The church continues to be racially defined and racially divided (Barndt, 2011). Racism is not dead and continues to fester and wound covertly in society today.
The possibility of resurrecting a new spirit free of racism cannot occur until racism is properly disposed of. This requires the eyes to see that racism continues to be embedded in the church through its systemic structure.
A racialized society has been adapted into the normal, everyday operations of institutions. (Emerson & Smith, 2000). The collective misuse of power continues to pereptuate and justify a social system that is racialized. Churches continue to be unable to fully address the fundamental divisions that exist in the racialized society today and resist the urge to conform to the divisions of the world.
Within the church, racial inequality attitudes can stem from individual explanations or structural explanations. Individually-caused racial inequality refers to in-born disability and lack of motivation while structurally-caused by discrimination or lack of education. Across denominations, this was different (Hinojosa & Park, 2004).
Christ-centered Christian Activism
Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Dr. King
Both believed that Christian faith is lived only as engagement with the world. They sought to live the story and meaning of Jesus directly and concretely in the world.
"Christ the center of our Faith" a sermon delivered by Dr. King that highlighted faithfulness to Christ as direction than abstract ideals (Williams, 2014).
Both recognized individual sin, but placed primary awareness on collective sin as a social responsibility. Christ provided the means, but it was the responsibility of the community to resist injustice.
Justice was the core way to live for Jesus. They fought for justice based on Christ-centered views of resistance.
When people observe Christlikeness, they deliver love instead of hate and oppression.
Christian obedience to the word and guidance of Jesus is what will mediate social interaction and inspire resistance to injustice.
The church must deliver love as justice, in the form of supporting the marginalized and oppressed.
Bonhoeffer and King provided a lens in which the church can use Jesus to challenge their perspective on how they carry out their ministry (Williams, 2014).
Faith inspired by Christ does amazing things in this world and creates a historical context in which the church can fight against white supremacy, oppression, and systemic injustice.
God will always side with justice, love and restoration. He will never side with hate or destruction and neither should the church.
Implications for Ministry Today
The church must prayerfully engage racial injustices. In order to be effective, the church cannot come up with an action plan without engaging the vulnerable community that they aim to assist (Massingale, 2014). Social action cannot be rushed, it must be born out of genuine concern and awareness of the harms of racism and addressed appropriately.
The church must implement institutional change in order to improve racial attitudes (Cobb, Perry, Dougherty, 2015). Assessing the composition of the church system will aid in creating racially integrated congregations that decrease anti-black sentiment and promote more progressive racial attitudes among Whites.
Redesign the organizational structure of the church (Barndt, 2011). Embedded racism does not disappear without transformation. Therefore, the church must address the deeply embedded racism and desire to change its structure to promote an inclusive environment that will serve as the foundation to fight against racial injustices in society today.
Biblical Vision of Justice
"Is it possible to truly worship God and not care about our vulnerable sisters and brothers and the gift of the earth we all share?" (Jezreel, 2012)
The answer should be obvious. The church must do what the Bible says.
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. James 1:22
Christians must examine their church's commitment to Jesus' ministry to the poor and vulnerable (Jezreel, 2012).
God wants a church that is gathered and sent out to do His work. Become a church that is based on the Word that focuses on the logic of justice and serving the common good.
When the church can recognize and accept its past involvement in perpetuating racism, it must move forward in order to reconcile.
Once reconciliation is achieved, the church can focus on repairing the damage of racial injustice and fight against other social injustices (Harvey, 2011).
Repair is gradual and time-consuming. However, it is needed in order for the church to truly battle the racial injustices plaguing this world.
Christ in Community
The church is a serving community that is empowered by the Holy Spirit to do Christ's work in the world.
The church is called to physically manifest itself as Christ in the world. To be Christ in this world, requires the church to engage the vulnerable populations of the world and fight against the injustices that are causing pain and suffering. This will establish the church as a "reality of revelation" (McBride, 2014).
This is not an easy task, which is where the struggle of obedience to God's Word lies. Although the goal to follow Jesus will be difficult, there is no excuse for the church to disengage from racial injustices in our society.
