I believe that one of the major goals of gender and racial equality conversation is healing and reconciliation, i.e., a restoration of human relationships between one another even as we are being reconciled to God (2 Cor.5:17-21; Gal.3: 26-29). And just like the message of reconciliation to God, there is both proclamation of sin and proclamation of healing. In the proclamation of sin, we identify what is contra this vision of reconciliation with God so that we can abandon such practices, and in the proclamation of healing, we highlight what aligns with the vision of reconciliation so that we can imbibe such practices. I employ the same methodology in my conversation about racial and gender equality (and reconciliation) and often alternate between sharing what is ungodly and unacceptable and what is godly and acceptable and today, I’d like to share some things I’ve learned about navigating a very sensitive part of what is acceptable, i.e., how to navigate the difficult terrain of people of color and whites, and men and women coming together and learning (emphasis on “learning”) to exist as one after living as strangers and (sometimes hostile) aliens through many generations.
Walk in Faith, Not Fear!
When God turned around my experience and brought me among white folks who genuinely loved me for me, I realized that although my heart rejoiced, I was nevertheless very cautious of letting myself love them fully. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting to see if what we had was just the initial euphoria of a new romance and which would eventually peter out. So for over two years, I didn’t share anything about my current Christian community as I didn’t want to proclaim “I’ve found faithful people” only to have to retract it in a short time. However, I remember God always speaking to my heart during this period and encouraging me to “love without fear.” Let go of fear and just love, even if you don’t know the outcome. With this, I realized that God was reminding me that as new creations, we are always called to love no matter what. Hearing this gentle voice as my heart bounced around with fear of rejection and discrimination, helped move me INTO relationship with my current loving white Christians community. Although, all I know is my experience with God during this struggle, I’d imagine that Papa had the same message for my white brothers and sisters.
If we are becoming truly human like Jesus, this must be characterized by a boldness and courage to love one another, despite the history between our various people groups or even one another.
And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. (1 Jn.4:16-21)
Give Each Other the Benefit of Doubt
Whether person of color or white, and whether man or woman, and despite what negatives you might have experienced from the other group, don’t assume this new group of people will do the same thing. Treat each encounter with a new community as distinct and more importantly, as ‘new.’ God gives us ‘new’ days, ‘new’ beginnings in order to bring us into the new creation phase. We cannot enter the ‘new creation’ phase of reconciliation, if we carry the baggage, stereotypes, past experiences, etc., into the new.
This means we must treat each new encounter as though we were entering a new relationship. Don’t assume, but instead, put your best foot forward and hope for the best.
Own Yourself. Don’t Hide.
When a woman/person of color comes into a white establishment, their goal is not to be male or white and although one can feel the overwhelming pressure to cast off one’s gender, ethnic and cultural identity in order to fit in, one must also remember that such cowering makes one complicit in creating a ‘white or male culture.’ It takes a lot of work to ‘be’ oneself where one is a minority, but this is a strength that we must daily seek God’s help for. Remember that at one time, the pressure was existing as the ‘unaccepted’ woman/person of color in a white and male majority, but with reconciliation and equality, one exists as the ‘accepted’ person of color in a white and male majority. Although it isn’t less burdensome, it is less hostile and as women/people of color, we can make it easier by embracing our gender/ethnicity more, using and ensuring your minority voice and perspective is audible and represented in all things.
On the flip side, the white majority must recognize that the presence of the woman/person of color doesn’t mean ‘conversion to whiteness or male-dominated perspectives’ but instead a responsibility on the part of the white/male majority to make room for and embrace diversity according to the plethora of expressions of our God through diverse people and cultures…
On both sides, this means allowing yourself to be known as an individual in order to be fully loved and fully accepted for who you are.
This makes for a more fun and Holy Spirit charged environment!
Don’t be Afraid to Disagree
Just because we are on the way to the new creation doesn’t mean all is always well. As long as two people are in contact or communication, there will always come a time of conflict. Yet, conflict and disagreement does not necessarily mean we love each other less. It is how we disagree and handle conflict that determines each other’s worthiness. So, on both sides, be conscious of disagreeing in ways that always affirm the worthiness of the other, and as long as both sides do this, both sides can always fight and make up and become stronger in the relationship.
Being willing to disagree, also means being willing to hear and listen to one another and being willing to hear and listen, can only occur where and when people are in relationship. Without relationship, there is no hearing and without hearing there is no development of mutuality, equality and reconciliation. What this means is that we must be intentional about being in relationship and NOT just co-existing side by side for statistics sake.
Don’t Be Afraid to Hold Each Other Accountable
Mutuality also means we can trust one another with our lives. Therefore, our commitment to mutuality and equality should make us more committed to calling out and eradicating any practices on either side that compromise mutuality, i.e., an inability to fully trust the other. Thus, if a woman/person of color sees racism or sexism rearing its ugly head in any shape or form in this new creation community, such a person of color must boldly confront with the intent to restore mutuality. Likewise, the male/white majority must be intentional about learning about how it presents and fosters maleness/whiteness and must humbly self-correct when called out.
Likewise, the person of color must carry their own weight in all matters of integrity and responsibility – no slouching off, no unnecessary excuses. Ask for help when/if it’s beyond you and expect to receive it as others would (this also depends on white and or male majority familiarizing themselves with and doing something to help with the disadvantages a woman/person of color might have in doing their work or fully participating in the life of the community). Also, woman/person of color: when called out, be willing to take ownership of shortcomings and make amends.
A good way to build mutual accountability is to have regular conversations about ways that toxic masculinity and whiteness has affected women/people of color and to do this both at a professional and personal level in all our communities of faith.
Don’t Give Up On Each Other!
The movement towards God and towards one another is a lifelong movement. It doesn’t happen overnight. There are also many unforeseen experiences along the way, some difficult and frustrating, some easy and enjoyable. Just like in the marriage of Christ and his Church, we take the good with the bad and by faith and complete submission and surrender to God, we maintain commitment towards one another. This means being willing to forgive and re-enter relationship and fellowship with one another on a daily basis.
God has given the church some elements to help draw us into the daily and constant re-affirmation of our commitment towards Him and one another. Things like praying together and participating in Communion together. No wonder, the apostle would encourage us as believers (men and women of all tribes and cultures) ‘not to forsake our regular assembling together’ (Heb.10:24-25), even while recognizing that at the time of the apostles, worshiping together was not about the service, but also about doing life together. Doing life together paves way for mutual understanding and provides ways to hold on tightly to one another and refuse to let go of each other no matter what!
These are a few of the many tools I’m learning to use in my commitment to the visible manifestation of God’s Kingdom on earth. Please, feel free to add what other tools you have learned or acquired along the way. Thanks!
God bless you!
-Rev. Oghene’tega V. Swann
Rev. Oghene’tega Swann is an ordained Teaching Elder (Pastor) in the Beaver-Butler Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church(USA). She is the founding pastor of Refreshing Springs Ministry, Aliquippa & Ambridge. She has the honor and privilege to be mother to one wonderful, biological child and many, many more non-biological children.