Sean Salai, Washington Times, November 9, 2023
Christian churches must acknowledge their historic role in systemic racism and teach that bigotry goes beyond personal sin to unite Americans on racial issues, a panel of Protestant and Anglican theologians said.
Jonathan Tran, Sarah Coakley and Vincent Lloyd argued that many Christians fail to recognize social injustice against minorities because they assume only individual and malicious actions count as racism. The theologians participated in a lively Wednesday night discussion at the National Press Club in Washington.
Structural racism arises from 19th-century slavery, embedding the idea that non-Whites are “less than human” into institutions that have created “breathtaking inequality, domination, expropriation [and] exploitation,” said Mr. Tran, a Vietnamese American professor and associate dean at Baptist-run Baylor University in Texas.
He said “the best that the church can do at this moment is come to terms” with the reality that it is one of those institutions.
“We need to acknowledge the role of the church in America as a villain in the story of American racism,” Mr. Tran said. “And we can spend the rest of our lives doing that, and that will be a life well spent.”
Still, he said, the church is “not simply a villain” in the story because “God won’t let it be.”
U.S. congregations must learn to live with discomfort and listen better to minorities if they want to be the sign of racial unity that God calls them to be, the theologians said.
“Mutual silence is one of the most powerful, transformative, disturbing and political things you can do together without talking too much, if at all,” said Ms. Coakley, an Anglican and professor emeritus at the University of Cambridge in England.
Ms. Coakley, who is White, said theologians should rethink the biblical account of sin that has led many Christians to associate the figure of the devil with the image of a non-White person.
Mr. Lloyd, a Black Protestant who directs Africana studies at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, noted that Augustinian friars founded his Catholic campus.
He said St. Augustine of Hippo’s fifth-century books “The Confessions” and “The City of God,” two key sources in that tradition, make it clear that domination is a “part of the human condition” that operates at individual and social levels.
The theologians said churches need to broaden the discussion of race beyond politicized White-Black narratives that have divided Americans in recent years.