Is Mapping Systemic Racism “Chastising White Congregants and Donors?”

Every once in a while, when opening up the FaithX virtual mailbag, we find a complaint in response to something we posted on the blog or social media, or even an e-blast we have sent to our general readership. Most of the time, we simply “read, mark, and inwardly digest” but don’t respond to the complaint on our blog. But occasionally we find a complaint to which we do respond on the blog, particularly if we think it might help to correct a common misconception.

We received one of those last week. The object of the complaint seemed to be related to our work on mapping and mitigating the impacts of systemic (or structural) racism. The person seemed to have three main points:

  1. The “constant focus on chastising … White congregants and donors” about racism is driving people away from mainline denominations.
  2. That this is unfair or hypocritical because “they don’t do it to Black people about Black crime and out-of-wedlock birth rates.”
  3. If congregations stopped chastising White congregants, they would feel good, and because of this they would start coming back, and would give more generously.

These complaints are so emotionally laden that it could take a month of blog posts to answer them fully.

But let’s look at them one by one and I will try to answer each briefly…

Complaint: Constantly chastising White congregants about racism is driving them away from mainline denominations.

Response: At FaithX we are not about chastising but about revealing and acting on facts. Our definition of systemic/structural racism makes a distinction between individuals and societal structures: “Systemic or structural racism exists when social systems are structured so that they disadvantage one or more racial/ethnic groups to the advantage of another.”  Which means you don’t have to be racist to be complicit in the ongoing impacts of systemic racism. But at the same time, you do have a responsibility to confront the pernicious inequities that are structured into the societal system in which you live, especially in your own community. Facts often make people uncomfortable, and sometimes people remove themselves from uncomfortable situations. But in our experience, at least as many people leave congregations that aren’t confronting racism than leave congregations where it is. Here’s the thing: if you are never uncomfortable, you are never learning anything new. And we believe that our job is not to make people comfortable, but to reveal the truth and let the truth set them free. 

Complaint: We don’t badger Black people about Black crime and out-of-wedlock birth rates. 

Response: Actually, society does badger Black people about crime rates and out-of-wedlock birth rates. But the statistics are misleading. To quote Mark Twain, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics.” Statistically, out-of-wedlock births are significantly higher among Black people than White people. But at the same time, reported abortions are significantly higher among White people than Black people. If neither Black nor White people had access to abortion, the rate of out-of-wedlock births among White folk would be much closer to those of Black people. Factor into this systemic inequities in income, low access to transportation, a welfare system that won’t help if a man is in the home, and a dozen other issues, the rates would be almost identical. As to the difference in crime rates, that is a function of how crime rate data are calculated. “Crime rates” would more accurately be called “arrest rates.” Factor in the reality that Black people are arrested more frequently than White people for the same types of crimes, and the actual number of crimes committed by each is almost identical.

Complaint: If congregations stopped chastising White congregants, they would feel good, and would start coming back, and would give more generously.

Response: There is no way to test this hypothesis except for congregations to stop educating their predominantly white congregants. But even if it were true, what would the cost to faith communities be if the price of keeping people in the pews is to hide the truth from them? 

I think we know what Jesus would say…

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