Chris Crass shares notes for white religious leaders in majority white denominations who want to give a #BlackLivesMatter sermon.
Around the country white people are searching for direction in the midst of heartbreak and outrage as anti-Black racism murders young Black people in the streets by police, murders Black people praying in their historic church in Charleston, and burns churches and distributes hate literature around the country.
White faith leaders across denominations are struggling to meet their white congregants where there at and move them towards racial justice, in these Black Lives Matter movement times. In conversation with a young adult Unitarian Universalist religious leader, I made these notes to support her and other white faith leaders, to step up and lead white people away from the ruling class worldview of white supremacy and towards beloved community and collective liberation.
• Nurture the hearts and souls of the congregation to be able to look at the racist institutional and cultural violence that is burning all around us. To acknowledge the despair, the pain, the heartbreak, and to collectively grieve – to assume that everyone there, on some level, is grieving and to invite them into that space, rather then assume they are indifferent and uncaring, even if potentially one could assume them outwardly from their actions/inaction. We are not there to pass judgement on who we think are, but to create support for who people want to be, who we know they can be, who these times call on our people to be.
• Root ourselves in our spiritual super powers through prayer, song, meditation, or whatever else will help, to ground people in the power of our faith, in the power of the divine, in the power of all that is scared, to then call forward our outrage for the racist assaults on Black humanity.
• Our outrage for the monstrosity of racism in every individual act, institutional policy, and piece of government legislation that forces us to affirm “Black Lives Matter”. Our outrage that the churches of the Black community are on fire, that Black church members are forced to go armed to the pews and pray for their safety and the safety of their loved ones each time they go to church, to a pool party, to the corner store, to life in America. Our outrage that so many white churches are failing to even recognize, let alone wage all out heart and soul saving campaigns against the evil of racism that creates spiritual and emotional poverty in white communities.
• Spiritual and emotional poverty that raised the 21 year old young person who became a white supremacist mass murder in Charleston, because so many of the white leaders and institutions of our society have turned their hearts and heads away from the epidemic of racism, and have choose the path of self- congratulatory post-racial or colorblind indifference, or have abandoned the public words of racism while maintaining active support for the public manifestations and expressions of institutional and cultural racism.
• All of us who are white have a responsibility to raise white babies and white children to know the full expression of anti-racist commitment, values, and action. We must play an active role in helping end the spiritual and emotional poverty of white supremacy that trains white people to inhabit resentment, isolation, depression, self-pity, and self-hatred and direct all of it towards communities of color, with anti-Black racism at the heart of this darkness.
• The truth of the matter is this – yes we must do all we can to stop the burning of Black churches and to support the rebuilding of those that racists and racism have burned down. But we must go deeper, and for this, we must pray, we must call upon the most meaningful and soul nourishing attributes of our religion, because the truth is, white supremacy has long been burning down the heart, soul, and values of the white church, even if the building stands sturdy.
The fate of our collective souls is at stake in the struggle against racism and for racial justice. And we must call out to rebuild the white churches, to rebuild the faith, to fight for the soul, of the white church members who also squander our values, our talents, our commitments, in the spiritual and emotional poverty of white supremacy – in it’s explicit form, or in it’s systematic, colorblind form.
• I believe in our ability to do this. And here, I highly encourage sharing personal stories of seeing your church, your denomination, yourself, confronting the horrors of racism and choosing racial justice. Share stories of the fear, the heartbreak, but also the courage. And as much as possible, to share stories of groups of white church members, white people of your faith, acting in collective ways to join with Black liberation or Black Lives Matter movement. Stories of showing up and stepping up for racial justice. Stories of seeing yourself and/or other white people wresting with white supremacy in their hearts, and through taking action in the world, expanding love in their hearts, while standing on the side of love in the world.
• And while we are putting forward a vision of white churches as racial justice churches, or the white members of our churches working for racial justice, let’s put forward the need to both join in multiracial racial justice movement, and look for ways to follow and support Black-led efforts in these times. AND to develop real efforts to take on and end the spiritual and emotional poverty in white communities – through learning about the people’s history of the United States, to developing anti-racist literacy, to learning about the movement for Black Lives Matter in these times and how a world that truly valued all Black humanity, would be a fundamentally better world for all of us, for white people to learn about white anti-racists throughout history who they can feel proud of, who they can look to as role models of another way.
• To help prepare for your sermon, my advice is this. As spiritual/religious white anti-racist leaders, yes we must raise critiques of existing racist society, and we should have a realistic sense of where our church goers, and white one’s in particular, are at, but we must be careful not to take our anger, sadness, and despair about white supremacy out on the white people of our church.
They too have been raised in the spiritual and emotional poverty of white supremacy, our task is to help them recognize the conditions in ways that galvanizes them to change them, rather then hate themselves for living in them. We are not spiritual critiques of our white people, even when that at times is needed, we are spiritual leaders who want to love the wickedness of white supremacy out of the white community, who want to develop the capacity of other white people to see the evil of racism and rise up against it.
We must not hate our people for where they are, but see where they – or a good number of them, enough to build momentum and leadership – can go, want to go in the truth of their faith values, in the truth of who they yearn to be – even if racism distorts and confuses the path to actually living their values.
• This is divine work. Ground yourself, wail and pray to and with the movement ancestors that nourish you, hold on to the ones you love, and stand before and with your church and unleash the passion, the courage, the outrage, the hope, and the truth of your soul, with the goal of leading your/our people towards beloved community, towards multiracial racial justice movement, towards the living expression of our faith’s deepest values and commitments.
Help our people see, in your courage, in your truth telling, in your pain and vulnerability, that they too can be courageous, amidst their brokeness, their imperfections, their grief, their uncertainty and step up for racial justice in these times. Help our people see that Black Lives Matter is a vision and movement in which we can all get free from the poverties of white supremacy and end the anti-Black racist violence tearing apart our country.
Read more about Chris Crass’s work with white anti-racism work here.