Sometimes it is overt, like the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, August 11-12, 2017, when Heather Heyer was killed and 19 others injured when a white supremacist intentionally struck them with his car.
Other times, it is more subtle. A nasty comment from a coworker or an assumption that crosses our mind and grieves our heart.
Those in the United States live in a culture permeated with racial bias. We may not be able to avoid racism, but we don’t have to accept it. If God’s kingdom is to come, and God’s will is to be done on earth as it is in heaven, things need to change.
We can be the agents of that transformation by changing our beliefs, changing our actions, and working to change the world.**
Changing beliefs about race
Becoming an agent of transformation includes focusing within ourselves. We need to allow God to shape our inner thoughts and attitudes toward race.
Pray – Changing our beliefs begins with prayer, which “is foundational to everything we do as Christians,” writes Katelin Hansen, Director of Strategic Initiatives and Training, at the United Methodist Church and Community Development for All People. In addition to prayers for events of racial injustice in the news and your life, pray for God to change your heart and attitudes. Hansen offers a sample prayer:
Triune God, help us be ever faithful to your example: affirming of our unique identities, while remaining unified as one body in you. Help us seek out the voices that are missing, and empower the marginalized. Let our witness of repentance, justice, and reconciliation bring glory to You, O Lord.
Broaden your education – It is important to include more voices in your learning. The internet is a great resource to find authors and thinkers whose racial and cultural backgrounds differ from your own. In a video produced by the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR) Hansen shares, “I turned to the digital world to continue my racial education, to serve as the professors of justice and theology that I never had.”
Seek new relationships – There is no substitute for sharing consistent, ongoing, authentic relationships with people of color. Developing those relationships may mean moving out of your comfort zone. Hansen and her husband became members of a multi-race and multi-class church. “We joined out of a belief that isolating ourselves among believers of similar backgrounds just deprives our own souls of God’s majesty,” she says in the GCORR video.
Forming authentic relationships takes time. Don’t rush it.
We live out our changing beliefs through changes in behavior. Through some bigger steps we begin to act on what we believe about race.
Empower leaders – Use your resources to promote and equip leaders of color. Then, be willing to follow. Listen and act on opinions, activities, and points of view different from your own.
Show up – “At the guidance and invitation of leaders of color,” Hansen writes, “show up when called upon.” As we come together for conversations and deomonstrations, we build a culture of justice in our community and model multi-cultural love and understanding.
Spend responsibly – Support racial equality through your shopping and donations. Shop at local markets owned by people of color. Donate to charities and ministries led by and supporting those of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.
Examine your media intake – Expand your social media follows and news sites to include voices and opinions different from your own. For big stories, be sure to consult multiple sources from a variety of points of view. Don’t rely on just one when you form an opinion.
Consider your entertainment choices also. Be aware of the movies, music, and television shows you consume that promote equality, and those that present a bias. Listen to more voices and remain aware of how they are shaping you.
Author and professor Robin DiAngelo reminds us in a Vital Congregations video from GCORR, racism is “group prejudice backed up by institutional power.” Therefore, to take a stand against racism we cannot simply change our own beliefs and behaviors. We must also work to change the world.
Advocate – Written and unwritten policies in our neighborhoods, workplaces, churches, schools, and nation disadvantage certain ethnicities. Learn from the people of color in your neighborhood about the ways they feel disadvantaged and find ways to participate in changing those systems.
Sponsor – People of color sometimes struggle to access public services, opportunities, and more. Use your money, gifts, and sphere of influence to make a difference. Sponsor friends and coworkers who need assistance to attend a career seminar. Encourage and lead your congregation toward creating programs like a Freedom School. Invest in people and programs that work toward racial justice.
Take a risk – Meaningful change requires risk. Sometimes we will put our reputations, money, and leadership opportunities on the line. Shaping our society and institutions to reflect more fully the kingdom of God will not always be appreciated. We must be willing to risk the loss.
Changing beliefs, changing behavior, and changing society are long processes that may never be complete. We must continue, however, to work for change in all three areas as God calls us.
“These steps aren’t so much a progression as they are a cycle,” Hansen concludes. “Advocacy without relationship is empty. Education without changed behavior is hollow. Sponsorship without humility and trust is misguided.”
What steps will you take to participate in God's transformational work of moving our society toward racial equality?
To find resources about how The United Methodist Church is working toward racial justice visit umc.org/EmbraceLove.
**Special thanks to Katelin Hansen for this framework from her blog By Their Strange Fruit. I use it with her permission. Hansen is the Director of Strategic Initiatives and Training, at the United Methodist Church and Community Development for All People, a multiracial congregation in Columbus, Ohio.