Art By Samantha Miller
Many people across the United States came to understand the pain and perspective of POC through the increased attention to the systemic injustices minorities face.
Meanwhile, some people did not desire to grow in empathy and understanding toward POC.
Sadly, within this second set of people are parts of the Christian church.
Christian denominations should serve as a refuge for all people, especially for the oppressed.
The church needs to make racial reconciliation — the facilitation of conversations and healing between two racial groups — a priority to ensure everyone feels welcome and supported.
In the translated Bible, Psalms 82:3 commands Christians to “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and oppressed.”
This verse describes the responsibility of Christians to fight for those who are marginalized in any way.
In Isaiah 1:17, the Bible commands Christians to “Learn to do right, seek justice, defend the oppressed, take up the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.”
Here, the Bible tells believers to actively fight against systems of oppression and search for justice.
There are numerous areas in society where someone can do this today, one example being virtually volunteering with International Rescue Committee to help refugees.
The Christian Church and its people need to advocate for justice for the oppressed, based on the contents of these verses.
Unfortunately, this hasn’t always been the case. In fact, some Christian preachers historically advocated against racial justice and led their churches to believe the same.
Presbyterian preacher James Henley Thornwell encouraged slavery and white supremacy as being biblically supported during his sermon in 1861.
In 1961, Montgomery, Alabama’s most influential Baptist pastor, Henry Lyon Jr., argued he was in favor of racial separation within the church.
The Baptist and Presbyterian sects were not the only ones to deal with these racial issues in the church. Within the Catholic Church, the amount of times it was silent on slavery speaks volumes.
The Catholic Church verbally denounced slavery in 1890, but there wasn’t an official written condemnation until 1965, in a document titled Gaudium et Spes. This written condemnation did not happen until nearly a hundred years after the abolition of slavery, making it feel less meaningful.
Today, most preachers aren’t spouting hateful rhetoric. However, silence on racist events is just as hurtful, indicating a certain complicity and lack of support for members of color.
By not saying anything, some Christian churches show they aren’t actively trying to “correct oppression,” as seen in Isaiah 1:17.
Many churches argue talking about racial reconciliation will be too divisive and will drive people away from the church. But, with that argument in mind, wouldn’t silence drive away POC who are hurting and desperately need the support of their church family?
There are ways to tackle racial reconciliation that won’t divide a church family but rather unite them under a shared goal of equality for all God’s children.
The first way is to honor the perspective of POC within the church. Listen and hear their experiences and their frustrations with recent and past events. Sometimes listening indicates solidarity in a way words cannot.
The second way is to acknowledge the racial injustices going on in the United States. This doesn’t have to be a whole sermon, but even a simple “I see you. I support you. I stand with you” would go far in validating the struggles of POC within the church.
Finally, a more outspoken preacher may consider challenging their congregation to search for ways God calls them to defend the oppressed. For some, this may look like attending peaceful protests. Meanwhile, others may prefer online donations to marginalized groups.
One great example of this is seen in the Orthodox Christian Church. To tackle the tricky conversation regarding racism in a biblical manner, six different members of the Orthodox Church — a member of the clergy, a police officer, a nurse practitioner, an ex-military, a home-schooling mother and a teacher — examined the book of Galatians together.
Over a total of six weeks, they each taught different lessons, explaining what Galatians could teach Americans about the sin of racism and how to tackle it. These lessons were successful and displayed how people from wildly different walks of life can come together under God, equality and justice.
While the Christian Church may have made mistakes regarding race in the past, it is never too late to change. These mistakes don’t change the fact that the grace of God extends directly to the church. Now, it becomes its responsibility to use this grace to make a difference in the lives of its members of color.
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Email Christian Parham: firstname.lastname@example.org