3 Simple Ways You Can Reject Christian Colorblindness

“I don’t see race, I see people.” How many times have we heard that statement? Racism is the most intractable issue in American society today and has been for decades. Many people believe that if we stopped taking about race, the issue would go away. I would first like to point out how little sense that logic makes. If racism is still a prevalent issue (which it is), how does simply talking about it make things worse and how would ignoring it end it? What if we applied that flawed logic to other issues? What if we stopped talking about hunger, sex trafficking, or child starvation? Would those conditions end? If we applied that logic to those issues, we would be condemned, and rightfully so, because they are serious problems that require serious conversation and intentional action. The same goes for racism. Unfortunately, many people endorse a colorblind concept that suggests that we are all “people,” and by talking about our differences, we are being divisive. Nowhere do I see this issue more prevalent than in the church.

I am a Christian who seeks to follow Christ on a daily basis. I believe that the gospel at its core is a liberating message to all and in particular, the oppressed. I believe as James Cone accurately puts it in The Cross and the Lynching Tree, that the cross of Jesus Christ is the most empowering symbol of God’s solidarity with the oppressed and most vulnerable in our society which includes victims of racism (Cone, 2011). This is why I find the colorblindness and lack of attention to racism in the church so troubling. This isn’t new. As black slaves and abolitionists were fighting against slavery in the 19th century, many white Christians were either silent or hostile to the liberation of slaves. In the 20th century, white churches and Christian colleges maintained segregationist policies and criticized the Civil Rights movement and other liberation movements as being unchristian or communist. They argued that black people should stop bringing attention to these issues and just preach the gospel; others believed that blacks were incapable of being true Christians or of going to heaven. Even some black churches, especially those affiliated with the churches of Christ, were silent about the racism they faced and believed that it was an issue for city hall, not the church.

Let me be clear, the silence and hostility towards race in the 19th and 20th century has carried into the 21st century. It has been manifested as colorblindness. Christian colorblind advocates argue that because we are all one in Christ, we should focus on what unites us rather than what divides us. While the bible does make references to being one in Christ beyond our differences (Galatians 3:28), the passages are not advocating a colorblind perspective. If you read Paul’s letters to churches, he is very vocal about the discrimination that takes place, most notably, how the Jews were treating the Gentiles. If Paul were colorblind or better in the context “cultureblind”, he would ignore those differences and suggest that we are all “Christians” and we shouldn’t care. The truth is that we should care and we should be vocal. One example of the toxic colorblindness in American Christianity is when Christian rapper Lecrae began speaking out against police violence toward unarmed black men and women this summer. The response from his evangelical fans was disturbing. They told him to stop talking about race and stick to the “gospel.” Many of his fans have argued that he is no longer a Christian rapper because he talks about race. This is also evident when churches across this country will pray for almost every issue under the sun but racism, even after tragic events.

So much of the gospel is speaking out against injustices and siding with the oppressed. As a Christian I believe that the gospel is the most effective tool in siding with the oppressed and historically, the black church demonstrated this through its tireless fight against racism. Resorting to colorblindness does nothing but reinforce racist policies and institutions. Refusing to discuss these issues in a church community for fear of being controversial does much harm and no good. The church’s silence is toxic. If your church community is ready to reject colorblindness, here are some tips to be most effective:

1.     Listen to your black brothers and sisters: Many churches stress the importance of listening to those who are suffering and building trust in relationships. If we want to foster a welcoming and safe community, we have to be willing to listen to the needs of our brothers and sisters who are suffering with the trauma of racism without being influenced by your own self-interest or political motives. Just because you don’t understand it doesn’t mean it isn’t a reality. In so many other instances we preach the value of being others-oriented and attentive listeners. We should apply the same concept when discussing race. Talk less and listen/ask more.

2.     Pray against racism: I hear many prayers in churches about issues going on in the world, from the persecution of Christians in the Middle East to the safety and security of America. When we pray about race related incidents, we either pray broadly about peace and safety in the urban streets and/or for police officers. By ignoring prayers against the injustices of America, and particularly racism (including police brutality), we are sending a political message. We are saying (whether consciously or not) that the lives of police officers are more valuable. We are suggesting that these issues have more to do with the pathology of black families than they have to do with injustices. We should be willing to pray against the racial injustices in our society unapologetically, because they exist and are present both on an individual and structural level.

3.     Reject the savior mentality: If your church is in an urban setting and/or does ministry in urban communities, you have to think about your motives. In other words, think about your intentions and priorities in being involved with a particular community. Many white churches go to urban communities of color with the intention of “saving them” or “bringing Jesus to them.” As well intentioned as this is, it is very dangerous and reinforces the notion that non-white people have pathologically bad behaviors and values. This applies to ministry in low-income communities in general but particularly in non-white communities. Look to build relationships and get to know people in your neighborhood rather than taking over and advancing your own agenda. If your church is planning to get involved with racial justice work, you must also be aware of the savior mentality. Many social justice advocates have a savior mindset in which disenfranchised people are used simply for the purpose of telling stories but are not involved in creating change. While such advocates are aware of racial injustices, they are blind to how their privilege allows them to lead and control certain movements and initiatives. Even if your church is active against racism, it can still fall victim to colorblindness if it fails to actively engage disenfranchised communities because of their privilege.

