“The call to take up an anti-racist Christian identity is really just a call to be a Christian.”
Dr. Sheila Caldwell
Anti-racism, rather than being a new fad or issue du jour, is an inescapable implication of believing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Actively repenting of and resisting the systemic, deeply-ingrained racism that has plagued our country for more than 400 years is a key part of what it means to be a Christian in the US today.
This is because at its base, racism is idolatry: an arbitrary hierarchy that designates lighter-skinned people as having more inherent worth than those with darker skin, and organizes power and privilege around that hierarchy. It is “favoritism” or “partiality” as James 2:9 puts it, and is therefore sin. It is dehumanizing and destructive, and sadly has a long legacy in the church.
Because racism persists in America and in the American church, to follow Jesus faithfully today must involve working directly against it by becoming anti-racists.
What Is Christian Racism?
While racism has existed for centuries, Christians have a particularly fraught history with racism for which we must take responsibility.
White Christian Nationalism, Defined
Intricately tied to racism is white Christian nationalism, which is making a resurgence in America right now. White Christian nationalism is an ideology that seeks to, in the name of Jesus, leverage partisan political influence to consolidate power in order to dominate and control.
White Christian nationalism emerges when our patriotic or nationalist identity becomes more important than our baptismal identity and call to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves… striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being” (BCP, p. 305).
Rather than standing in solidarity with strangers and outsiders, we fear those who are not like “us” (i.e., white). White Christian nationalism has been responsible for some of the most heinous, violent acts in our nation’s history.
Racism in the Church
The church has a woeful history with racism. Rather than confront it as the idolatry it is, many Christians and church denominations explicitly endorsed it, actively using the Bible to justify their engagement in slavery and racist practices.
Even today, Sunday morning continues to be “the most segregated hour of the week,” as MLK, Jr. said. Additionally, white Christians today harbor more racism than those who are religiously unaffiliated, by, for example, denying the existence of systemic racism, denying the racist history of Confederate monuments, and claiming that police killings of Black men are isolated incidents rather than part of a pattern of how police treat African Americans.
Racism is not an “out there” or “back then” problem for the church. It is a pernicious cancer that continues to plague the church to this day, and we have a lot of work to do. Part of that work is simply to tell the truth about Christianity’s entanglement with racism.
What Is Anti-Racism?
Anti-racism is a process of actively identifying and opposing racism (rather than just trying to be “non-racist” through passive inaction). Anti-racism is expressed in challenging and working to change policies, behaviors, and beliefs that perpetuate racist ideas and actions.
Christianity & Anti-Racism
Because of the deep history of racism in the US and in the church, anti-racism is vital work for Christians and churches to get involved in today as a concrete, contextualized way of living out faith.
Thankfully, we have abundant examples of how Christians and churches have challenged racism in history, including liberation theology in Latin America and the way that faith fueled the civil rights movement in the US.
Christian Anti-Racism: What Does It Look Like?
So what does Christian anti-racism look like? Here are a few examples of what you might see in a church that is actively practicing anti-racism:
- Racism and white supremacy are clearly named and lamented publicly in the pulpit.
- Solidarity and support are expressed for Black communities in the surrounding area.
- People are willing to be inconvenienced and even put in harm’s way in order to take action to challenge racist policies, beliefs, and behaviors.
Anti-Racism Resources for the Church
Part of our repentance is to unlearn what we thought we understood about the history of racism and the way it works today. Here are some resources to equip you to begin practicing anti-racism. (Note: These resources are meant for white-majority churches.)
Anti-Racism Resources for Pastors & Church Leaders
Pastors and church leaders need to be trained in anti-racism so they can train others. Here are a few theological resources specifically meant for leaders:
- The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins by Willie James Jennings
- The Sacrifice of Africa: A Political Theology for Africa by Emmanuel Katongole
- Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America by Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith
- The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone
- Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery by Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah
- Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys: A Native American Expression of the Jesus Way by Richard Twiss
- The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby
- Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi
- A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
- The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
Starting Anti-Racist Small Groups
Here are some books and resources that would work well for a small group or book club:
- How to Fight Racism: Courageous Christianity and the Journey Toward Racial Justice by Jemar Tisby
- My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem
- Reconstructing The Gospel: Finding Freedom From Slaveholder Religion by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
- Seeing White – a podcast series on where the concept of “whiteness” came from, and how it was used against people of color
- 1619 – a podcast from The New York Times about how slavery transformed America
- Holy Post – Race in America Part 1 – Phil Vischer breaks down racism in the U.S. in 18-minute video, and Holy Post – Race in America Part 2 – Phil Vischer answers questions about the first video.
- Race in America – The History of Post-Civil War Racism – The Holy Post podcast tackles Race
- Systemic Racism Explained – Short video cartoon explaining systemic racism
Anti-Racism Resources for Christians Against Christian Nationalism
A few resources for those specifically looking to oppose white Christian nationalism:
- “Andrew Whitehead & Samuel Perry: Christian Nationalism in the USA” – Gravity Leadership Podcast episode from March 23, 2021
- Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States by Andrew L. Whitehead and Samuel L. Perry
- The Flag and the Cross: White Christian Nationalism and the Threat to American Democracy by Philip S. Gorski and Samuel L. Perry
- Podcast series: The Dangers of Christian Nationalism by the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty
Anti-Racism Recommendations for Christian Activists
Here are a few resources for equipping Christians already active (or looking to take action) in anti-racism:
- Subversive Witness: Scripture’s Call to Leverage Privilege by Dominique DuBois Gilliard
- Faithful Antiracism: Moving Past Talk to Systemic Change by Christina Barland Edmondson and Chad Brennan
- Rethinking Incarceration: Advocating for Justice that Restores, by Dominique DuBois Gilliard
- 13th – a documentary about the criminalization of African Americans and the U.S. prison boom
- Just Mercy – a dramatization of world-renowned civil rights defense attorney Bryan Stevenson working to free a wrongly condemned death row prisoner
Resources for Families and Children
Here are some resources specifically geared toward helping families and children become involved in anti-racism:
- Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America by Jennifer Harvey
- Raising White Kids Talk by Jennifer Harvey
- Raising White Kids Discussion Guide for Parents
- How to Fight Racism: A Guide to Standing Up for Racial Justice by Jemar Tisby
Navigate the Hard Conversations with Gravity
Beyond the resources listed above, Gravity Leadership can also help you and/or your church lean more fully into anti-racist action.
Check out how we coach churches to address challenging issues today, and the work we do at Gravity Congregational Transformation. If you’d like to talk about how Gravity can come alongside you in your efforts to lead your church into faithful anti-racism, contact us.