The Luxury of Talking about Race

Two weeks ago, I led a conversation on race and faith, inviting participants to reflect on their experiences of race & ethnicity as well as on the ways that their church upbringings had (or hadn’t) equipped them to respond to racism. “Jesus loves the little children,” I said quoting the Sunday School song, “all the children of the world — red, brown, yellow, black, and white. We believe this, but do we live as though it’s true?”

Two weeks ago, we talked around church tables about Jesus and about loving everyone.

Meanwhile, two weeks ago Jesus had his neck broken in the back of a police van, and he later died. And over the last two weeks (not to mention the last three centuries), Jesus has been getting the shi* kicked out of him in the street for daring to cry out in protest, getting a face full of pepper spray for not toeing the lines of gentrification and curfew, getting publicly scolded for caring about people’s lives more than people’s businesses.

Two weeks ago, I led a conversation on race and faith while Jesus lay dying in Baltimore, and today I’m questioning the usefulness of talking about Jesus & talking about race in the church — specifically when the goal of those conversations is to help white folks talk about their experiences of & raise their questions about race without trespassing their threshold of defensiveness. Today I’m questioning the usefulness of talking about race & faith when those conversations don’t de-center and de-glorify whiteness.

Too much is at stake for all of us — but especially for our brothers & sisters of color — to tolerate or facilitate easy conversations on race any longer.

Too much is at stake for the Body of Christ as it is threatened, arrested, barricaded by police & by school-to-prison pipelines & by systems of poverty, killed outright or killed slowly across a lifetime, while so many of us whites are still seeing whether we can make time for and whether we can find courage for talking about race.

Too much is at stake for us whites to hide behind our best Christian words, our best liberal words without also listening to non-white words & stories. Too much is at stake for us to pray for consolation without also preaching for confession. Too much is at stake for us to avoid the conversations altogether. But most of all, too much is at stake for us to continue to treat talking about race as a luxury to be engaged or not.

To Jesus who is standing unarmed in the street, staring down hell in its full force, words and time have no such luxury.

To Jesus who is tossing tables, to Jesus who is cursing the fruitless fig tree, to Jesus who says “Get up and go,” to Jesus who says “I did not come to bring peace,” conversations about race that do not result in conversions about race miss the urgency of the Gospel.

To Jesus who is sitting in the pews of our predominantly white churches, sitting there for worship but missing an arm & a leg & a heart & an ear because “local context” means that the Body of Christ has been separated from itself across lines of race — to that torn-apart Jesus in our pews, the choice to engage the conversation on race is truly a choice between life and death.

Two weeks ago, Jesus had his neck broken and died.

Today, we dare not take the luxury of not talking about it.

9 thoughts on “The Luxury of Talking about Race

  1. I have (once again) felt without power or a Word for the last two weeks. This is why. We offer a chance to talk, and no one shows up except the two moms with biracial kids, for whom it IS life or death. Thank you for finding the outrage that sits under my skin and scares me. You’ve given me courage for Sunday. This is really, really prophetic. And helpful.

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