Why Does My White Church Have to Talk About Race?

In my work facilitating Sacred Conversations on Race in a denomination that is about 87% white, I've repeatedly run into this question: Do we need continue to talk about race if, in spite of our efforts, our congregation remains all white?

It is a foreign concept for me as a native of one of the most diverse cities in the world. But beyond what someone from New York City can fathom, there are indeed cities and regions in America where very few (or no) people of color reside. And churches in the midst of these communities might struggle to find and retain non-white membership. And even in racially mixed regions, historical, cultural and systematic realities often lead to segregated houses of worship.

So the question remains, if there is no potential for non-white membership, do we still have to talk about race?

I hate to say it but the answer is still yes. You do. And here are some reasons why.

First of all, "white" (White, European American, Caucasian, "Gringo") is a race. There is a tendency to see white as a standard or default. The idea of "race" or "ethnicity" is a category given to people whose physical or social characteristics deviate from the "norm" of whiteness. Looking through that lens, a conversation about race is often seen as a conversation about people of color only. Yet a holistic conversation about race would indeed include white people. So even if your church is completely white, there are still many things to unpack and discover about your church's racial history and culture.

Secondly, whiteness should be examined in safe and non-supremacist spaces. Majority white churches with progressive intentions are perfect spaces for this sort of examination. European American culture is in many ways the most dominant culture but somehow the least examined. There is always an awareness of the collective when it comes to the behavior of a person of color. But whiteness somehow gets to remain the only race of disconnected individuals. Just take a look at how the media deals with a white active verses how it deals with a shooter of color. This is something that might be uncomfortable to engage but it is relevant work for churches that are interested in racial progress.

Lastly, some of the white supremacy that still plagues our culture can only defeated by the work and commitment of progressive white people. We have been watching Donald Trump gain traction as a candidate for presidency by spewing racist, sexist and ableist rhetoric. His words seem to be appealing to a segment of mostly white Americans who feel offended and somehow suppressed by movements for justice and equality. While their mob-like presence is frightening to people of color, I believe it is also scary and disheartening for most white people. And there is only so much we can do as people of color when it comes to stopping this sort of hate speech and behavior. The hands-on work of dismantling this level of hatred falls upon white people who remember history, who see the danger and want to see an end. You don't need people of color in your town or church to do this collective internal work of dismantling racism.

For too long America has been plagued by racialized blind spots that only allowed certain people access to the fullness of their humanity. And even if you are white living and worshiping in an all-white context, awareness is still essential. And as people of faith the move from awareness to action, regardless of demographics, should be seen as a Divine imperative and should go hand in hand with the way we understand our faith. It would behoove us all to begin to do the work of unpacking and dismantling our blind spots for the sake of everyone's survival and well-being.