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3 Ways the Local Church Can Work for Racial Reconciliation

Sho Baraka sat down with Common Good to talk about race, the church, and pastoral work.

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As the church continues to navigate issues of racial injustice, we have a responsibility to heed Jesus’ words by loving our neighbor as ourselves. Oftentimes, this begins with listening to others around us — their experiences, wisdom, and understanding. Sho Baraka is a hip-hop artist, writer, and public speaker. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia, and he recently spoke with our team about how to approach racism and what’s happening in our culture from a Christian perspective.

If you were sitting down to coffee with a white pastor or a white Christian, what would you say to them, to actually be helpful? A lot of people are asking "What can I do to actually help my black neighbors and friends and co-workers?

You live in a particular context. And that context has some sort of influence on how the world sees other people. That means you could be in the South, you could be in the North, you could be in the city, you could be in rural areas. You could be in a black community, you could be in a predominantly white community, you could be an Asian community, or you could be in a community that's multicultural. And depending on where you are will depend on the manifestations and how you flesh out your love for your neighbor. So if you are in a predominantly white context, I would say, first, understand where you are, and understand how the people around you view their identity and the identity of other people.What type of conversations are happening? Are they affirming of other people, or do they seem to be coded in language that is dangerous, and you need to shut that stuff down, immediately? There's three things I think are really important, that I've been pushing people who say that they want to be in solidarity with the black community.

1. Examine your hiring practices

First, what are your hiring practices? Both in the church and in the business world. Are you hiring people who reflect this solidarity? Are you intentionally trying to give opportunity to people who don't look like you? Are you just using these folks to sell a product? Are you hiring them for positions of authority? Do your boards reflect the types of statements you're making?

2. Invest economically in your local community

Second, are you investing in businesses where these people can start their own institutions, businesses, or churches? Even when you do support, you can't say, "Well, I need to see success in so many years, because that's how we did it." You have to understand that you serve a whole different type of community and a different type of people, so success may look different. Even in your supporting, you have to have different, nuanced metrics.

3. Replace harmful practices with the pursuit of the common good

Third, and this is very important, is that they need to begin to divest in practices that are detrimental to the communities they say they want to be in solidarity with. That may be policies they support, people they support, practices, or even things they sell, that are detrimental to their community. When considering neighborly love, you have to divest from racist practices, challenge the ignorance around you, and recognize that it is most beneficial to consider your neighbor over profit, and over success. I think that's the posture Jesus asks us to take. I think those things are general points anybody can take, no matter where you live, no matter what type of church, and no matter what type of business you operate in, those three points can help us see the image of God in other people in a proper way.

How to begin fixing the things we broke

It puzzles me that a lot of pastors will talk about sin infecting our being, and call it a rift with God, not realizing that we create systems that are also infectious and cause a rift with humanity and God and one another. God calls us to redeem those things, and to fix those things as part of the gospel. And in that, we often think, “Well, as long as you preach the gospel itself, things will fix itself." And that's not the case, because God has called humanity to put hands and feet to the plow, or put hands to the plow, and so, therefore, we are called to fix the things that we also broke. And that's part of the redemption of all things.

What would be one thing people can do today, to start that journey of promoting the common good?

Honestly, I don't know the first step. Maybe it's sitting down and just watching a documentary, reading a book, or listening to someone who you feel is, I want to say, an expert on race, if you will. There's so much history that a lot of folks don't understand. And when you say systemic issues, and when you say white privilege, it just throws them off. You have to start somewhere, so start at a level that is comfortable for you with reading, listening, and with speaking to someone. And take the time to listen and not always think of a rebuttal. Just say, "You know what, let me listen, let me read, let me learn." And then, after some time of doing that, then come up with an assessment, and say, "Now, is everything that I've read, heard and talked about, is it utterly ridiculous?"
And if you feel like it's utterly ridiculous, then go back to your life. But if there's some merit in it, then start to evaluate your own personal life, the life around you. There are different questions you have to ask. Like, what is red lining? What is gerrymandering? What is the truth about gentrification? We are at a point in our country where it doesn't seem like this is going to go away any time soon. Racism is not going to go away by people ignoring it. Racism is not going to disappear in the next five, 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years.
The best thing to do is to engage it, talk about it, and be proactive in trying to understand how we can get better as a nation and pursue the thriving of others. So I would encourage the pastors and the folks who need the pastors to talk about a comprehensive healing that starts not only spiritually, but economically, as you guys are helping folks understand their place, seeking economic Shalom. That means everything from repentance to repair. And what does repairing look like where you are? How do we restore the years that the locust ate?
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