I am grateful for the leadership of a friend who happened to be the first African-American District Executive Minister in my denomination. His books are thorough discussions on the opportunities and obstacles which attend church life and church planting in the African-American context. He speaks from a unique vantage point, and he introduced me to the concept of “institutional racism” during a large-group gathering.
Recognizing Institutional Racism
Placing people into small discussion groups he asked the question, “Where have you seen institutional racism in our ministries?” And then he chided, “If you don’t recognize it, you’re part of the problem.”
I think I chuckled nervously, because I started to see how subtly I and my ministry were guilty (often unintentionally) of sidelining people who were not part of the dominant culture. I remember some observations he made about how our church planting organizations can maximize their potential by fighting back against the natural pull of racial or cultural bias. His observations are followed by my personal comments.
Fighting Back Against Racial and Cultural Bias
- Church planting organizations and their leaders need to understand and acknowledge that institutional racism does still exist. The assumption is that we are in a post-racial culture, although the data does not support this relative to income, education, and leadership disparity.
- We need to encourage and develop systems which inform and equip those in the majority community to not only be sensitive to persons of color but be equipped to recruit, train, and empower leaders of color.
- Persons of color must have access intentionally opened for them to places of influence on the highest levels, including boards, staff, and executive leadership.
- We need to constantly remind ourselves that church planting success can look different in each sub-culture of our organizations. By upholding just one model of success, persons of color will always feel (and act) marginalized. This has implications for how we do our conferences, choose our speakers, and promote certain church planting strategies.
- We need to hold our leaders accountable to reach all the communities—not just certain communities– we are seeking to serve within a geographical area. Regional ministries, and especially local churches within those regions, need to be committed to fulfilling the Great Commission to reach all nations. And this goes both ways: majority concerns for minorities and minority concerns for the majority.
Overcoming institutional racism is difficult in that the members of the privileged majority simply can’t do it on their own. That’s why it’s so important to humble oneself and admit that they don’t have all the necessary perspectives to reach the entire community.
Have you recognized institutional racism in your organization? What practical ways have you embraced diversity?