Some time ago my church hosted a deeper dive into the topic of reflections on racism. I was so proud of my church. To engage in such a difficult, and deeply felt topic, and to do it with grace. From those on stage to the chat hosts, our whole team handled everything with such grace and courage. I know we took some hits for it and that we have received some nasty emails, but the overall response was one of incredible thankfulness.
The deeper dives are one of my favorite experiments. The conversation last night on reflections on racism was incredibly helpful, courageous, gracious, and uncomfortable. As a dad of a Black son, I’ve learned a lot over the years as I try to prepare Judah to be a Black man in America, which is different than being a White man in America because whether we want to admit it, white privilege is real.
5 Pastoral Reflections on Racism
I have a long way to go in that understanding and education, but I’m trying. I thought I would take a moment and share a few reflections on racism, what I learned in moderating the conversation and how we can engage together:
1. Decide a conversation on racism is worth engaging in.
I am proud of my church for deciding to have this conversation. This isn’t the only time we’ve talked about this at my church or even the last time. But I am thankful that we have it. I know that we lost some people because of it,, but I also know that we gained and impacted some people. And no, that isn’t a reason to do it, but it is a reality of leadership.
I think many of us, either because of ignorance, fear (which we’ll talk about), or simply because other things are happening in front of us, we don’t engage in this conversation. We don’t learn; we don’t listen, we don’t step into it. As leaders, we must. We can’t sit on the sideline and do nothing or say nothing.
But this is a conversation; it takes two people and conversations happen both ways. When it comes to race, we must engage together, listening, and learning. Asking questions, being willing to stumble over words, asking what seems like a dumb question, extending grace when someone says something they shouldn’t, or struggles to see if from your perspective.
Too often, we assume we know what the other person thinks. There were several things that Pastor Grady said last night and thought, “I’ve never heard that before.” Or, “I never thought about it from that angle.”
Too often, and I’ll speak just for me, I can think I know all that there is to know. Or I can assume that because I read one book or a blog post, that I know what everyone experiences. I can easily assume that because I experienced something or haven’t experienced something, that everyone has my worldview.
2. Talking about racism is uncomfortable.
The reality is, this is an uncomfortable conversation. It is uncomfortable because many of us don’t know what to say; we don’t know where to start; we struggle to understand our own story and the story of others. We struggle to see their perspective and understand what it is like to be ____ in America.
I am consistently humbled by the grace extended to me by my African American friends and pastors in Tucson. They graciously keep coming to the table to talk, to listen, to press in.
So, as a White person, it is difficult and uncomfortable. But I remember hearing a black pastor say, “If you think it’s uncomfortable talking about racism, imagine experiencing it.”
I have grown to discover that I have very little idea of the pain that African Americans feel and carry because of racism. Talking about racism, what lies in my heart is hard to do because it means I must confront sin in me and in the systems that live in our culture.
And yes, systemic racism and white privilege exist. They are not made up or imagined things, but part of the conversation we must have and things we must confront.