Over the past weeks, I have been in dialogue with our pastoral leaders in the Pacific Southwest District (PSW) via our Zoom. The June conversations were primarily about how we, as individuals, churches and a movement, might address systemic racism and racial reconciliation.
Of the pastors who typically participate in Leadership Connection, we had 58 percent of them on these calls. A quick demographic of those who participated: 22 percent were persons of color; 36 percent were white. Those of color, we had 11 percent black, 8 percent Asian (Korean & Filipino) and 3 percent Hispanic. I share the breakdown to show the multiethnic voices. It is true that those in the conversation were predominately white, but they were not the only voices speaking.
In addition, I have had conversations with Scotty James, a young African-American leader who is part of the Skyline Church (La Mesa, California) teaching team, regarding this issue of race. I was on a Zoom call in recent days with a large percentage of district superintendents in The Wesleyan Church (TWC), where both Scotty James and Kim Gladden (director of discipleship for TWC) led us in insightful discussion on both systemic racism and racial reconciliation.
The following are some observations I garnered from these conversations:
- Change happens at the speed of relationships
- Compassion comes through conviction
- Silence can be as loud as a scream
- Spiritual issues must be addressed
- We need to create a spirit of understanding
- Disagreeing does not have to erode into disconnecting
- Don’t minimize the issue of racism
- Children don’t know racism; they are taught racism
- Injustice anywhere is a threat to injustice everywhere
- Have individual conversations
- How many connections or relationships do you have with people of color?
- We need to be willing to be in connection with people who are not like us
- We need to empower people not like us
- The white community must recognize it does not genuinely understand the black experience in American culture. “It has always been difficult for white people to empathize fully with the experience of black people. But it has never been impossible.” (James Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree)
- Diversify yourself, your leaders and your recruitment process
- We must strive for cultural humility
Steps each of us might take
- Build diverse leadership teams
- Read authors of color
- Connect with others who value diversity
- Seek to live a less homogenous life
- Develop a congenial environment
- Honestly check your personal prejudices
- Host an anti-racist reading group with your church. Dave Johnson, lead pastor of Neighborhood Christian Fellowship, is doing this. (If interested, he’d be a great resource.)
- There’s a Storm Comin, Dr. Harold Dorrell Briscoe Jr.
- Letters Across the Divide, David Anderson
- How to be Anti-Racists, Ibram Kendi
- Be the Bridge, Latisha Morrison
- The Post Black and Post White Church, Efren Smith
- The Cross and the Lynching Tree, James Cone
- A Black Theology of Liberation (a tough read from a white perspective), James Cone
- Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God, Kelly Brown Douglas
- White Fragility: Why it is so Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, Robin DiAngelo
- Racism and Cultural Power: An Interview with Esau McCaulley Part 1
- Be Leery of Secularism
- Resources for Faithful Justice
Used with permission. Originally posted in the Pacific Southwest newsletter.
Rev. Phil Stevenson is district superintendent for Pacific Southwest District.