Dear Church, What Spaces Will You Create?
Lately, I have been pondering the question, “What drives my passion for racial reconciliation?” In 2002, my family moved to the suburbs of Charleston, SC from the projects of Queens, NY. I left an environment where race was freely discussed at home, school, and church to a place where the conversation of race was met with silence, fear, and misinformation.
I vividly remember my American History teacher explaining to our class how we won’t celebrate Black History Month because we will get to it once we reach the Civil Rights Movement – as though the history of Black Americans began in the 1950s. And I will never forget sitting next to my grandfather at church as a member from our predominately White congregation came up to me and said, “When you actually talk to the older folks, you’ll understand that slavery wasn’t all that bad. Many slaves were pretty happy.”
There is power in silence. Silence perpetuates stereotypes, disseminates fear, propagates lies, and immortalizes separation. However, reconciliation questions the stereotypes, it stifles the fear, it exposes the lies, and it creates pathways towards unification. So, where does the Church stand today? Will the Church advance a culture silence or a culture of reconciliation?
Let us not forget the words of the Apostle Paul to the Church in Corinth,
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
II CORINTHIANS 5:16-19
We, as the Church, have been entrusted with a great charge – to steward this message of reconciliation – to share the good news that God has reconciled humanity to Himself through the life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And when we study how Christ stewarded this message, we see him creating spaces that modeled true reconciliation and allowed for teachable moments. He explained to his disciples,
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.
When we, as the Church, live reconciled to our neighbors, we are honoring and modeling the great reconciliation God has done with humanity. So, how are we stewarding this message in today’s world? It is no secret that the American evangelical church has struggled to consistently exemplify reconciliation across racial lines. The problems are systematic, embedded within our culture and power dynamics, stemming from one of America’s greatest sins – racism. However, this estrangement of humanity due to the social construct of race presents the perfect opportunity to show the world exactly what God has done for us through Jesus in our culture today.
As a Small Group Director at National Community Church in Washington, DC, I have seen some amazing small group and community leaders tackle this conversation by creating intentional, unique, interesting spaces. Here are a few lessons learned from the spaces they created.
Create Spaces to Disarm and Engage
Who doesn’t like a good movie? Watch Party: Race & Culture is a small group of movie watchers who are committed to crossing cultures by watching and discussing movies found inside and outside their cultural cannon. Art has a way of reflecting society back to us allowing for social commentary and critical discussion around our cultural norms. By using popular movies, like Set it Off and Top Gun, the leaders created a disarming space which led people to engage in healthy conversation and community through genuine curiosity. During the first discussion centered on the action movies mentioned above, the group organically led into an open and personal dialogue around gender dynamics across cultures, how the hood compares to a war zone, and concrete vs. abstract antagonists.
Create Spaces to Grieve and Lament
How do we acknowledge the hurt from the past to bring about healing in the future? Be the Bridge is a women’s small group that uses a curriculum written by Latasha Morrison. She understands that racial reconciliation is work, therefore, a process only done within the context of community. Her curriculum allowed small group leaders to build a community of women committed to being open, listening to others, trusting God, and pushing through the process. By using tools, like Be the Bridge, the leaders created a healing space where people can grieve and lament over the pain and confusion around racial discrimination and racism.
Create Spaces to Teach and Challenge
Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Race Literacy is a study & discussion group dedicated to learning and thoughtfully discussing the issues around race and racism in an honest, yet grace-filled, environment. Not only do they investigate the past, the group explores how they can be part of the solution. By teaching on the ways race and the racial divide has evolved over time, the leaders created challenging spaces that are empowering people to build a better future.
So, what other spaces will we, as the Church, create to spread the message of reconciliation that God entrusted to us? How will we create more spaces that disarm and engage other people across cultures, or that grieve and lament frustration within a safe community, or that teach and challenge people to live reconciled to one another and, ultimately, to God? I pray we will not perpetuate a culture of silence and instead cultivate a culture of reconciliation.
Charles Williams currently serves as the Small Groups Director for the Lincoln campus of National Community Church in Washington, D.C. He was originally born in Queens, NY, but grew up in Charleston, SC. A graduate of Howard University and Harvard Graduate School of Education, Charles works to help build a discipleship culture for a truly diverse community and to help others step out of their comfort zones to grow within the context of community. Above all, Charles is a reconciler.