Racial Equality in the Post-Pandemic Church

written on 27 September 2021 by Cynthia Akinsanya

Art by Nat Iwata

In this talk from the Our Church Too Conference 2021, Cynthia speaks openly about the effect of the killing of George Floyd on ethnic communities and encourages the church to become more diverse. By asking the big questions, Cynthia gets us thinking about our own biases and gives us some ideas as to how to make the church a safer space.

TEXT (imported from subtitles so apologies for grammar mistakes):
Hi there everybody. Good afternoon and good evening. I'm really delighted to be here and to be part of this community and be given the opportunity to speak. And, just a little bit about me very quickly. I suppose, the way that I describe myself, I describe myself as a child of God, a woman of color, a wife, a mum, and a cake artist. And there's a lot to be said about how we define ourselves, but even more, there's a lot to be said about how other people define us. We'll just have the next slide, please.

[00:00:37] I think the first thing that I want to say is that I am not the poster girl for racial equality. And, and I think also a lot of what I'm going to say is either about lived experience or, some of it may be my opinion. I definitely do not have all the answers. And I think also just, you know, when I got given the topic, racial equality in a post pandemic church, I was like, you know, that is a beautiful thesis for somebody or that, you know, you can kind of do years and years of research on that. And so let's see how we go for the next 20 minutes.

[00:01:15] So we'll just have the next slide. So I was born in a Christian home, whatever concept we have of that. And I also like to remind my children that Marilyn Manson grew up in a Christian home, there's a lot of, kind of pride that people have about, you know, oh, I came from a Christian home, so I just thought I'd throw that in there for you. So, when I came to Christ as an adult in the nineties, I bought my junk and my pain and my issues and the healing began and the healing continues really and race really didn't come into it. Although in reality, it's such a huge part of who we are. I went to a predominantly white middle-class church and so my concepts of Christianity were basically seen through that lens.

[00:02:06] Can we have the next slide, please. So when it came to recognition of race in the church, they were just a couple of a few incidents that I'm just going to give you some examples of things that kind of made me kind of not necessarily have alarm bells, but you know, your ears kind of prick up and, you kind of take notes. So, sort of a few years into being part of the church, there's the usual thing with the announcements and a couple got up at the front of the church to announce that they were engaged to be married. There was lots of cheering and, and, celebration, but sort of after all the celebration sort of calmed down, over the coming weeks, there were, I was kind of party to a number of conversations where people were saying, oh, I'm not sure whether this is going to work and it was mainly because it was an interracial couple. And so there were things said, like, I'm not sure whether it's going to work. We really need to pray for them. And in my kind of cute Pollyanna kind of way, I was like, but you know, they're Christians and, you know, surely the Holy Spirit will help them. And, lots of people still saw the fact that someone from one race and someone from another race who got together and fell in love and wanted to spend the rest of their lives together, it seemed to be a cause for concern. Now, I'm really happy to say that this couple are still married, like 20 years later, or probably a bit more than 20 years later. But I'm really, really pleased about that. The second example is, you know, most churches once a year kind of do an international Sunday and everybody dresses in their traditional or national dress and everybody brings food and we celebrate each other's cultures. And one thing that I noticed, and I kind of noticed it over a period of years, was that after the service, whenever people were. I kind of look at the back wall where all the food is being prepared, where everything was being set up. And I looked, and basically everybody behind that counter was a woman of color. And I remember sort of pointing it out to somebody and I was told, well, you women you're so good at that kind of thing. And, you know, yes you could kind of say it's, you know, just that's kind of, you know, for me to, to consider. My another example I'll give you is that my husband is Nigerian and he has a big voice and he prays with passion. And when he joined our church, he was kindly asked to tone down his prayers because we don't pray like that here. And his response was that when you've not eaten properly for three days, you cry and you shout to the Lord. And if we look at the Bible, if we look at this book that, you know, we all hold so dearly and our hearts, we can all see that there are full it's full of, calls of expressive praise and worship that should actually transcend race and culture.

