Racial Reconciliation as a Suppressive Frame in Evangelical Multiracial Churches
If you are in the process of or want to become an anti-racist church, please read the following scholarly monograph. Quoting therefrom, the monograph concludes that “a Racial Reconciliation Frame” of ministry functions as a suppressive frame. It redirects discussion about racial injustice by emphasizing common Christian identity and promoting unity in the church instead. The racial reconciliation frame is deployed to discredit Christians who promote racial justice by classifying their actions as political and therefore damaging to unity in the church. While racial reconciliation avoids alienating white congregants and provides a discursive basis for promoting cross-racial relationships, it also suppresses open dialogue about racial inequality and injustice. A small number of evangelical multiracial church pastors in the RLDP sample employ a racial justice frame that emphasizes open discussion about and taking action to combat racial inequality. However, even evangelical pastors who express openness to a racial justice perspective default to enacting the racial reconciliation frame in their leadership. It is rare, indeed, for a pastor to prioritize a racial justice frame.”
Honest denominations, pastors and congregants who are truly intentional about establishing themselves as biblical anti-racist churches must keep in mind the admonishment in Letter from Birmingham Jail by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which stated:
You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.
The monograph goes on to say:
“Pastors of multiracial churches are in congregations where the lived experiences of people of color call into question white congregants’ deeply held political assumptions and ideas.”
To truly be in a biblical multicultural church community, the lived experiences and spiritual and emotional needs of all congregants must be spoken to and be allowed to be discussed fully and honestly, not just those of a dominate culture. Those in the dominate culture must not only “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15), but must also check their privilege (i.e., “consider others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). And we must all “not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4).
The members in the dominate culture in any truely biblical multicultural church family must be awake, and lest we show an ungodly “shadow of turning” and thereby risk forfeiting that biblically multicultural community, we must not fall prey to the description of fear or apathy described in the same letter by Dr. King, viz:
I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice;
The monograph goes on to say:
“Promoting a common faith identity that supersedes racial identity can facilitate cross-racial relationships (Becker 1998; Marti 2005). However, building cross-racial relationships while avoiding engagement with racial politics has pitfalls. Wadsworth (2010:451) identifies a core problem for pastors of multiracial churches: “Their primary operating framework (a biblical multiracial mandate), at least as they articulate it, does not offer clear guidance for engaging in higher cost discussions of political matters.”
“When an incident like Ferguson happens, our data indicates that congregants in multiracial churches respond very differently along racial lines. Pastors who frame these tragedies as racial injustice challenge but also alienate many white congregants who may leave to find a church where they can be more comfortable (Edwards 2008). However, racial reconciliation posits that open discussion about racial inequality is harmful to unity in the church. This raises the question: What does it mean to be united in Christ when some congregants perceive that others do not understand their experiences or respect their basic rights? Can evangelical churches provide spiritually fulfilling experiences and supportive communities for people of color while drawing on a cultural toolkit that preserves white dominance? Even in the wake of white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, some conservative Christian leaders have doubled down on the argument that unity should be prioritized and the idea that “both sides” are at fault in incidents of racial tumult (Zoll 2017). [Editor’s note: there is no moral equivalence between neo-Nazis or white-identity extremists and their counter-protesters.] Some people of color, including prominent evangelical leaders, have left their churches in protest (Lee 2017; McAlister 2018; Robertson 2018). As pastors of multiracial congregations lead amid racial tension in the United States, they will experience the limits of the racial reconciliation frame for bringing people together across race in their congregations.”
With that introduction, I commend the following monograph in its entirety to you.Racial Reconciliation as a Suppressive Frame in Evangelical Multiracial Churches