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Racism Exists in Our Churches: Here’s What to Do About It

Published in the issue.

Since March, much of the world has been talking more about the pandemic of racism and white supremacy along with the Covid19 pandemic. To some of us, it seems that many people were awakened to the reality of racism when George Floyd was murdered. But for decades we have seen murders like Floyd’s murder broadcast on social media, and before that, TV and, before that, in pictures. Why does it seem to be more important now? Or, why does it seem like more people than ever before are going to the streets in protest, to social media in solidarity, to popular books written by people of color, to anti-racism courses?

I believe people are more aware because the pandemic has forced us to slow down or stop. We don’t have the luxury of being numbed or distracted by work, outings, dates, church services, bars, restaurants and everything else that we could do before we were asked to stop or slow down to flatten the curve. I have seen people who, as we proudly say in Episcopalian circles, belong to the via media, taking a stance against racism and white supremacy. I have read people’s posts and articles and have seen many people around the Episcopal Church creating curriculum for all ages on how to be an anti-racist. And, all of this is great.

But for all of us who have at some point been victims of racism and white supremacy, of micro- and macro-aggressions, and of not belonging in our own Episcopal Church, this is not new and it has not finished. We are faced with it every time we enter most spaces in the United States. As an Episcopalian, white supremacy, whiteness, and racism are things I face every time I am in an all-English speaking Episcopal space. I have to prepare myself to enter most Episcopal churches – will anyone say hello to me? Will I be the only dark Brown person? Will I feel welcome by the iconography, music, sermon, leadership? Often I am the only person of color in the space. Other times I don’t see any person of color on the altar and, unfortunately, sometimes there won’t be any women on the altar or in leadership either. If we are truly being awakened now, let us not go back to the “normalcy” in our churches that elevate whiteness.

Here are some things I encourage you to do if you are honestly committed to dismantling white supremacy and racism and your own white privilege:

  • Develop respectful, redemptive relationships with people who do not look or think like you. Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) can be found in many spaces, especially now that we are all available all over the world through tools like zoom.
  • Educate yourself continuously. We never stop learning. Reading a book, especially with others who are committed to racial justice, is a good first step. Taking a class or a course that allows you time to come to terms with your own prejudices and privileges and that gives you tools to use on yourself is a great step.
  • Allow yourself to mourn and feel the guilt that your new knowledge brings up. Do not become defensive. Rather ask God to help you repent and recommit yourself to your baptismal covenant.
  • Commit yourself to action and start small. It can be calling your representative about a law, or attending a demonstration/protest, or buying only from businesses ran by BIPOC. Every step is a good step towards being anti-racist.

It is a privilege to not have to think about taking a stand or action against racism. I pray all my siblings who identify as white can join the rest of us in lifting every voice to sing: freedom!