I recognize that talking about race can be uncomfortable and contentious, but it is a necessary conversation. Historically, the church in America, and in particular, the churches of Christ (the affiliation I grew up in), have been silent about this important issue even as many brothers and sisters have been impacted. Racism is not just a political issue, it is a spiritual issue. If the church is to truly be communal and if Christians are to truly become vulnerable with each other and relevant in society, this is a conversation that needs to happen and this is a social problem that we need to fight actively. The church must lead the way in society in rejecting colorblindness and recognizing the reality of systemic racism.

14 thoughts on “3 Simple Ways You Can Reject Christian Colorblindness

  1. An excellent article, brother. One done with honest and tact. I regard highly your efforts to awaken in the followers of Christ a more sincere appreciation for the complex issues of our times. May God continue to evolve you and advance your work.

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  2. Catholic Bulls were signed by the pope to enslave black people. Those slaves were indoctrinated and beaten so they would believe in the Christian god. The bible was used to justify slavery and the bible tells you how best to own slaves but never says to simply not own slaves. I never understand why black people who are concerned with racism would support the very religion that enslaved their ancestors and pushed the idea that racism was okay in the first place.

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    1. Thanks for your comment. A few things:
      1. The Christianity that was forced upon black slaves was a corrupted form of Christianity. When black slaves began understanding the faith, they saw it as an effective tool for liberation. From the story of Moses leading his people out of slavery, to the minor prophets condemning the oppression of vulnerable people and calling for God’s wrath, to the message of Christ who preached about the liberation of the poor. Faith has been a critical role in the black community and has been the most liberating tool. Faith has helped inspire much of the social change and fight against racism so while Christianity was used to oppress black people, it has also been used to liberate and inspire them. I’d recommend a book I referenced in this blog “The Cross and the Lynching Tree” by James Cone and “Black Religion and Black Radicalism” by Gayward S. Wilmore (not referenced in this blog but a good article). To discredit the role liberating of Christianity in the black American experience is to deny the black experience. It is also important to note that some of the early Christian church institutions were in Africa including the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the Egyptian Coptic Church.
      2. The biblical references you are referring to are taken out of context. The bible condemns the oppression of a people and in the gospel of Christ in no way condones racism, it fights against it and other institutions of oppression
      3. Any ideology or belief system can be used to oppress people, it does not make the belief system bad, it makes the interpretation bad.

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      1. The interpretation is spot on. The god of the bible gives instructions on owning slaves.

        It wasn’t a corrupt Christianity and through slavery and oppression, your ancestors were firced and indictrinated into believing in Christianity. You are tirch bearing fir that very faith now.

        Yes, hundreds of years later Christianity was also used to liberate slaves but it was also at the same time being used to keep them in chains.

        There are many things that can inspire them. It’s outrageous to me that a book that helped enslave people should be one of them.

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      2. By the way, the freeing of the slaves in the bible is a horrific story. God murders innocent babies for the wrongs of a few in the ruling class. It’s a tale of infanticide and not something to be celebrated.

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  3. Thank you for this timely article. It suggests helpful, practical actions that we can take.

    As a side note, the church of Christ does also have some positive history in regards to the Civil Rights Movement.

    http://www.christianchronicle.org/article/parks-lawyer-says-she-changed-america

    The lawyer that helped Rosa Parks was a member of the church of Christ. Of course, there were many problems and I don’t mean to minimize them. But there was some good too.

    God bless

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  4. Great Article..!!.. I have wondered about this very thing. What exactly is the church (particularly the black church) saying about the obvious racism we are seeing everyday. I asked this same question on another well known christian site AFA facebook page. AFA stands for American Family Association which is based in Tupelo,MS. This is a Christian organization founded and operated by White American christians. Our church has supported them which is a predominantly black church in many ways. They have spoke out on many issues that were against the Bible like homosexuality, the LGBT, petitioned christians to boycott businesses like Target for allowing gender identity restrooms in their stores. But, they have yet to speak out against police brutality or racism for that matter. However, they spoke out when those five officers were killed in Dallas and they have been posting articles and sharing articles about Colin Kaerpernick kneeling during the National Anthem. They are outraged at this but not at the reason why he is protesting. Which is baffling to me to say the least. 0f course, I posted a status under the comments and tagged them on this issue and askedvwhy are they so outraged at what Colin Kaerpernick is doing but not at the reason he’s doing it. I have yet to receive a response and that was a month ago now. I say all this to say that you are right, the church is choosing to be “Colorblind” as you so eloquently put it.. Lol. This is the first article that l have read that specifically point out or I should say specifically spoke out about why the church is silent or choosing to be silent. This was a great article and thank you for your insight.

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    1. Thank you very much for your comment and I echo the same sentiments you have around how Christians do not shy away from other issues but end to be silent towards racial issues despite the reality that their black brothers are sisters in Christ are hurting from the racism in our society.

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