The Burden Is on Us: Anti-Racism in the White Church
By Wendy Hudson
When our congregation started three years ago, we initially gathered as a group of twelve: eleven were white and one was black. We wanted to become multiethnic and multiracial but realized quickly that we were far away from that dream of God. While we were praying and working toward a more complete reflection of the reign of God, we realized we could commit to the work of anti-racism.
For the past three years, our mostly white congregation has deepened our connection to the lived realities of our black siblings and kin by adopting a posture of repentance leading to action, of learning and of moving at the speed of trust. Our journey is one we choose every day, and we have seen God at work powerfully as we have taken these steps.
Repentance Leading to Action
The biblical concept of repenting means turning one’s back on the ways of the past and turning toward a new way – in this instance turning away from sin and turning toward the work of God. It’s hard and painful for us as white people to recognize all the ways we benefit from white supremacy and the ways that our everyday actions and social systems prop up racism. We must face the hard truth that our actions, attitudes, and structures cause harm to people of color – to our black and indigenous siblings and kin. Recognizing that truth leads us to repent, to turn our backs on these actions and attitudes of harm and the sin that is within them. But repenting without action is not enough. Repenting of our participation in and complicity with white supremacy cannot be just a matter of the heart or an academic pursuit. Biblical repentance means we must pair this change of heart with a change in the tangible pursuits of our lives.
In our congregation, repenting always leads to action. Galatians 3:28 reminds us “There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (CEB). We want to experience this oneness in tangible ways. Our commitment to anti-racism means we examine and then change how we spend our money, where we shop, what we read, where we live, how we educate our children, what media we consume as individuals and as a community. We don’t stop with guilt or grief; we use the power of God’s uniting spirit to make necessary changes in our lives.
As a community, we committed to active learning as a significant part of living out our values of inclusion and anti-racism. This means we began to listen to the black folks and people of color in our community with intention and care. As the lead pastor, I reached out individually to see what people needed from us. Sometimes people needed space to lament. Others needed physical or financial support. Often, people sought a place to speak and be honored and heard. So, we provided all those supports without hesitation. We started anti-racist book clubs to educate ourselves and our broader community. We invited leaders of the local Gullah-Geechee community, a group centered in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, to speak to us. We translated our children’s spiritual formation materials into Gullah, the local language spoken by many of our black neighbors, so all of our children had equal access to learning. We apologized when we made mistakes, both as individuals and as a congregation. We showed up when we were invited by our black neighbors and friends, and we did the actions we were asked to do. We diversified our worship leadership to center black voices. Just like repenting leads to action, so does learning. The more we deeply entered the experiences and stories of black people, indigenous people, and other people of color, the more changes we made to ensure our community was reflecting God’s commitments to equity, justice, inclusion, and belonging.
Just like repenting leads to action, so does learning. The more we deeply entered the experiences and stories of black people, indigenous people, and other people of color, the more changes we made to ensure our community was reflecting God’s commitments to equity, justice, inclusion, and belonging.
Moving at the Speed of Trust
Relationship is everything. In the Gospels, we see over and over again that lives begin to change when people are in relationship with Jesus. Jesus established and created relationships in so many ways: instantly with a touch of healing; joyfully at family weddings; over time around dinner tables and campfires. Our journey as a church to anti-racism is centered around relationships. And just as our own journey of sanctification—of becoming more and more like Jesus—is a lifelong adventure, so is our commitment to anti-racism and dismantling white supremacy. We are committed to this work because our relationship with Jesus moves us into deep solidarity with our black and indigenous neighbors and other people of color.
But as a predominantly white congregation, we move slowly and intentionally to deepen and build relationships with our black friends and neighbors. One of our community partners reminded us that relationship grows only at the speed of trust, especially relationships between white folks and black folks. The partnerships we have nurtured and developed over the years have been built slowly and intentionally and only at the invitation of the black folks who lead. We show up as a community in the ways we are asked and do the actions requested of us. We maintain integrity in what we say about Black Lives Matter and in how we center the black voices in our congregation and community. We apologize if we mess up and take immediate corrective action. We realize trust is precious and is earned in repeated connections and authentic relationships.
All white congregations can and should begin the journey of anti-racism. It is a gospel mandate from Jesus to participate in God’s reign of hope, justice, and love. It is hard work, slow work, but work that is so, so good. It is where we meet our neighbors and, in doing so, meet Jesus. Nothing is better than that.
For more ways on how you can begin an antiracist journey, see https://tworiverschs.org/white-people-this-is-for-us.
Wendy Hudson is the planting pastor of Two Rivers Church, a United Methodist community in Charleston, South Carolina. She can be found at revwendyhudson on social media, and the church is at tworiverschs.org and tworiverschs on social media.