Five Ideas for Stewardship for Churches Seeking to be Actively Anti-racist
By Ken Sloane
In late May of 2020, a world confined by the COVID-19 pandemic stopped for a moment at the horror of videos showing the death of George Floyd of Minneapolis at the hands of a city police officer. We offered condolences and prayers to the families. Some of us marched to bring national and global attention to the tragedy. Since then, the names of Daunte Wright, Rayshard Brooks, and Daniel Prude have joined George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery – just the most recent on a long list of African American citizens who died violent deaths at the hands of those who wield authority in our society.
Alongside these cases of brutality on black citizens was the rise of acts of violence directed to Asian Americans. This woke many of us feel challenged to do more. We post our anger and our rejection on social media, make public where we stand, show solidarity with our sisters and brothers of color, and yet we feel there is more to do. As a white Christian, I need to claim my own privileged status in society and understand that racism will never be fully purged from my soul until I admit that saying, “I am not a racist” is not a completely honest statement while I enjoy the benefits that are bestowed because of the color of my skin. The best I can hope to achieve, that white Christians can hope to achieve, is to identify as “actively anti-racist.”
In our Baptismal Covenant, United Methodists vow to “renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of (our) sin.” We accept the power God gives us to “resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.” These vows are not just what we do as individuals, but collectively as the church – to be agents in the world for the eradication of evil, injustice, and oppression.
My current role in The United Methodist Church is to equip leaders in the work of stewardship, finance, and growing generous disciples. How can churches help their members be explicitly engaged in ministry that works against the spiritual forces of racism? How can we help our people see that being disciples of Jesus Christ in this place and time calls us to be actively working to dismantle racism? How does the way we use our money, as individuals and as churches, testify to our desire to be anti-racists? Here are five ideas that might get you started thinking creatively in that direction:
1. FUND ANTI-RACISM MINISTRY IN YOUR CHURCH
There is a lot of talk in churches and among members about opposing racism, but opposition to racism moves to a new level when a church puts money in the budget to empower anti-racism discipleship. I write this in the midst of a time that has already been stressful for church finances and when many are anxious as they think of preparing next year’s budget; but a line devoted to this aspect of your church’s ministry (even if it a small amount to start) sends a powerful signal: it’s not all talk.
Your church might also want to consider creating a special designated fund, outside of the operating budget that might be available for special gifts (similar to your memorial fund, or a building fund). This money could carry over each year and could be used for additional projects in the dismantling of racism.
2. ADD ANTI-RACISM TO SOMEONE’S JOB DESCRIPTION
Find someone on your staff or in your congregation who has demonstrated passion for the work of anti-racism and ask that person to lead. Make sure that person is available and willing to lead the work, design some outcomes, and report on progress. Of course, putting anti-racism work in a person’s portfolio or assigning it to one volunteer does not abdicate the rest of us, as followers of Christ, from our personal role in “rejecting the spiritual forces of wickedness,” which clearly includes racism. Assigning a leader can help effectively organize and mobilize the whole body of Christ. Provide a seat at the appropriate bodies of the church (church council, outreach committee, etc.) and make them available for consulting with other bodies (trustees, staff-parish relations committee, etc.). There is an existing local church position—religion and race ministry leader—and a downloadable job description from the Discipleship Ministries website that might be helpful in both recruiting for and guiding these new responsibilities. The anti-racism staff or volunteer should also help those who work with children, youth, and young adults.
3. INVEST IN EDUCATION FOR LEADERSHIP TO BETTER UNDERSTAND RACISM
Find some available funds to equip your key leaders with a deeper understanding of the dynamics of racism in America (or find a donor who might be happy to underwrite the cost). You might consider a book to be discussed at each of the upcoming church council meetings or in a separate study group that meets Sunday mornings or on weekdays. There are excellent books on anti-racism, and our United Methodist agencies offer some excellent resources, such as Discipleship Ministries’ “Courageous Conversations” and the resources available from the General Board of Religion and Race’s (GCORR) resource library.
4. Establish Policies to Examine Diversity in Your Church's Vendors
I will be forever grateful to Bishop Alfred Johnson (now retired) for his guidance and teaching (with love) about the dynamics of racism, especially the economics of racism. When a vendor would send a group to propose a relationship with our conference, his first question would be an inquiry about the diversity of the company. It was the bishop’s way of communicating what our conference valued. Churches that want to be committed to dismantling racism will want to consider asking hard, uncomfortable questions before engaging in new relationships with businesses. Similarly, actively seeking out ethnically owned and ethnically run businesses will demonstrate your church’s commitment to healing the wounds of racism.
5. IDENTIFY ETHNIC CHURCHES THAT MIGHT BE PARTNERS IN GUIDING YOUR WORK
If you are a predominantly white congregation, consider partnering with a nearby ethnic local church as part of your anti-racism ministry. Building relationships is crucially important in ministry and supporting each other’s events, and ministry efforts would no doubt strengthen both churches. The perspective of people of different races can influence the way we spend our dollars (both as congregations and individuals) and reinforce better stewardship to invest in ways that support the conviction to be anti-racists.
Here are four suggestions to further resource your church for growth in understanding racism:
- Andrea Flynn, Susan R. Holmberg, Dorian T. Warren, Felicia J. Wong. The Hidden Rules of Race: Barriers to an Inclusive Economy. (Cambridge Studies in Stratification Economics: Economics and Social Identity, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2017)
- Ibram X. Kendi . How to Be an Antiracist. (Random House, New York, 2019)
- Calvin Schermerhorn ,“Why the Racial Wealth Gap Persists, More than 150 Years after Emancipation,” The Washington Post (June 19, 2019), https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2019/06/19/why-racial-wealth-gap-persists-more-than-years-after-emancipation/
- Nikki Toyama-Szeto, “Raise Your Signs and Voices. Then Raise Your Church's Race Awareness,”Religious News Service (June 5, 2020), https://religionnews.com/2020/06/05/raise-your-signs-and-voices-then-raise-your-churchs-race-awareness.
Ken Sloane is the Director of Stewardship & Generosity for Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church.