Positive Church Examples
In 1965, Catholics who were interested in racial issues reevaluated their roles in contemporary society and focused on racial issues and urban poverty. They decided to become a mechanism in which to engage the world. They became involved in the Selma marches, despite disapproval from the Vatican council. Catholics became a visible Church and showed their support for racial justice.
Evangelical Lutheran Church of America aims to seek the common good for society and provide a moral vision that addresses social and cultural injustices and issues. They serve God by becoming public witnesses for justice. They are a church that chooses to confront racism and move towards fairness and justice in society and inside their church (ELCA.org, n.d.).
United Methodist Women recognize racial injustice and have an ongoing focus conducting regular racial justice workshops with members, and work in coalition with human and civil rights groups to track hate-crimes and to promote racial justice in the United States and the world (Unitedwomenmethodist.org, n.d.).
Church of Christ recognized the national denial of racism and persistent racial disparities. To make an impact on society, the church launched a campaign against racism that revealed racial prejudice in society today and within individuals themselves. The pastor had addressed the congregation and asked for them "to examine prayerfully, in light of our faith, our own attitudes and assumptions about race; and to acknowledge the ways in which many of us have benefited, and continue to benefit, from the racial exclusion and exploitation of others in our political and economic system" (Washington Post, 1991).
These example are only a few, but demonstrate the impact a church can have on promoting racial justice in our society.
Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.
This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[a] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!
These verses are only a limited example of what justice means in the Word of God.
The word justice appears in the Bible
When a word is repeated multiple times in the Bible, it is deemed important in the eyes of God and expressed as a desire for His people to observe the meaning and act according.
The repetition of justice provides the church with the foundation in which to act as Christ did. In the verses stated previously, God calls on his servants to provide justice by serving those who have not received it.
Justice is seen as an action, a behavioral change. When an individual sees someone who is downtrodden and underserved, it is the absolute duty of Christ-followers to carry out justice and do what is good.
Jesus set the example and God requires us to act justly as we live our lives. Seeking and acting according to justice never ends, "it is an ever flowing stream". Justice is a mission with a never-ending purpose.
Individual sin is the thought, feeling, or action by a single human being, motivated by selfishness, greed, or some other human failing.
Individual prejudice, bias, and bigotry are sinful manifestations of racism.
Individual-based racism damages human relationships inside and outside the church.
Collective sin are the actions of multiple individuals acting as one body to hurt or oppress other people and benefiting from those individuals or groups as a result.
Institutional racism gains its basis from collective sin.
Racism is a collective sin and must be addressed accordingly. It is not enough to improve interpersonal relationships, but to recognize the institutional ways in which society oppresses people and benefits from that oppression.
It is a collective responsibility.
Religious Differences in Response to Inequality
Mainline Protestants and Catholics were found less likely to affirm discrimination as an explanation for racial inequality.
Black protestants were less likely to affirm lack of education as an explanation.
Age, southern background, and evangelical Protestants were more likely to affirm lack of motivation as an explanation for racial inequality (Hinojosa & Park, 2004).
The key point demonstrates that religion plays an important role in the formation of inequality attitudes and that religious traditions play a unique impact. Therefore, churches that remain stagnant and unchanging in their pursuit of racial justice continue to promote the racist agenda whether they are intentional or unintentional.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Dr. King Continued
"Who is Christ actually for us today?" This was a questioned posed by Bonhoeffer while he was in prison. He acknowledged that social, political, and economic conditions have shaped Christian faithfulness and contemporary needs.
Bonhoeffer was an influential participant within the Confessing Church resistance against the Nazis in Germany. Dr. King was an influential individual during the Civil Rights Movement.
Both of their leadership was based on Christlikeness and the need to engage the world with faithfulness.
Both wrestled with efficacy of Christ-like love in their context to resist injustice and encourage social transformation (Williams, 2014).
Church can happen anywhere, therefore the fight against racial injustice can happen anywhere too.