Over the last three months, the church pivoted quickly to be able to serve people in a new way. You have made changes that needed to be made for years. You have moved from being building-bound to offering online worship, from attendance-based giving to online giving, and from resisting change to embracing it. In many ways, churches have weathered the pandemic well.
Now, a new crisis is before us. Pain and outrage over the recent videotaped murder of George Floyd, and so many others, has brought American society to a tipping point. Most folks agree—systemic racism, and implicit bias, is a pervasive problem. It must end.
Can the church effectively pivot from one crisis to the next? My answer is yes. In fact, I think the pandemic has actually prepared churches for just such a time as this.
The deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor and so many others, point to a series of changes that have been needing to be made for many long years. The issue of structural or systemic racism has been with us since the founding of our country. While much progress has been made, clearly, we are not there yet.
The church, once hemmed by tradition and limited by fear of change, has proven it can slip the knots that prevented it from making meaningful change. The result is a brand new way of being a spiritual community. The church can reimagine worship, fellowship, giving, Holy Communion, baptism, funerals, and hospitality—the very things that defined it before. It can do the same with the insistent tentacles of systemic racism. In part, because there are a surprising number of similarities between the two crises.
Racism vs. A Pandemic
Surprising Number Of Similarities
First, like the pandemic, systemic racism has far-reaching life and death implications. Addressing it well means we have to change the way we think about things and do things. The church now has experience with this.
Second, churches now know that what seemed impossible before is actually quite possible. Although many congregations resisted the idea for years, they can now make quick adjustments based on changing circumstances, adopt new forms of communication, and embrace innovative ways of being a community. Similarly, recognizing and addressing systemic racism once seemed impossible to many. But if mainline congregations can grow and thrive during a pandemic, then perhaps churches do have the agility to tackle something as pervasive as systemic racism.
Third, churches learned a new language to deal with an invisible virus whose vocabulary includes social distancing, droplets, and N95 masks. It also mastered new technologies like Facebook Live, Zoom, breakout rooms, and online giving platforms. Likewise, dealing with the almost invisible scourge of systemic racism will require a new language and a new willingness to try emerging technologies.
Fourth, during the pandemic, tired church practices yielded to more foundational life-giving spirituality. Taking the claims of systemic racism seriously will require a shift from dogmatic denials of racism and the unconscious exercise of the privilege to painful yet life-giving awareness of the people and the world around us.
Fifth, and finally, the faith-based community enjoyed a resurgence during the pandemic. People looked to spiritual leaders to provide meaning, solace, and inspiration. In the same way, spiritual leaders can guide us in this uncomfortable new world of identifying unconscious bias, unacknowledged privilege, and unseen barriers that have kept us away from each other.
None of this will be easy. And none of this is guaranteed. It will take equal parts guts, prayer, self-reflection, education, determination, inspiration, and action to make the changes needed to envision and ensure a world that works for everyone. But now is the time to begin. It just might be the Beloved Community that arises.