Dear friends at Westside + other predominantly white churches
We must first state that it is our deep love for Jesus and for his church that compels us to write this letter to you. As the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. stated, there can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. We deeply desire for the church to be a reflection of the Kingdom of God where people of all races and ethnicities can have their humanity not only seen, but affirmed and valued. Unfortunately, this has not been the case here at Westside. You claim to share God’s heart for justice, but up until recently you have been incredibly silent on the issue of racial injustice--an issue that white Christians in America have historically been instrumental in perpetuating and upholding. This silence has not gone unnoticed.
Week after week and year after year, many of us sat in your pews, hoping that you would speak out against the oppression of black people. For years we cried out. After Trayvon Martin. After Michael Brown. After Sandra Bland. After Eric Garner. After Philando Castile and countless others. Can you possibly imagine how much it hurt when week after week we were met with nothing but silence from the pulpit? Or worse, when we learned that the countless Black lives stolen from us were unable to capture your attention, but the deaths of the Dallas police officers apparently warranted an immediate and heartfelt response. In this, you demonstrated why so many of us must continue to shout Black Lives Matter, a plea for equality.
When we tried to call the Church to action we were told that its demographics didn’t warrant a focus on racial injustice (despite that the Tigard and Beaverton areas are approximately 20% and 30% non-white, respectively). Your response exposed your racism, suggesting not only ignorance, but also a dangerous view that racism must only be a problem for Black and brown people to solve, rather than for white Christians. We were further devastated when, in response to our efforts to address racial injustice, you told us that we were being divisive and that we needed to focus on the gospel. What gospel is that? A white-washed gospel that does not seek to address the very real pain of Black and brown people within these four walls, but rushes at opportunities to go overseas and parade its white saviorism to the rest of the world? A gospel that loudly preaches unity in Christ, but does not consistently hold high the experiences of people of color and instead encourages assimilation to the standard of whiteness set by the white majority? A gospel that reeks of slavery and Jim Crow justifications meant to support the status quo at the expense of Black and brown Christ-followers? Is this your gospel?
We expect and demand more from our brothers and sisters in Christ who claim to love us. When part of the body of Christ is in pain, it should be attended to with urgency and loving attention, not with silence and dismissal. This is even more true when the Church is one of the primary actors responsible for that pain. It is not enough to put out an occasional, carefully crafted statement each time the conscience of the church is temporarily awakened to racism in America. It is not enough to have a Black pastor come and teach a sermon a couple of times a year. These shallow acts fall significantly short of a radical love for the marginalized.
We want to know that you are committed to being an anti-racist church, as is evident by the structural changes that you are willing to make. At the very least, these changes must include:
- Anti-Racist training for all Westside staff, specifically to include Westside’s elders.
- Bringing in qualified anti-racist speakers to publicly address and teach Westside’s congregation about racism and gospel. Recommended speakers include Jemar Tisby, Latasha Morrison, Austin Channing Brown, Dominique Gilliard, or Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil.
- Providing training for all care providers that will have contact with youth of color (with criteria for what is considered acceptable and valid training) and structured/accessible ways for parents of color to anonymously give feedback on their experience.
- Diversifying Westside’s leadership, from the elder board to the worship team, and the pastoral team. Westside’s elder board should include, at minimum, one Black member with an anti-racist background, who holds actual authority and influence (as to avoid mere tokenization).
- Creating and filling a paid position for a chief diversity officer, and the creation of a church diversity committee with open access to church leadership.
- Including diversity and inclusion efforts as a standing agenda item for staff meetings.
We are well past the point of performative action and solidarity. The Gospel tells a story of a Saviour who leaves the 99 in pursuit of the one. Are you willing to follow the example of Jesus and forsake the comfort and security of pandering to the white majority in order to demonstrate your love to those of us who are hurting? Are you willing to humble yourselves before God and those of us who you have hurt and publicly repent for your inaction, as well as your harmful actions? Are you willing to disavow your allegiance to the status quo and white supremacy and finally seek to create a more equitable environment for all members of the body? For the sake of the Gospel and for the advancement of the Kingdom, we hope so.
A Christian Coalition for Racial Justice