[00:05:15] Next slide please. And also when our first daughter was born, we were thrilled to dedicate her to the Lord you know, as, as that, that's what we do. And we invited family and friends and colleagues, and I particularly wanted to invite one of my Christian colleagues. And after handing him the invitation, he quietly asked me if I went to a black majority church, because that might make him feel uncomfortable. So, those are just some of the, you know, I could come up with a number of examples, but I just wanted to kind of pinpoint some of those. Now as a family, we've made a point of not going to a black majority church. The mere fact that you've got that kind of terminology is quite sad. And when you have a majority church, that culture is the culture that prevails and it's not kingdom culture.

[00:06:11] So another slide, please. So before the pandemic church was church, we rocked up every Sunday morning, we had home group and we had our personal quiet time and most churches sort of leading up to 2020, there was a big push to kind of pray for revival or pray for some move of God and worship was still kind of considered a genre. And this is one of my pet peeves. I kind of call it, scriptural, Coldplay, next slide.

[00:06:46] And then 2020 happens. And according to a lot of the mega churches who had a marketing team and a budget 2020 was going to be the year of 2020 vision. It was going to be the year of double vision. And none of us saw what was coming, which was COVID and the killing of George Floyd for all the world to see. Now as a family and it's interesting, some of the things that Deli has spoken about, we live to the trauma of that footage being replayed daily on television, and we watched the, protests and, we heard various opinion forums, various voices talking about what had actually happened and about, you know, racial discrimination and racial injustice, and then suddenly the phone calls, the emails, the text messages, and the dms followed. And I have to be clear. It was mainly through, mainly from my white friends and white colleagues and they wanted to talk now for me, this was an eye opener. It was great because we were finally talking about race. Finally talking about some of the important issues, the big ones and the small ones. But to be honest, it was tiring and it's still tiring. I mean, I've had to basically sort of say to somebody recently, because they were sort of booking in slots to talk to me about various things. I don't have the answers. And, my voice is one of many in this conversation, but yeah, as I, as I was saying, it got to the point where it became quite draining and quite tiring. And also on a quiet note. One of the things I I questioned was that, You know, were you not aware that some of these things were going on and is it that you do not see color? Because I know that that's a statement that, gets banded around and personally, my heart really hurt because I just felt that the church in whatever shape or form was really slow to respond or react to what was happening and where you have like such powerful preachers who were quick to comment about the earthquake in Haiti being the wrath of God and the floods and storms in the UK were because of the government decision on gay marriage, all of these people were silent except for a few. And I believe that the church should be at the forefront of every discussion in the public domain. We tend to be when anything happens, we tend to be the last voice to be joining the conversation. And I also believe that Christianity has kind of berated and we're drowned out of the conversation because people already have preconceived ideas about what we think and what we stand for, mainly our so-called righteous acts.

[00:09:44] We'll just have the next side. Please. Thank you. So during the Black Lives Matter demonstrations last year, when the leader of the free world stood on the steps of the church and held up a Bible my one hot cry was if only he'd read from it. And I would have opted for a revised version of Galatians 3: 28, which I'm just going to quickly read my revamped version. There is neither black, nor brown, nor white, nor yellow. There is neither slave nor free male or female. You are all one in Christ Jesus.

[00:10:24] We'll just go onto the next slide. So most of us will admit that, you know, we're not racist and we abhor racist behavior, but let's touch on unconscious bias for a minute. And that's where a lot of us, I think that I believe that a lot of us have some level of unconscious bias and it's the reason why we speak and connect with some people before others. And it's the reason why we choose one seat over another. And I want to draw onto the fact that racial equality is not just a black and white issue that, for all the all lives matter crew, I totally agree with you, but there are certain times and certain situations where black lives and Asian lives matter. And this Bible verse just reminds us of how we are all part of something. And it may be a bit controversial when I throw in this next grenade into the conversation. But there were times when I feel that the unborn are valued more than those who live in the same community as us, or those with a different skin tone, or those who, have a different sexuality. But the lives of the unborn. I know that's a completely different conversation, but sometimes the parallel, or the balance is unequal.

