Antiracist discipleship

Racism is anti-Christian. 

It is not a secondary or social issue—it is a sin issue. Racism is antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

We believe that racial reconciliation as it has been understood thus far and multiethnic congregations are not enough. Local churches must organize to engage in the work of antiracism—the policy or practice of opposing racism and promoting racial equality. We need to challenge and reorganize the systems that perpetuate inequity and the continued harm and oppression of persons of color.

To stop short of this is in fact anti-Christian.

In an earlier article we gave a preview of a fourfold framework that moves us towards healing racialization:

  1. Antiracist Discipleship: A prayerful process of engagement with Biblical and historical sources that helps congregations go on a journey of metanoia (a transformation of heart and mind, repentance) (Gal 3:28). 
  2. Shared Leadership: A prayerful process of sharing power, in which persons of color inhabit equal positions of leadership throughout the congregation/organization/society (Acts 6:1-7). 
  3. Justice-Oriented Expressions: A prayerful journey of cultivating new Christian communities throughout a parish or region, which have an internal motivation to include diversity (Lk 10:1-9). 
  4. Reorganizing Structures: A prayerful, strategic, and cooperative effort of congregations to join other activists, groups, organizations, and faith communities to challenge identified features of structural racism in local, regional, and national systems (Micah 6:8).     

We would like to offer four follow up articles that dig into each dimension of the pathway we propose in the book  Doing Justice Together. Let’s begin with antiracist discipleship. 

A close reading of the New Testament shows a group of flawed and faltering disciples failing forward together on a journey of grace. In reality, they were merely continuing the compassionate ministry of Jesus, who ate with sinners (Lk 15:2), healed gentiles (Lk 7:5, Mt 8:5-13, Mk 7:27), and shared with Samaritans, considered racially impure and religiously heretical, that an age of the Spirit was coming when these points of contention would be made irrelevant and true worshipers would worship in “spirit and truth” (Jn 4:23). That unorthodox behavior put Jesus at odds with the religious establishment (Matt 12:1-14), and it later put the disciples in a situation of persecution (Acts 7).

In Acts, the Spirit continues the compassionate work of Jesus. The disciples understood they were not simply transmitting something only in the past, but a living and breathing faith taking new shapes in the present. After all, Jesus didn’t tell them he had given them all truth, but that when the Spirit came, he would guide them “into all truth” (Jn 16:13).

Acts unfolds as a story of the Spirit guiding a flawed and failing group of humans forward into boundary-crossing mission. The Spirit tells Philip to catch up with the eunuch’s chariot (8:29) and snatches him away once he’s been baptized (8:39). The Spirit pushes Peter past his convictions about what’s clean and unclean, telling him in a vision to take and eat (10:13). The Spirit places a vision in Cornelius and initiates the gentile Pentecost (10:3). The Spirit of Jesus restrains Paul from entering Bithynia (17:7) and inspires him through a vision to travel to Macedonia (17:9).

When we speak of discipleship we want to critique several elements that make it seem one dimensional. First, the nature of thinking of discipleship as imparting biblical knowledge in a classroom or sanctuary setting. That is one element of discipleship, learning to bend our life to the truth of scripture, but there is much more. 

Second, the focus of the “making” of disciples being upon our own actions, rather than the Spirit’s work. In this paradigm, we run the risk of playing god. 

Third, how we jump to the Great Commission, before we have spent time with the Great Commandment “to love God and neighbor.” We believe these are sequenced in the Bible in order for a reason. Jesus emphasizes with the disciples learning to love God and each other under his tutelage through on-the-job-training, before sending them out to all the world. 

Finally, the mobile nature of all this, that the disciples are sent out to do this work, not trying to gather people in a religious edifice. They have become the temple themselves. Oftentimes, believers see their Christian life as centering around the compound, rather than growing as disciples at home with the family, at work with colleagues, and in third places with friends.

The pathway we suggest in the book moves us beyond some of that one-dimensional thinking about discipleship. We begin with focusing on working with a small group of people, but then explore how to share power, how to cultivate justice-oriented communities, and how to affect the oppressive structures of a racialized society. Each of those dimensions include aspects of our discipleship. 

How is it that people can be long-term faithful church attendees, and yet still be deeply racist? Why have psychological and sociological studies since the 1970s demonstrated that there is not a positive correlation between church attendance and increased compassion response? This is a failure at the level of discipleship. 

We live in a racial hierarchy, what some have called an invisible pyramid, or a racial caste system that deforms us all in racist ideas and behaviors. The journey of sanctification, our ongoing growth in love for God and neighbor, must include healing from the sin of racism.     

So where do we get started? We have to begin somewhere practical right? Well, this is partly our motivation for creating this resource. From our own experience, there is a way to play to our strengths to get started, but we can’t stop there, we have to move out into growth areas as well. We have designed this book to be used to help a team or congregation explore a pathway that heals racialization, personally, congregationally, and societally. We cannot stop the work until healing occurs in each of these dimensions. 

The first step is to get a group of people together who are willing to engage in a journey of antiracist discipleship. Advertise the beginning of a new study. Have people begin reading the book. Get with your team and begin to work through the exercises and the stories. Have them read other resources we mention along the way. You have now begun the journey towards antiracist discipleship.

To order the book, visit here. Bulk order pricing is available for congregations and annual conferences. Access the Doing Justice Together playlist on the new Fresh Expressions Amplify channel. Let’s go on the journey—together. 

comments powered by Disqus