On Thursday evening, May 28, the North Shore Gospel Partnership, a collaboration of churches in Essex County, hosted a virtual live event titled Let’s Talk: Racial Justice and the Church. The conversation was honest and vulnerable as pastors shared their own experiences with racism and offered wisdom for how Christians can faithfully embody a commitment to doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God and others.
The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, among similar recent events, resonated in the minds of listeners and presenters as Pastors Kenneth Young and Sam Kim related personal experiences with racial profiling — from childhood to more recently in their neighborhoods and workplaces. Similarly, Pastor Bobby Warrenburg shared the journey that led him to question his assumptions about race and privilege.
Listeners expressed a desire for more conversation on this topic; some probing at why majority white congregations so often fail to see systemic racism either in their own culture or in their reading of the Bible. Below are a few themes that emerged from the suggestions these pastors offered.
Remain curious about history. Make it personal.
The pastors pointed out that racism, beyond being an individual character flaw related to prejudice, is ultimately about the systems that organize resources and power. They noted the importance of learning about the historical events, policies, and practices that shape disparities in wealth, income, employment, housing, criminal justice, health care, and education. One pointed, for example, to the history of redlining, among other policies, that have shaped who lives in Essex County and why our communities remain segregated. Pastors reflected on the way many expressions of Christian faith have led people to take responsibility for these injustices, grieve the losses they perpetuate, and work to dismantle their impacts.
Embrace a fuller gospel. Apply your study of the Bible to these issues.
The pastors drew a line between an overly individualistic articulation of the gospel, commonly confessed by majority white, theologically conservative congregations, and the failure to envision the holistic work of God in redeeming creation, including systemic injustice. They pointed to a number of Christian basics — the belief that people are made in God’s image, a commitment to promote human life, the call to love one’s neighbor, and the promise that Jesus removed the dividing wall between ethnic groups — as a few of the Biblical ideas and ideals that need to be more fully applied to issues of race and worked into people’s individual lives, relationships, and the systems that organize our community.
Talk to people who are different from you. Bring a posture of openness.
The pastors encouraged participants to seek relationships with people whose backgrounds are different than their own. In that context, nothing can replace treating others the way you want to be treated. They suggested engaging each person as an individual without assumptions about their beliefs, preferences, or life experiences. Apply the kind of graciousness you hope to receive when you are misunderstood. Make their joys your joys and their losses your losses. As the pastors graciously discussed being black, white, and Korean in the United States, their stories raised awareness for the weight carried by minority communities and the re-trauma of witnessing regular assaults on the humanity of black men and women, captured on social media. They invited participants into lament.
A number of book recommendations were made both by presenters and participants, including The Color of Compromise, by Jemar Tisby. Stay tuned for additional resources in the near future.
Watch the entire conversation
Summary by Sarah Bartley