[00:11:49] We'll just go onto the next slide. So post pandemic we're worshiping online and God is sifting the church. And before we get into the is God black or white conversation because that's not going to get us anywhere. Let's all agree that , that God who came to earth as man, who performed miracles, who shook up the earth, who died for our sins, who rose from the dead, who we still follow love, and serve lived in a region of the earth where it was pretty unlikely that he looked like this, but this is the image and the concept that most of us frequently envision. And this image was on my living room wall when I was growing up next to a framed picture of Charles and Diana. Now, if we get hung up on what he looked like, we can't move forward with racial equality. That's my opinion anyway,

[00:12:47] let's just go on to, well, no, not quite. I'm not sure whether anyone has read the book, the shack but I loved this book because it totally rocked our concept of God. So let's take a look in the next slide at the clip where Mack, the protagonist is introduced to the Trinity.

[00:13:15] Thank you . I love that portrayal . I just think it's really beautiful. And, but it also came under a lot of criticism. First of all, how dare God be black. And how dare God be a woman, but that's for next year's conference. I love the vision of the Trinity that way. It's pretty cool.

[00:13:37] We have the next slide, please. So the church now, when we pray for revival, we need to be ready for every possible variation and flavor of humanity to come to Christ and add value to the kingdom. If they don't look like you live, live you love like you, you still have to love them and welcome them in. So as we head off to our African apostolic church, Korean church, Latin American church on Sunday morning, God must really sigh at 11 o'clock, but there's hope. And I love this verse from revelation where it says after this, I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count from every tribe, nation people, and language standing before the throne in front of the lamb. That's it right here. If we want His kingdom to come, which is the next slide.

[00:14:41] If we want His kingdom to come, then the church must be a reflection or an echo of heaven. Let's get it right down here before we head up there, the church should be multicultural, multi-racial, multi-generational with room and space for everyone. So how open is the church and how can we make the church more open? Now, again, as I've said, these are, I don't have all the answers, but here are some small suggestions that I have. I think the first one is to listen without prejudice. I think that if we only see the church through a Western lens, then we need to be aware of church services and home groups and not make, not make them as westernized as possible, making sure there's room and space for other other flavors. I think we have to take people as we are. I think that there's particularly around the nineties, there was this sort of, this kind of, it was almost like a sort of trend among Christians or Christian books where somebody would write a book about their life, and how they lived this awful life and then the book was probably about this thick and then the very last page was kind of about them, you know, finally coming to, revelation and relationship with Jesus. And I think that sometimes we get really het up on how people come. And I think that Jesus wouldn't be het up with how people come. And so we really do need to take people as they are. I think that there is such power when people pray in their mother tongue, there are certain words that you, when you translate them, you lose something and I think that and you know, if we can allow people to pray in tongues, then I think we can allow people to pray in their mother tongue. I think one of the things is that names are really powerful. So and this happens in the workplace as well, where we hear a name that's a little bit odd or a little bit difficult to pronounce. We either want to Anglicise that name, or we want to change the name completely. And a simple thing to ask somebody is how do I say your name? Yeah. If we can pronounce the name of a premier league footballer, we can learn to say the name of one of our brothers or sisters who has joined our congregation. I think let's continue talking and use this opportunity to learn from each other, recognize our uniqueness and celebrate our differences.

[00:17:25] And next slide. Well, one way that we can do this is through worship. Now you know, we all have our favorite worship song and worship isn't supposed to get our feet tapping or get us into the mood to connect. It isn't even for us, it's supposed to be for Him. So one way that we can usher in racial equality is through music. And I'm loving the new tribes of worship music, like Revelation Worship, and Cross Worship, and Maverick Worship. And the names alone tell you that these people are not quiet, meek, and mild. We all need to play our part. It's not a black thing or a white thing. It's our thing. And so finally, as I'm about to finish, I feel that there are some old school ways that bring God's presence back into our lives. And so I'm going to leave you by going a little bit old school and a little bit Anglican. The Anglican church or the church of England has come under a lot of criticism, racial injustice, discrimination against women. But during each Anglican service, there's a moment where people can call to mind their sins before moving onto worship. And I'm not here to condemn anyone or to judge or to make anyone feel guilty. But I just thought we'd just use the last smidgens of time that I've got to just kind of, if you just want to listen to the music, if you just want to think about maybe an element of unconscious bias and do business with God. I know for me in the last year there've been a number of things where I've literally just kind of said to my husband or my kids, if not for Jesus. And so I'm just going to leave you with this bit of worship music to just chill out in your homes. Do a bit of business with God. Thank you.