We need more steps
When I was writing sermons, I had a process. After I had looked at the readings and figured out what interested me, I started “reading around.” I might look at a biblical or theological journal, but just as often I would read a little history or science or Buddhism or business. Or something else. I was testing a guess or insight and looking for confirmation, depth or correction. Sometimes my guess was way off base and unusable. Other times I got lucky and realized I had a good idea to work with. Lucky or not, by the time I had finished “reading around,” I was clearer about what was going on in my own heart and mind and how the week’s readings had spoken to me.
This week, I was feeling a bit lost on my “Becoming Anti-Racist” camino. The book I was reading was good, but it wasn’t teaching me anything new. I wanted to move on but I didn’t know what to read next. I spent a few days “reading around.”
I dipped in and out of several different aspects of the problem of racism, but I kept coming back to books about racism and the church. I realized that my heart and mind was still looking for an answer to the question I asked in my September 29 post: How can the church help us white people with the guilt we keep running from?
So far, the church hasn’t had much to suggest. It admits the problem of racism. And the Episcopal Church does a good job teaching the history of American racism. Good first steps. But we need more steps.
During my “read around” I found a doctoral dissertation on the subject of how to cultivate white allies among college students. Apparently, before college students can start acting like white allies, they need to feel some basic confidence that they’re doing the right thing. If they believe they are powerless to act as good white allies they won’t try. If they believe their efforts will be meaningful, they are more likely to take the risk of acting in a new way. The dissertation described a laborious and time-intensive way to increase that kind of confidence in people. Not quick or easy, but a step in the right direction.
We white people and our churches are only beginning to understand the kind of work we’ll need to do to help deconstruct unjust systems and effect racial reconciliation. I want to learn more about that kind of work and think about how those next steps might fit in the life of a practicing Christian.
I’ve started reading The Hidden Roots of White Supremacy and the Path to a Shared American Future by Robert P. Jones. It has great reviews and is said to have a hopeful perspective.
 It’s hard to know why. Maybe the American church has trouble seeing the systemic nature of American racism it has been enmeshed in it for so long. Or maybe it’s because moral theologians (and many other Christians) find the notion of “systemic racism” problematic. They would prefer that we only be morally responsible for personal acts, not for injuries caused by impersonal social structures.