Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | June 6, 2020

With, not for: a Trinitarian approach to working together against racism

Ahmaud Arbery

Breonna Taylor

George Floyd

Say their names.

Black Lives Matter.

As we Christians arrive at Trinity Sunday, many think about ancient arguments over obscure theological points. Instead, we ought to focus on the relational nature of God. If we reflect that nature, it applies to how we interact with each other.

Our country is currently enmeshed in discussions, demonstrations, and soul-deep reflections about race—dealing with a 400 year legacy of systemic racism. It’s about time. So many good resources are available in books, film, and online that can help us navigate important territory.

What I’d like to address here is how White people, especially White Christians, often take over the conversation and try to make it all about us. I hope that is an unintended consequence of our words and actions, but it is a consequence nevertheless.

A recent video from an Evangelical church near me has created controversy in the community. There’s no doubt in my mind that the makers of the video intended it to be a caring response to the events of the day. The video consists of two White male pastors condemning racism, then talking about all the things their (mostly White) church does to help in local Black communities, including food programs, tutoring, etc. While much of what they do is good from nearly any perspective, the video definitely had the tone of White savior mentality—WE can fix this. Just follow our lead and we’ll all get along.

Today I went to look at their website to watch the video again and make sure I didn’t misquote them, and it was gone. Here’s a statement I found instead:

Earlier this week we released a video that missed the mark on a variety of fronts, and we are deeply sorry for the poor judgment on our part. We also failed to appropriately address the injustices that have happened recently in our country. As a church we are committed to pursuing racial reconciliation and bringing about justice in our communities. In an attempt to respond better in the future, we are seeking the wisdom of black pastors, staff members, and church members…

I’m certain I still have many theological differences with this congregation, but at least some of its leadership is listening to the voices of those who are hurting, to a community that has been wronged for four centuries, and to voices that are different from the ones they usually pay attention to. They’ve apparently realized that White Christians don’t have all the answers, and that we can only move toward wholeness when we listen and follow, instead of always thinking we must lead and do.

On the other hand, it’s also wrong for White people of faith to abandon Black communities and persons as though racism isn’t a problem, as though racism isn’t our problem. It is our problem, and we have to show up and make changes in our minds, our hearts, our faith, our communities, the systems that have become sick with the illness of racism. Our participation is required.

What does that participation look like?

Trinitarian theology is understanding that even in God there is relationship, and even in God the relationships are egalitarian. When we live into reflecting the image of God in ourselves and in our relationships, we remember that our way should often take a back seat. In the discussions that are now taking place, we must listen to those who have lived with the severe realities of racism, and we must assume they know more about their experiences and their communities than we do.

Racism and racist systems won’t end if we don’t act. But White Christians participate in a different type of racism if they think they have the answers.

Reflecting the character of the Trinity, may the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer teach us what we need to be for each other.

Ahmaud Arbery

Breonna Taylor

George Floyd

Say their names.

Black Lives Matter.

© 2020, Melissa Bane Sevier

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