Courageous Conversations About Race
For more information about Goals, Setting, Design, and Use of Scripture,
see the Sample Outlines Introduction »
Setting for a Safe Environment:
Set up the room with a small circle of chairs (4-8).
Place Guidelines for the Conversation around the room in large print or on a projection screen (See Sample Guidelines for Courageous Conversations).
- Small circle of chairs
- Paper and pencil for each person
- Small cross or some other marker to serve as a talking stick
- Printout or screen for displaying Guidelines
- Printout of prayers
- Bell or chime for beginning and ending times of silence
- Microphone — to enable all to hear the speaker(s) clearly
The following is based on a 90-minute timeframe. Adjust as needed.
Opening Prayer (3 minutes)
Overview (10 minutes)
Setting Aside Baggage (10 minutes)
Personal Assessment of the Situation (10 minutes)
The Spiral (40 minutes)
Break (5 minutes)
Large-Group Reflection (20 minutes)
Closing Prayer (2 minutes)
Begin with silence and/or the lighting of a candle to represent God’s presence. This time of silence is important to center yourselves and mark the space and time as unique. Have a copy of the prayer for everyone to follow along or participate in the prayer. (For examples, see the Courageous Conversations Prayer Guide)
Give an overview of the main topic of discussion. Point out and read the conversation guidelines. Reinforce that this space is a safe place for people to freely express their opinions and perspectives.
Setting Aside Baggage*
Form people into small groups, with a maximum of three people to a group. Allow each participant no more than two minutes to name questions, fears, or hesitancies about the topic. Remind the participants that this is a time of naming and listening, not for discussion – that will come later.
Personal Assessment of the Situation
Make sure each person has a piece of paper and pencil for this exercise. Give participants 5-10 minutes to write down biblical stories, passages, doctrine, facts, and other opinions that support their ideas about racism.
(The purpose of this exercise is at least twofold: (1) It gives participants a chance to write out and reflect on their beliefs [and hopefully their assumptions]. (2) It will help counterbalance any ideas that might provoke or derail the conversation, since participants have had a chance to calmly consider their positions previously.)
This style of group dialogue allows participants to voice their perspectives freely. If needed, ask speakers to use a microphone so that all can hear.
In the room, place six chairs in a circle. Include a cross or some other symbol to serve as a talking stick within the circle. It is a good idea to include other symbols as well (candles, altar, etc.). Allow participants to sit anywhere except the circle. After a time of prayer or silence, invite whoever would like to enter the circle to do so. Once the circle is full [it is fully acceptable if this takes some time], one of the participants may use the talking stick to speak. Be sure to designate a time limit. Once the individual has completed speaking, he or she passes the talking stick to the person on the left. Individuals may return to their seats after the person on the left has completed speaking. Once people leave their seats, the seats within the circle are open for someone else to take. Thus people spiral in and out of the circle.
After approximately 20-30 minutes of using the spiral in this method, the facilitator could allow a little more dialogue back and forth by allowing participants in the circle to stay until after they have spoken twice.
Large-Group Reflection Time
This time is for the larger group to reflect on some of the statements that were made during The Spiral. The aim is to reflect on the perspectives heard from other participants.
This is the part of the exercise that will require the most from the facilitator. The facilitator should not voice any of his or her own opinions or comments, but encourage the freedom of various other perspectives. The facilitator’s role is also to clarify assumptions and issues for the group. Additionally, the facilitator will need to model calm when anxiety grows as the result of particular comments.
If possible, ask participants to use a microphone when they speak so that everyone can hear. Give a time limit for how long each person may speak. One way to emphasize attentive listening is to have participants state only what others have stated. This is intended to keep people from stating their own perspectives (and often pet agendas).
Before ending, allow any participant who would like to answer in one sentence, “One thing that I will take with me from this conversation is…”
End with silence and/or the lighting of a candle to represent God’s presence. Have a copy of the prayer for everyone to follow along or participate in the prayer. (For examples, see the Courageous Conversations Prayer Guide)
*For more detailed instructions about these models, consult The Little Book of Cool Tools for Hot Topics by Ron Kraybill and Evelyn Wright.
Teachable Points about Racism
The following is a minimal representation of teachable points. Be aware there are many others that could be included. The aim of these outlines is more about listening and uncovering assumptions than hosting a debate or passing on information. As noted in the Introduction to the Sample Courageous Conversation Outlines, the point is not providing more information or arriving at a consensus.
Scripture passages of note (a minor sampling)
- Genesis 1:27 — All are made in the image of God
- The Hebrews were not a homogeneous group (Exodus 12:38, Joshua 2:10-14, Joshua 9:3-27, Ruth)
- Jesus is the Messiah for all (Matthew’s genealogy that includes Ruth; Matthew 1:5; Simeon in Luke 2:31-32). Jesus’ encounters with Samaritans, Luke 10:25-37 and Luke 4.
- Early church ministry beyond Israel (Acts 8:26-39, Acts 10:34-35)
- Paul’s letters often reflect on the dividing wall between Gentiles and Jews being torn down. (Galatians 3:28, Ephesians 2:11-22, Colossians 3:1-11)
Discuss and distinguish between internalized racism and institutionalized racism as well as symbolic racism. (See article and other resources from GCORR.org.)
- Internalized racism – sense of superiority and/or entitlement that operates below the level of consciousness
- Institutionalized racism – choices, rights, and officially or unofficially sanctioned obstructions to a balance of power
- Symbolic racism – continual discrimination practices that maintain advantages
See also ¶162 in the Social Principles of the Book of Discipline.
A talking point that is worth exploring, but will likely cause anxiety is the notion of “white privilege.”
Draw on the resources at GCORR.org. Specifically, note the article Why It’s So Hard to Talk to White People About Racism. As the author, Dr. Robin DiAngelo points out, “It became clear [to me] over time that white people have extremely low thresholds for enduring any discomfort associated with challenges to our racial worldviews.”
The following resources are not an endorsement of any particular viewpoint. Rather these are some of many potential resources that could be of benefit for those looking for more information or in help to broaden perspectives.
- The Past Matters: A Chronology of African Americans in The United Methodist Church by Marilyn Magee Talbert, Discipleship Resources, 2004
- America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America by Jim Wallis, Brazos Press
- Witnessing Whiteness by Shelly Tochluk
- The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates
- Moving Faith Communities to Fruitful Conversations about Race is a dialogue about race in America that may be used to help your church bring people together to talk about moving forward bravely and boldly in the name of Christ. The free resource is divided into four videos which may be used in one or more sessions.