On Friday, we shared a “Love Letter to the Black Church” from Rev. Alisha Smith Haddock. This week we have another love letter. This one is addressed to white Christians and churches from Rev. Dr. Judy Cummings.
We have been appreciating our powerful conversations with Dr. Cummings, pastor of New Covenant Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) for the last few weeks. Today is our concluding interview. If you did not get Dr. Cummings’ recommended reading list, please hop over and get the free download. There are also recommendations of books for clergywomen.
On December 20, Dr. Cummings will be celebrating her retirement as senior pastor of New Covenant. Please thank her and bless her for all she has given to the work of ministry — following a full career in nursing — and for the transition coming next in her life.
Throughout 2020, we have featured weekly interviews with pastors, professors, community ministers and religious leaders. I usually conclude each interview by asking my guests: What questions do you live by? Dr. Cummings took this opportunity to share the questions that she has for me, and for white Christians and ministers. As always her prophetic word to us is beautiful and powerful and inspired!
From Allies to Co-Conspirators
Dr. Cummings asks first: Are you willing to really live out the commandment to love God, love neighbor, and love self? It sounds simple, but it needs legs to move into changing the world. It’s not enough to NOT be overtly racist. We can’t just say it “performatively,” as Dr. Cummings points out. We need to join the work of loving God and neighbor and self by becoming anti-racist.
Are you willing to really live out the commandment to love God, love neighbor, and love self?
Watch the final segment of my interview with Dr. Cummings. I think her letter to white Christians is not just important but urgent. If we don’t want the church to continue on as one the most segregated organizations in our society then we need to take the questions Dr. Cummings asked us to heart. And we are not simply talking about making friends across racial divides. We are talking about structural change and realigning our policies and our positions of power to prioritize values that do not just benefit white people.
In our conversation, Dr. Cummings and I talk about two shifts especially for white folks. First there is a shift from NOT being racist to becoming anti-racist. Second there’s a shift from trying to be allies to becoming co-conspirators.
Now this gets tricky. Stay with us.
The word “allies” has been used for decades now by white people who want to be on the side of making much needed changes to end racism. But the word “ally” implies that the work of dismantling racist structures belongs to Black and Brown people, to Indigenous Peoples or to to people of color (BIPOC), and somehow white folks are in a supportive role. The language of allyship misses how much work of dismantling racism is the work of dismantling whiteness as a construct. Breaking open white power. Seeing how white supremacy has a stranglehold on our lives. It is work we all need to do and white people particularly don’t need to be standing around some imagined sidelines cheering on our Black and Brown neighbors. We need to roll up our sleeves and put our hands to the work.
What is worth rescuing about the term ally? First it is the listening implied in the work. Second it is in the willingness to listen so that we become good followers rather than recentering our white selves yet again. Active listening and active following.
Becoming anti-racist means for white folks learning just how much of the work is ours to do. Dismantling the powers that we benefit from is hard and necessary. And as Dr. Cummings encourages us, as Christians it is work we can and must do out of love.
There are many excellent resources on becoming anti-racist. Dive in and learn. Read along with Dr. Cummings, who offered us a great list last week. Listen, search and open yourself to engage from a different perspective. Find ways to support the work of anti-racism in your city or town. Find other people who will want to be co-conspirators and join hands in the work love.
This weekend I have been laboring with a giant push to send my copy-edited manuscript of my forthcoming book Pastoral Imagination back to the editors. One of my big learnings as I’ve put this book together over the past nine months — yes, books are a lot like babies — is how profoundly ministry as a profession and practice has been shaped by white power and privilege. It shows up both subtly and overtly in the stories of our study participants. Now is the time for change. If you want to be sure to get updates as we move toward the book release, sign up here!