Diversity is such an amazing aspect of our society. Many institutions, schools, workplaces, and even churches are coming to understand the value of diversity and are seeking to hire minorities for leadership positions. There are many reasons why there has been an emphasis on this, and I believe it’s overall a good thing. However, allow me to give two pieces of advice to predominantly white churches seeking to hire a black pastor or black leader, to help you gauge where you may be on the readiness spectrum.
1. Are you Able to reckon with the true history of racism in America?
Depending on who you talk to or read, there can be different interpretations of our history. For instance, in 2015, a Texas mother posted a photograph of a McGraw-Hill World geography textbook that went viral. The textbook said, “The Atlantic Slave Trade between the 1500s and 1800s brought millions of workers from Africa to southern United States to work on agricultural plantations.”(1) The publisher subsequently changed this sentence. But imagine growing up being taught slaves that were kidnapped from West Africa were merely “workers”? Did they work? Well, sure! They were forced to work hard. But to refer to them as migrant workers is a twisted view that will not allow for Christians (and non-Christians) to reckon with the horrors of the Transatlantic slave trade.
Here are some things to contemplate to gauge whether your church can recon with the truth of history. Is your church leadership ready to embrace these harsh following realities?
- Black bodies being kidnapped from their homeland and forced into slavery.
- The countless black bodies that starved to death on the ship that brought the first slaves to the Americas.
- The terrible decision of some black bodies to jump into the ocean to be eaten by sharks or drown because they refused to embrace the tragedy of being exploited.
- The black women that were raped and used as sexual objects for the sinister pleasure of some white racist men.
- The historical analysis of Native Americans having their land taken and some being killed along the way.
- The fact that black bodies were not seen as human beings made in the image and likeness of God. Instead, they were viewed as property. Hence, to the practice of chattel slavery.
- The ugly truth of “followers of Jesus” doing hermeneutical gymnastics to make slavery seen as biblically acceptable.
- The long history of Christians, pastors, evangelists, and theologians owning slaves.
- The economic benefit that Christian educational institutions and churches received off the back of black labor.
How do you feel from reading these bullet points? Do you feel overwhelmed? Do you feel angry? Shame? Guilt? Pain? This list should overwhelm you in some sense. It should also cause you to lament. The list doesn’t stop there, but it is just a glimpse of what must be reckoned with. When you put these atrocities in their historical context, merely hiring a black pastor for your white church to show off your “diversity” seems short sighted. The question that should be asked is, “How in the world can any black person become a Christian considering the historical narrative of slavery in America?” The grace of God is something is something else isn’t it? Trying to understand grace is like scuba diving in the ocean and realizing only 5% (2) of the ocean have been discovered. Praise God for His grace! But are you able to reckon with the true history of racism in America?
2. Able to be willing and joyfully submit to minority leadership?
Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” This is a biblical command, and this does not exempt those that are minority leaders. In other words, black folks are able to be pastors in the local church, and the congregations should joyfully and willfully submit to minority leadership. Contrary to what some white people may consciously or subconsciously think, black folks are not stupid or dumb, nor do they lack courageous leadership. I remember being in a predominately white context, and I would hear phrases like, “Oh wow, you’re really intelligent,” “Oh, you speak well,” and, “Oh, you’re different from other black people I’ve met.”
I believe for some white people (not all) there is an unwillingness to submit to a black pastor or black leader. This is why during slavery in the antebellum period the black preacher was only allowed to preach to other black slaves (under the supervision of white slave masters). Perhaps, this subconsciously lingers in the psyche of some white people. I’ve heard of countless stories in churches and in other spheres of society (healthcare, music, banking, and the list can go on) where there are some challenges that blacks face when it comes to this reality.
With a growing anticipation for diversity this brings us to an important juncture to truly contemplate about. Are you willing to joyfully submit to minority leadership? And if I can add, to be minority led? There is a difference between a church being predominantly white but having one black pastor and being a multi-ethnic church with the key roles and positions occupied by minority leadership. I’d venture to say, some “multi-ethnic” churches that have a black pastor are not truly multi-ethnic because the power base is still white. The culture is still white. The norms are still white. It simply is just a melaninated-skinned pastor that is the representative leader of the local church. That is like the equivalent of white churches basically saying, “I know a black person, I have a black friend.”
In some cases, he feels trapped and shackled because he can’t lead the way God has called him to lead because if he gets out of line, they will eventually cut off his financial lifeline. Getting out of line could mean speaking too much about racial issues… Too much about the history of racism in America… Too much about poverty and oppression… Too much about black and brown image bearers getting gunned down in the street by police officers…
This is a weighty endeavor. This is no easy task. There is no way to half-way do this thing. You must be in it to win it despite all the suffering, pain, heartache, uncomfortable conversations, etc. It is a journey. But in the end, it is worth it for the glory of God. For those churches seeking to hire minorities these two questions are the first of many to prayerfully answer with your elders, staff, search committee whoever is involved in the decision-making process. Are you able to reckon with the true history of racism in America? Are you willing to joyfully submit to minority leadership? More questions to consider in part 2.
1. For more detail, see Kiah Coller, “Texas’ Controversial Social Studies Textbooks Under Fire Again,” Oct. 5, 2015, The Texas Tribune, available at https://www.texastribune.org/2015/10/05/controversial-social-studies-textbooks-under-fire-/.
2. Marta Fava, “How Much of the Ocean Has Been Explored?”May 9, 2022, Ocean Literacy Portal, available at https://oceanliteracy.unesco.org/ocean-exploration/.
- Pray for white pastors and leaders to more lovingly hire and empower minorities.
- Pray for white pastors and leaders to be able to reckon with the true history of racism in America.
- Pray for white pastors and leaders to be joyfully submit to minority leadership.