EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a guest post from Stephen Partain, Parish Pastor of Grace Community Church in the Bywater area of New Orleans and Leadership Council Member of the Missio Mosaic Network. This post is the second in a larger series called “To the White Church From a White Pastor.” Click here to read the first post.
I remember holding my Dad’s hand as we walked up the stone path. I was ten years old, and we were out in nature exploring a waterfall. As a kid it seemed like a mountain, but my “strong-willed” self was going to make it to the top. Near the top was a hole with rushing water. I stepped directly into it. My body began to fall and my 10-year-old mind figured this was the end – it had been a good run. But my dad’s hand steadied me, helped me get on track, and reconfigured my path.
In the current moment, the white church must understand the crucial nature of our next steps.
We feel like equilibrium is gone as things are changing, and though many of us hope that things will simply improve on their own, it is vital for us to map out practical steps that move us from ideas to action, from belief to practice, in our commitment to racial justice.
In an effort to be a part of the movement of the Holy Spirit towards racial justice, here are three steps we can take as we extend a steadying hand in the conversation to our white brothers and sisters:
Listen to Black Voices
Listening to the experiences, stories, and frustrations of Black people is essential. You will hear things that are uncomfortable, you will hear things you immediately want to dismiss, and your paradigm of race will be challenged. This is not a time to defend yourself, to respond immediately, or to use clichés.
It is not a time to respond, “All Lives Matter,” when someone says, “Black Lives Matter,” or to say, “If we were just colorblind, things would improve”. It is instead a time to listen to real people who are willing to share their own experiences and struggles with racism.
The Holy Spirit uses these conversations to break down our defensiveness and increase empathy for the experiences people of color consistently have in our country. In fact, God has used the stories and experiences of people of color in my own life to open my eyes to realize that my perspective is deeply skewed by majority culture. This has pushed me to set aside my own biases to pursue truth, understanding, and the actions that most honor the Lord.
Sometimes the content of these conversations startle us or even cause us to put up walls when we hear something that does not sit well with us. Those are the moments to pause, do a little self-examination, and push through that roadblock to be sure that we are listening to the history, emotional pain, and struggle that many of our Black brothers and sisters have been gracious enough to share. We need to be sure to let these conversations push our limits of compassion and empathy.
Below are some of the most impactful Black voices in my journey:
- John Perkins (Let Justice Roll Down)
- Brenda Salter McNeil (Roadmap to Reconciliation 2.0)
- Michelle Alexander (The New Jim Crow)
- Jemar Tisby (The Color of Compromise)
- James Cone (The Cross & the Lynching Tree)
Acknowledgement of Racial Injustice, Both Past and Present
I recently had a conversation with another white pastor in my city where much of our time focused on the issue of racial division and how Christians should respond. He made the following comment during our meeting: “When explaining the current response to racial injustice (protests, taking down statues, etc.) to white people who don’t understand why it’s happening, I use the analogy of a wound – that whether they agree or not, Black people experience racism like a wound. It’s hurtful, and wounded people react strongly.”
While I appreciated the desire to help white people grow in empathy, I offered the following encouragement and pushback: While it can be helpful to talk about the wounds of racism, that is not sufficient by itself.
We must affirm that those wounds exist because of legitimate, historical, and systemic racism. Our Black family and neighbors are expressing woundedness because of the real, factual, and deep racial prejudice in our country, historically and presently.
Affirming the pain of Black people without affirming the legitimacy of why that pain exists is ultimately fruitless.
We must deal with our own history and acknowledge that our country, from the very beginning, has been steeped in racial prejudice and mistreatment based on skin color – that so often we failed to live up to our own documents, values, and creeds when it comes to the issue of race. By acknowledging the racial injustice in our country, past and present, we begin to understand the need for spiritual repentance and social action.
No More Safe Harbor for Racism or White Supremacy
What do I mean by “No More Safe Harbor?” I mean that we stop acting like racist perspectives are okay; that we stop allowing racist jokes to happen without us challenging the narrative; that when someone uses racialized language, historically racist statements, or speaks of people of color as lesser or inferior, we speak out against that.
Even if it is our family.
Even if it is our pastor or denominational leader.
Even if it is our president.
By creating a culture that does not allow racism to go unchecked or unchallenged, we demonstrate our commitment to living out the values of Jesus and show that we believe every single person is made in the image of God and carries eternal worth because of that fact.
Those of us who believe in the message of the gospel and image of God in every person should be the very people committed to standing against racial prejudice and injustice.
This is not an add-on to the gospel – it is at the very heart of what it means to live out the gospel and the heart of reconciliation that comes from our Father in Heaven.
Remember as you take these next steps that the power of the Holy Spirit is paramount. We act, but we do so with the direction, wisdom, and guidance of God himself.
Take your next steps towards justice with confidence – confidence that the Holy Spirit will guide you into truth, and that He will empower you to live as a minister of reconciliation in our reality.
 Small Group Study can be found here: https://masterlectures.zondervanacademic.com/the-color-of-compromise-jemar-tisby
 A Helpful Reflection guide can be found here: https://covchurch.org/justice/wp-content/uploads/sites/29/2019/08/Cross-and-the-Lynching-Tree-Book-Study-.pdf