Listen to the BIPOC that leave your church if you don’t want more of us to

The other day, I was speaking to a new friend of mine I’m getting to know because we serve on the DEI Committee at Adaire School where my kids go. She hadn’t gotten to know me well and she wanted to know about being a pastor, author, and so on. She said she wanted to read my book, and I asked her if she had any faith. She didn’t. She said she wasn’t religious. I thought that was fine. In a previous time, I may have remarked about the beauty of the mountains or the sound of the ocean and why that leads me to have faith, but instead, I confessed to her that with Christian Nationalism, Christian Supremacy, and Christian Exceptionalism rampant, I don’t know what kind of person would even want to find Christian faith at all. My faith has formed to oppose all forms of oppression and try to pursue justice and I was grateful for that. But if I were not a Christian now, I think the prospect of becoming one would be hard.

Christians are so often responsible for terrible things. You don’t have to look far to see it. White Evangelicals, in particular, are the motivating force behind the U.S.’s turn toward white supremacy. They remain the group that is most supportive of Donald Trump. And when we look at the sordid record of the former president, and the Christian celebration of it, it’s hard to grasp how I could come to faith.

More than that, we see sex abuse allegations all over Christianity, whether it’s the Roman Catholic Church or the Southern Baptist Convention, or any number of other organizations and denominations. We saw in our denomination when allegations (even against a minor) came out against Bruxy Cavey. Within Christianity, we see ableism, racism, homophobia, environmental ruin, and all sorts of other problems.

Christians are the poster children for the worst things about the U.S., consistently on the side of oppression and not the oppressed. It’s hard to imagine not opposing them, in fact, for me. I can see why people lose faith at the face of Christian hypocrisy.

And even those of us involved in churches have often seen narcissism, abuse, and self-interested, power-hungry leaders take something we loved and turn it into something far different. I’ve witnessed a house of love turned into a house of bigotry. I have seen people traumatized by churches. I am often left wondering where God is and what God thinks of us. I can understand why people leave.

In predominantly white spaces, as BIPOC try to stretch out and be themselves, they are often ridiculed and shrunk down. We see people get rid of their masks and put our immuncompromised at risk. When we say we empower women until they challenge patriarchy. We say all are welcome, but won’t dignify LGBTQIA folks. These are painful realities that make people lose faith, walk away from the church, and wonder where God is in any of it.

We need spaces to express our lament, our despair, and our struggle. We need to be able to say that it is hard to hold on to faith. That the hypocrisy of Christians in and out of the church is too much to bear. In our struggle, and it has been a struggle, to help our white church become antiracist, our BIPOC has needed spaces to share their frustrations, sadness, and even hopelessness.

For the marginalized, we often leave to find safer spaces for us. Sometimes that means we join a community of people like us. I find comfort in queer and BIPOC spaces myself now. We can retreat and find solace there. The question for us is why should we go back? Why go back to the places that harmed us? It’s a wonderful question, whether it’s the church or even our faith.

Space to lament is important. But it’s not enough. The dominant need to listen to our marginalized, even if they have left our communities and organizations. We need to learn why they left and what we can do to create an environment where they flourish, where they aren’t merely tolerated, or where they are hurt and abused and leave. We must repent and transform, if we want our churches to. This is extremely difficult work, but it is good work, and it is essential to the Gospel. The work of creating an inclusive community where the marginalized feel at rest and at home is the work of the dominant. When I say that, I don’t mean the dominant have to lead, but rather step aside in order for the marginalized to create a space that is safe and good for them.

But we won’t build a safe place for us if we are resisted at every corner, if we aren’t believed if we are symbolically centered, but not actually empowered. A white church or organization becoming antiracist seems like a miracle. But miracles are what keep our faith going. And in the face of so much horror in the church and caused by Christians, it would be great if we had some miracles to counteract our pain. Maybe faith might flourish then. Maybe we can gaze more easily at the beauty of the mountain or hear more clearly the power of the ocean’s waves. Maybe then, I could tell my friend that faith isn’t so hard to find.

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