To confront racial injustice, lukewarm is not good enough

Photo: Teemu Paananen, Unsplash.

We all know how the story goes.
You and your church became curious about racism in the United States. You decided to do a book study to make sure y’all are educated about this tough topic. 

You were impressed by how many people showed up and participated. It seemed your whole congregation was interested. It felt like your congregation was on the verge of becoming a church that cared about antiracism work. 

As the book studies and conversations continued, you noticed people’s interest and participation began to fade. Eventually your antiracism group study dwindled to just a few people. The momentum you built came to a halt.

Sadly, this is a reality I have heard about in many congregations lately. Why is interest in conversations about race beginning to fade? One reason is how large the conversation is. People get tired of having tough conversations for long periods of time. Churches can grow weary of being bombarded by how much more work and education has to be done.

Now, I want to be clear that I am not condemning anyone. I am simply stating the reality of the moment we are in. We had a lot of motivation and momentum toward antiracism work, but now it seems the energy has faded. 

The problem is: Racism still exists. Black folks can’t walk away and ignore it like our white counterparts can. 

As the Pulitzer Prize award-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar says in his song “Savior”: “One protest for you. Three-sixty-five for me.”

I believe part of the reason this exhaustion occurs is because many of us approach the topic of racial injustice with a lukewarm attitude. We come into conversations about race thinking, hoping and praying we can find a middle ground between two extreme options: actually doing the hard work of justice or ignoring the problem because it doesn’t seem to affect us. 

We end up going in circles with conversations trying to search for this mythical middle ground. People eventually get tired and either walk away or push back against antiracism work or ideas.

In the Book of Revelation there is a word for those of us who approach justice work with a lukewarm attitude. 

“I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15-16).

There is an illusion that God wants us to figure out a different way to do justice work. That somehow there is a way to achieve equality and equity without having tough discussions and working out our disagreements.

In reality, this is messy and difficult work. Antiracist work takes a fire in the belly that can not be contained. It takes us being committed to the work, no matter how difficult it may get. 

I’ll be honest here. I have been guilty of pulling back when I have grown weary of talking about the work that still needs to be done. 

But for change to happen, we have to be willing to be hot. We have to be willing to go all in, even when we become uncomfortable or weary. We have to be on fire for God and God’s call for justice for everyone.

One thing I have realized about Mennonites is we like to use our hands. We like to be a part of tangible change. This is how we get our energy. 

We like to show up, work hard, complete the job and go home with the mission accomplished.

However, when it comes to racial injustice, we have to be willing to play the long game. We have to be willing to consistently show up with fire in our spirit. This is the only way that change will happen.

For those of you who show up day after day to advocate for racial equality and equity, I want to say thank you for bringing that fire into this important work. I hope we all can catch and maintain that spirit.  

Jerrell Williams

Jerrell Williams is pastor of Salem (Ore.) Mennonite Church.

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