How the church comes together to respond to the racism issue in our world is so important. A generation is watching. And every generation takes a cue from the generation that came before it. We’re called to be a bridge relationally, racially, and demographically. In order for that to happen, it will take hard work and a lasting commitment to understand each other. Our organization is leaning into some incredible leaders to listen and learn from their example.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused churches around the country to evaluate their ministry environments in response to what we now know. We’ve resolved never to go back to business as usual, so we take action by establishing new policies and procedures.
At the same time, we must confront another pandemic. It has led to the loss of life and has inflicted insurmountable damage. Our nation was built on slavery and has over a 400-year history of the unjust treatment of black and brown lives. As ministry leaders, we must conduct a careful examination of our ministry environments. We must not ask, “if,” but instead seek to uncover “where” racism exists.
As a white female leading a family ministry in Harlem, NYC, I’ve spent the last six years listening, watching, learning, and then doing. I continue to listen and learn. It should never end. Over these years, I’ve experienced the impact of six particular action points when working to create a diverse, anti-racist community of faith.
Acknowledge and Understand White Privilege
White privilege is defined as, “Inherent advantages possessed by a white person based on their race in a society characterized by racial inequality and injustice.” All too often, we demand our privileges, while inequality and injustice remain. As white people, we subconsciously operate in white privilege because it’s in the framework of society and culture. White privilege does exist, and, unfortunately, it manifests itself in the way we lead our ministries.
Check out Be the Bridge and their Whiteness Intensive Course. You’ll gain a deeper understanding of the history of racism, racial inequality, and your own underlying biases. If you’re sincere about being effective in your communities, you must first acknowledge and understand the existence of white privilege, repent of it, grieve it, and check it before you act.
Explore Your Bias
First, do the work to explore your own heart. Then, investigate your ministries to uncover what methods keep a black or brown child from saying, “This church is for me too.”
- In what ways have I consciously and unconsciously contributed to the pain and suffering of those who don’t look like me?
- In what ways do my ministry environments implicitly and explicitly operate from white privilege?
- Do I possess a “White Saviorism” mentality?
Do I seek to learn from and lock arms with those who do not look like me, rather than viewing others as “the needy?”
Diversify the Voices and Relationships in Your Life
We should challenge each other to follow influencers, speakers, preachers, authors, musicians, and podcasters of color. If you live in a predominantly white community, proactively seek out and learn from individuals whose life experiences are different than our own.
If you lack a racially-diverse social circle, it’s vital to proactively seek out and develop relationships with people of a different race. Unity is modeled when kids see the grownups in their lives with friends of different races, ethnicities, and cultural backgrounds. Explicit conversations with kids about having friends of different skin tones will impact racial attitudes. Becoming an antiracist adult begins in childhood.
Examine your Ministry Resources
“I can easily buy posters, postcards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys, and children’s magazines featuring people of my race.’’ If you agree, this is an example of white privilege. The books and toys you choose may be communicating an implicit message of white being the standard. Invest in multi-ethnic books, toys, action figures, videos, and dolls. Every child needs to engage in the truth that God made me, and they need to see their image in your resources and environment.
- I think of the many times that white people have thought it’s okay to touch the hair of a black brother or sister and to begin a series of offensive questions about the nature of their hair. Through books that represent the beauty of all hair types, our children will learn to honor the diversity in God’s creation. I love the book, When God Made You because it inspires kids to learn about their own special gifts and how they fit into God’s divine plan as they grow, explore, and begin to create for themselves.
- Referring to the peach crayon as the skin-tone crayon teaches children that there is one skin color. Crayola has just released a box of 24 skin-tone crayons. Making this the crayon standard in your children’s ministry communicates that every skin tone has intrinsic value. When a child draws a face or traces the shape of their hand, do you provide more than peach and white paper? Stocking your ministry environment with multicultural hand cut-outs and construction paper communicates that every skin tone matters.
- Band-Aid® just released a box of bandages that embraces the beauty in every skin tone. When you stock your ministry with these bandages, you’re standing in agreement with the Father. You’re acknowledging the precision and uniqueness of His creation.
Intentionally Diversify The Leaders On Your Team
Who are your communicators, small group leaders, and leadership team members? Diverse voices speak to various experiences. If a child sees themselves in your environment, then they’ll know it’s for them. A diverse group of leaders allows all children to see themselves in God’s big story! Being intentional about diversity in your leadership means that you pour the same effort into this value as you pour into the monthly theme stage décor.
I grew up in inner-city Boston and was educated through the Boston public school system. For K-12th grade, I was taught mainly by black and brown teachers. I grew up in diverse classrooms and a diverse neighborhood. The majority of the voices that have shaped my life and worldview do not look like me. Through diversity, I learned at an early age that there is not just one way of doing things, one set of experiences, one culture, or one place that every person comes from.
Oh Happy Dani, an artistic influencer on Instagram, recently said this: “Majority-People-of-Color churches arose as a direct result of minorities not being welcomed in most churches throughout history. Majority-white churches: I challenge you to call in your leaders and discuss ways to increase diversity in your congregations and leadership! Let’s mirror Heaven here on Earth.”
Celebrate Heroes of Color
Far too often, our visuals depict white characters when, in fact, Bible characters aren’t white. Let’s consider resources such as Little People®. If you look closely, you’ll notice that the figurines are white except for a few. Using white figurines, puppets and visuals perpetuate a false message that says, “white skin has greater value or favor from God.” It’ll take effort and research to resource your ministries so you can accurately communicate the heroes and characters in God’s story.
A black mom told me recently, “I’ve realized the lack of diversity in online biblical content for kids during this pandemic. As we share the story of Christ with them, they have to see themselves in there as well.”
Beyond Black History Month, are you teaching your kids about black and brown heroes of faith and heroes in history? Did you know that the inventor of the refrigerator, the washing machine, the GPS, and the ironing board were all black men and women? You’re shaping the perspective of white children. Let’s celebrate and honor the diversity that exists in history.
Call to Action
Often, the decisions we make about resources comes from accessibility or what sits in our supply rooms. The definition of white privilege says, “Inherent advantages are possessed by a white person.” One of those advantages is highly accessible resources representative of white culture. What are you willing to stop doing in your commitment to developing antiracist kids and adults? What will you never do again? What action will you take today to establish new methods, policies, and procedures in the effort of being an antiracist church? These practices are a start to welcoming children of all colors into your faith community.