3 Ways White Pastors Can Talk to Their Congregations About Race, Justice, and Reconciliation by David Bailey

David M. Bailey is the founder and executive director of Arrabon, a ministry that equips churches and organizations to engage in the ministry of reconciliation with cultural intelligence. He is an active speaker, consultant and strategist for many national organizations on cultural intelligence and culture-making. David was named by Christianity Today as one of “The 20 Most Creative Christians We Know” and is the executive producer of the Urban Doxology Project. His greatest honor in life is to be married to his wonderful and beautiful wife, Joy. Here is his Q&A from the recent State of Pastors monograph.

An overwhelming 98 percent of pastors believe churches play an important role in racial reconciliation, yet only half say racial reconciliation is among their own church’s top 10 priorities. Why is there a disconnect between some pastors’ awareness of the problem and their active, informed participation in the solution?

In the Scriptures God is constantly telling his people to remember where they came from and the places from which he’s delivered them. As Christians, we must acknowledge our history and understand how it has caused the problems we face today, even though doing so is deeply uncomfortable. We should never “get over it” by forgetting. Rather, we should remember and then confess wrongdoing and its consequences, and repent. Repentance is more than saying “I’m sorry”; it means doing something about it.

Where to start? Missionaries often know they are going to “cross a culture,” so they take time to understand the sociology and anthropology of the new people they will engage with. Pastors working domestically don’t often engage this same practice, so generally they don’t lead their church with strong cross-cultural intelligence. As a result, too many Christians jump into conversations about racial reconciliation without a firm foundation of cultural understanding.

We need that foundation, and we need a robust theology of anthropology, a biblical understanding of what it means to be human. For example, if we interpret the Great Commission as “saving souls,” our interactions with people inevitably contain some level of dehumanization because we have a disembodied anthropology. But if the Great Commission is about “making disciples of all the nations,” then we see disciples as whole people with bodies, souls and a place of origin. We see that discipleship is comprehensive. The Bible has a holistic understanding of humanity in which the spirit, soul and body are part of God’s redemption, reconciliation and restoration.

If you were to coach a white pastor on how to talk to their congregation about race, justice and reconciliation, where would you start? What are the most important things for them to know and teach?

As I mentioned, most people don’t have the theological, historical or sociological tools to deal with this heavy topic. It’s like teaching calculus to a fifth grader without giving them the proper preparation and time to mature. So here are the things I recommend to a white pastor to prepare and mature their congregation to be ministers of reconciliation in this area:

  • Be committed and intentional. Nothing gets done right without investing time and money, and in relationships. Too often pastors try to get this work done without a cost. If a pastor is not willing to invest, it would be better for them not to start. After hearing just one sermon or even a sermon series, people revert to the status quo.
  • Go on your own journey. My grandmother has a saying: “You can’t come from where you’ve never been.” As a white pastor, commit yourself to be in a space of displacement indefinitely. Join some type of ethnic minority social club or gathering and don’t ask your friend to do it with you. Go by yourself and be a part of that community for nine months to a year so you can know what it is like to be a minority in a community.
  • Get organizational consulting and training from experts. Too often, predominantly white organizations ask the minorities who are already part of the organization to help them reform. This is a bad idea. The person who is a minority in your organization already has two jobs: the job on their job description and the job of representing their race or ethnicity. If that person is a woman, she has a third job representing her gender. Adding the role of race expert or organizational change manager is too much. There is too much relational capital risked and spent when the work is led internally. Invite a qualified person to help you through the process.

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