Racial Reconciliation Conferences Don't Work

"My sister came home with a Black Lives Matter t-shirt on and my father told her to get the f*** out of his house. My parents are divorced so she just went to my Mom's. He won't talk to her and she won't talk to him. What do you suggest I do?"

This young white-American college student is the reason that Racial Reconciliation Conferences don't work apart from a sustained effort to engage in racial conciliation and justice.

First, to paraphrase Mark Charles, it's hard to reconcile something that was never together in the first place. This is certainly true of the racial/ethnic history of America. Additionally, these divisions are not only ideological but physical. Slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, reservations, internment and deportations leave our communities divided by class and/or skin color in every corner of this country. 

Secondly, the emotional capacity necessary for this young woman to communicate with her father and sister takes more than a few hours to cultivate. Furthermore, the closer that we are to the people who are hurting, fearful and angry because of some unconscious bias, acute fear or other deep-seated cause, the more costly and difficult it can be to practice peacemaking. Many times, we leave conferences with information to win an argument but no tools to mend relationships. Thus, the status quo remains firmly in tact. 

Lastly, racial reconciliation conferences don't work because they are often one-off events disconnected from ministry priorities and deemed extra - not essential.  Talking about race is a first step but far from a pursuit of racial justice.  Ethnic minorities and those attempting to "make things right" when it comes to mass incarceration, school to prison pipelines, gerrymandering and the like, more often than not leave Racial Reconciliation gatherings at best more informed and more upset. There are rarely calls to lament and repent, let alone funded sustained action against racial and ethnic injustice. Instead there is a commission of some sort and a silent or spoken commitment to keep the dialogue going until the next "conference". Perhaps the attendees' expectations were too high or the bar for the conference was too low. Either way, the mark is missed. 

What this young woman needs isn't a conference but a community dedicated to the messy work of reconciliation and justice that Jesus modeled and His disciples practiced in Acts.  What our churches and fellowships must become are the places where the messy, awesome work of justice actually happens. The world doesn't need another conference. We need to truly be the Church and make disciples able to preach the Gospel of Jesus to a world in need of a Messiah in word, deed and power; and stop producing Christian material for Christians' personal consumption. This is especially true when it comes to practicing racial conciliation and pursuing racial justice because this redemptive work happens around kitchen tables and over cups of coffee. Seldom does it occur in a room of 200+ people. God help us to do things differently and according to Your Will. Amen.

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