How the pandemic prepared churches for addressing racism

June 17th, 2020
This article is featured in the Acting Missionally issue of Ministry During The Pandemic

Over the last three months, the church pivoted quickly to be able to serve people in a new way. You have made changes that needed to be made for years. You have moved from being building-bound to offering online worship, from attendance-based giving to online giving, and from resisting change to embracing it. In many ways, churches have weathered the pandemic well.

Now, a new crisis is before us. Pain and outrage over the recent videotaped murder of George Floyd, and so many others, has brought American society to a tipping point. Most folks agree — systemic racism and implicit bias are a pervasive problem. It must end.

Can the church effectively pivot from one crisis to the next? My answer is yes. In fact, the pandemic has actually prepared churches for just such a time as this. Here’s why I think so.

The deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and so many others point to a series of changes that have been needing to be made for many long years. The issue of structural or systemic racism has been with us since the founding of our country. While much progress has been made, clearly we aren’t there yet. 

The church, once hemmed in by tradition and limited by fear of change, has proven that it can effectively slip the knots that prevented it from making meaningful change. The result is brand new ways of being a spiritual community. If the church can reimagine worship, fellowship, Bible study, giving, Holy Communion, baptism, funerals and hospitality — the very things that defined us before — then it can do the same with the insistent tentacles of systemic racism. In part, because there are a surprising number of similarities between the two crises. 

Surprising number of similarities

First, like the pandemic, systemic racism has far-reaching life and death implications. Addressing it well means we have to change the way we think about things and do things. The church now has experience with this.

Second, churches now know that what seemed impossible before is actually quite possible. Although many congregations resisted the idea for years, they can now make quick adjustments based on changing circumstances, adopt new forms of communication and embrace innovative ways of being community. Similarly, recognizing and addressing systemic racism once seemed impossible to many. But if mainline congregations can grow and thrive during a pandemic, then perhaps churches do have the agility to tackle something as pervasive as systemic racism.

Third, churches learned a new language to deal with an invisible virus whose vocabulary includes social distancing, droplets, and N95 masks. It also mastered new technologies like Facebook Live, Zoom, breakout rooms and online giving platforms. Likewise, dealing with the almost invisible scourge of systemic racism will require a new language and a new willingness to try emerging technologies.

Fourth, during the pandemic, tired church practices yielded to more foundational life-giving spirituality. Taking the claims of systemic racism seriously will require a shift from dogmatic denials of racism and the unconscious exercise of privilege to painful yet life-giving awareness of the people and the world around us.

Fifth, and finally, faith-based community enjoyed a resurgence during the pandemic. People looked to spiritual leaders to provide meaning, solace and inspiration. In the same way, spiritual leaders can guide us in this uncomfortable new world of identifying unconscious bias, unacknowledged privilege and unseen barriers that have kept us away from each other. 

Beloved Community

None of this will be easy. And none of this is guaranteed. It will take equal parts guts, prayer, self-reflection, education, determination, inspiration and action to make the changes needed to envision and ensure a world that works for everyone. But now is the time to begin. It just might be the Beloved Community that arises.

Need help to make the shift?

Need help to make this shift? I have two resources to empower you. First, join me for Never Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste. This three-session short course will empower you to claim all that you have learned during the pandemic, celebrate your newfound capacities, and discover how to build on what you have gained. Finally, it will empower you to envision tomorrow’s miracles.

Second, join me for How to Create a Culture of Renewal on June 29. This free, 60-minute seminar introduces you to the magic of our three-year program, Creating a Culture of Renewal (CCR). Through CCR, leaders learn how to transform their congregations and communities by becoming visionary agents of change. For such a time as this.

comments powered by Disqus