In a country built with racism as its foundation, nothing causes more anxiety than to ask people to talk about race. And yet, we progressive Christians believe that until we are able to talk about race we will not dismantle racism.
I have three pet peeves about conversations on race:
- Hosting one has become the go-to response of well-meaning people of faith whenever there is a senseless killing of a person of color.
- Black people never spend time agonizing about being black. What do we gain from having a conversation with white people agonizing about black people being black?
- When has a conservative right winger ever shown up for one of these?
The next time the Spirit moves us to have the courage to talk about race, let’s do these 10 things:
- Banish the title “Conversation on Race”. Instead let’s have a Conversation on God’s Kin-dom as God Conceives It, or for multiple religious traditions, Conversations on All Creation Achieving Perfection.
- Do not hold the conversation unless there is equal representation from at least four racial/ethnic identifications, at least one person from every letter of “LGBTQ”, and at least four different religious traditions.
- Ban all conversations about tolerance of diversity. Focus the conversation on dismantling white supremacy.
- The group should be divided evenly among the Greatest, Boomers, X, Y and Z generations. Each individual should speak at least once before anyone speaks a second time. No single group or individual should dominate the conversation.
- At least 30 percent of the conversation should be on one thing each house of worship will commit to do to transform the local economy to employ low income, low skilled workers in or near the communities they are located in.
- Every house of worship represented that has an endowment should commit to changing their endowment investment policy to require social, economic and spiritual impact in addition to financial return.
- Before participating in the conversation, the convener must provide to everyone a list of definitions a week in advance on the terms “race,” “racism,” “racial/ethnic prejudice,” “class,” “Jesus’ preferential option for the poor,” “white supremacy,” “white privilege,” and “#BlackLivesMatter.”
- About 30 percent of the conversation should be devoted to creating a list of action items to end poverty, racism, white privilege and/or white supremacy. Each individual must be tasked to bring an action item back to their place of worship to convene group participation in making progress on the action item. Progress on action steps should be the first item on every subsequent conversations that may be held.
- Banish all statements about what “they” should do. When speaking about action steps, all the focus should be on what “I” or “we” must do.
- Everyone should be open to black people expressing anger and white people feeling guilty. Pain should be felt by all. But at the end, each person should look every other person in the eye and say “I love you like God loves me”, and should really, really mean it. Even if you don’t, it’s good to practice the way God expects us to treat other humans beings.
Now if somebody invites me to that conversation, I will buy all the refreshments and be there early!
The Reverend Doctor Patrick Garnet Duggan is a native New Yorker, the son of a Jamaican cabinet maker and a New York attorney. He serves as Senior Pastor of the Congregational Church of South Hempstead UCC and Executive Director of the UCC Church Building and Loan Fund. He loves writing, preaching, teaching, helping church leaders with difficult building projects, and talking about how the church can use its resources to change the world. Twitter: @revduggan1