“Does God call us to engage in the work of racial reconciliation, and what is our role in that work as a predominantly white congregation?” This question was posed by a typically reserved and quiet member of our congregation who felt compelled to speak up on this issue. It kick-started a conversation that has challenged and grown many of us at Marsh Creek Community Church.

This work is relational and messy and there are no formulas. However...

Marsh Creek (Exton, Pa.), as stated in the question, is predominantly white and inexperienced in racial justice. But this congregant’s question prompted us to enter a time of learning and growth. Over a period of months, a team of us from the church met regularly to talk about the issue of racial healing and justice and to brainstorm how God’s Church at Marsh Creek can do better, and even lead our community, in this area. Our discussions led us to the development of the Racial Healing and Justice (RH&J) ministry at our church.

Let me be clear from the outset: this work is relational and messy and there are no formulas or “3-easy steps to racial reconciliation!” However, if you also feel prompted to engage in this area,  below are four tools that we have found to be essential to casting this vision and getting started.

1) Have an open heart and mind

It is physiologically impossible for our bodies to respond with empathy when we feel threatened or attacked. Given that empathy is crucial to the process of understanding others, we must humble ourselves, and take some deep breaths. Resolve to listen to understand, not merely to respond, and come to each conversation about this topic with a curious and humble spirit. Adopt a posture that says, “I do not have all of the answers, and I might have something to learn.”

Listen to understand, not merely to respond, and come to each conversation with a humble spirit.

If we go into conversations determined to communicate our point of view, determined to find the fault in someone’s perspective regardless of their views or experiences, we will do damage in this work, rather than repair. Are we open to the possibility that we have something to learn?

Without an open heart and mind, warm, welcoming, and wonderful intentions can actually impact brothers and sisters of color in damaging ways. An example is touching the hair of a Black brother or sister. We might intend it as flattering, but it’s a tremendously intimate, tokenizing, and uninvited gesture – rooted in historical dehumanization – that can make a person feel “othered.” The intent was “Your hair is lovely!” but the impact is, “I’m culturally unaware that this action is disrespectful.” Being open to learn allows us to engage sensitively.

2) Remove politically partisan lenses

Notice that I did not say remove politics from the conversation. Politics, for better or worse, are inextricably linked to conversations about race. Both parties have used and abused scripture and policies to win political favor and votes, making image-bearers of God pawns in their political aspirations. However, politics can improve systems and policies and create nation-wide equity. We should not necessarily ask someone to remove politics from their views, but we can ask someone to remove partisan lenses that tell us that the way “our” party thinks or speaks about this issue is “the” correct way.

When we ground ourselves in the teachings of Jesus, we can see more clearly the image bearers in front of us.

We have the opportunity to tell our political parties and pundits that they cannot do the thinking for us in this area. We have the chance to engage ourselves, our full selves, humbly and with grace. When we let go of partisanship and instead ground ourselves in the teachings of Jesus, we can begin to see more clearly the image bearers in front of us.

Someone approached me after I spoke about racial healing and justice one Sunday morning. This person had been told by media outlets that talking about this in a church was inappropriate. But she saw that what I was saying was consistent with the person, teaching, and work of Jesus and decided to do some further digging. This person was allowing a Jesus-lens to take priority over a partisan lens.

3) Possess a Kingdom vision

This work is difficult and messy and without a biblical understanding and motivation behind the work, we can quickly give up when things get difficult. Fortunately, scriptural foundations for this work are abundant. Our church has articulated a Kingdom Vision for this work, but your church can find what resonates with them. Regardless of where you land in your choice of words, know that Jesus followers engage in this work precisely because of the witness and example of Jesus. We have the opportunity to stand alongside those who have been mistreated, overlooked, and undervalued (Heb. 10:32-34) and it is an honor to do so!

And we do not stand alone. In a June 2020 article, our denomination wrote:

“Racism and racial injustice should not only be addressed after tragic events, such as those our country has recently experienced, instead, we are called to be about our Father’s business all of the time.”

We recognize that many organizations and churches put out statements during this time of racial reckoning in our country. What is significant about this part of the BIC statement is that racial justice work is considered by our denomination to be “our Father’s business” and we should be about that business all of the time. We could not agree more.

4) Start where you are

Every church must examine themselves and see where their conversations need to start.

So now what? The idea of racial healing and justice seems so huge; what can we actually do about it? Well, just because we can’t do everything doesn’t mean we can’t do something. Take a look at where you are starting from. Every church must examine themselves and see where their conversations need to start. This article cannot give a once-and-for-all template for where and how to begin. But that’s where some trusted resources can come into play. On our ministry page for this work, we have linked to some resources and people that you can speak to that will help you figure out an appropriate path forward.

When we at Marsh Creek examined where we were, we found that some practical next steps for us included the RH&J Cohort, an intense 11-week deep dive into this topic that helps us to see how scripture and our faith are integrally tied to this work. The goal is to one day make this cohort available to the broader community so that Marsh Creek can be a hub of racial healing and justice in our area.

Starting where we were also meant countless individual, patient, and loving one-on-one conversations. We additionally facilitated group conversations on racial justice and the church led by Mission Reconcile. Book clubs and a conversation library will be added in the coming months to flesh out the broader ministry at Marsh Creek.

We at Marsh Creek Community Church are not doing this work perfectly, and neither will you. But we invite you to do it with us. Together we can work through the power of his Spirit to bring God’s Kingdom here on earth like it is in Heaven. It’s time for the Church to be the leading voice in racial healing and justice.

Ryan Stockton
Ryan Stockton has been the Lead Pastor at Marsh Creek Community Church in Exton, Pa. since 2021. He is passionate about serving in God's Church and helping people learn for themselves how to follow Jesus. He enjoys running and OCR's (obstacle course races), watching movies, and eating Doritos. He also loves podcasts and is one of the co-hosts of the BIC Life podcast, a podcast that looks at life and faith in Jesus from a Brethren in Christ perspective (this podcast is not affiliated with the denomination). Ryan and his amazing wife Andrea are the parents to three children and live in Downingtown, Pa.

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