Words matter; but without action, they lose their dignity and meaning.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a servant of the church, it’s this: We love talking about race, racism, and white privilege, especially those of us who identify as progressive Christians. But we rarely do a thing about these evils within our own institutions. While we’re fighting against the injustices “out there,” the church within often remains unchanged at its core.
If racism and white privilege/supremacy were actively being dismantled to create a more just, diverse, equal, God-reflecting church, we might be able to answer the following questions with a resounding “Yes”:
- Is there equal representation of historically oppressed/underrepresented groups in all settings of church leadership (local church, middle judicatory, and national)? Have people of color made it to the highest positions within our churches and denomination in equal proportions? In other words, have people of color been able to move beyond serving at the behest of white (usually male, heterosexual, cis-gender, able bodied) senior ministers/executives/boards?
- In addition to representation, is space truly made on councils, boards, and leadership structures for people of color to hold equal stake, decision-making power, authority, and respect?
- Beyond representation in our current structures, are we analyzing how these structures themselves are also perpetuating white supremacy, and then working to dismantle and transform them?
- Is the great wealth of the church—our assets, securities, endowments, properties, etc.—being transferred to, and utilized for the empowerment and agency of, historically oppressed groups for ministry transformation? Are these groups even aware of, or able to access, these assets?
- Have we as individuals, churches, and institutions with privilege actually risked and lost anything—power, influence, status, safety, time, money, property—as a result of working to dismantle racism and white supremacy? (See Matthew 16:25 for reference.)
People of color are struggling for survival every day in this country. The church shouldn’t be making us struggle for survival too—the church should be a place where we are equal stakeholders and shapers of the present and future. Otherwise, none of us will be truly free.
There is a time for talking and educating; and that is part of the work we are called to do as people of faith. We must also continue to dismantle racism in the public sphere. But at some point, we need to start putting our money where our mouth is—literally. Who will join me and work within the church to make it a more just, more equitable, more diverse, more collaborative, more transparent, more Spirit-filled place for all?
Rev. Dr. Kristina Lizardy-Hajbi works within the national setting of the UCC as director of the Center for Analytics, Research and Data (CARD). She is committed to dismantling racism and white privilege/supremacy from within the church as a minister, researcher and statistician, and justice seeking child of God.