If Your Church Isn't Saying 'Black Lives Matter,' It's Time To Walk Away

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
If Your Church Isn't Saying 'Black Lives Matter,' It's Time To Walk
Rachel Garlinghouse/Instagram

I’m a white Christian female who faithfully attends church every Sunday. (For now during quarantine, we attend online church.) Three years ago before we were mourning the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, my family left the white evangelical church. We were tired of the country’s political climate as well as sensing that our children were often appreciated, but not truly seen. We are now members of a predominantly black church—a place that our multiracial family feels safe, welcomed, and supported.

This past Sunday, I held my breath, waiting to see what fellow white Christians would tell me about their church services. Would their white pastors speak out directly against racism, proclaim Black Lives Matter, and urge their congregants to join the uprising as white allies? What I feared—and what many of my own social media followers told me—happened. Many pastors opted to either completely ignore George Floyd’s murder (instead adhering to business as usual) or preached vague messages of peace and love. Some even threw in a MLK quote for good measure. Now white Christians have a choice to make. They know where their pastoral leadership stands. Do they stay, or do they walk away?

Christians are supposed to love others as they love themselves. The Bible is clear as day on this. The Bible also says faith without works is dead. Is prayer important in a believer’s life? It’s supposed to be. However, it’s not the sole method of loving God and others. Christians are supposed to be in-action, or as the Bible says, the hands and feet of Jesus. Another verse commands Christians to be “salt and light.”

You may have left the church, or decided it wasn’t for you in the first place, because you believe Christians are hypocrites. They say one thing and do another. I empathize with this pain. Why aren’t congregations across the country on their knees praying for people of color and then taking action by reading books on anti-racism, joining the protests, and electing woke candidates into governmental positions? If you have been jaded by the church, you are certainly not alone.

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Jesus was melanin-rich and radical. There’s story after story of not only the miracles he performed, but the times he would do something shocking, like flip tables when he’d had enough. He’d take breaks to be alone and pray, then he’d get right back in the game of changing human lives. He traveled extensively with his crew: the twelve disciples, and he had no issue telling them when they were acting a fool. My point is, he wasn’t weak or shy. He had a purpose, and most of all, he would help the ones who were suffering the most at any given time.

Some white Christians believe politics and social justice have no place in church. They prefer to sit comfortably in pews, sway to music, and hear sermons that coddle their fragility—messages that don’t rock the boat. They are quick to condemn what they believe to be wrong without every recognizing that they are, in fact, upholding white supremacy by doing nothing. They are dangerous, and they don’t even know it, oblivious that their silence is quite loud. They also believe that by sponsoring African children, using diversity stock photos on their websites, and being nice to people of color (including their “one black friend”), they are clearly not-racist. (Ahem, tokenism much?)

I truly believe that churches, just like each person, are either anti-racist or racist. Author Ibram X. Kendi explains that there’s no gray area or neutrality when it comes to racism. This doesn’t mean that a person can’t be on a journey to anti-racism. In fact, I argue that being anti-racist is continuous. It’s not like you take some sort of Racism 101 class and when it’s over, you’re no longer going to make any mistakes.

Likewise, pastors do not have to have a perfectly packaged, polished message to address racism in America. I understand the fear of saying the wrong thing, especially when you don’t have the language or experience. However, saying nothing is saying something: that black lives do not matter. There also shouldn’t be just one sermon or Bible study on racism, equity, and justice within churches. Racism has been around a long time, created by white people, and it’s not going to disappear overnight. Dismantling racism and learning to become white allies is a process.

A pastor who claims God loves everyone should also be willing to lay down his life for another. That’s what a true friend does, as the Bible says. We are supposed to be putting others before ourselves. We are also commanded to empathize, to weep with those who weep.

If white Christians continue to support their complacent and “neutral” churches with their efforts and dollars, they are choosing to continue to harm their black brothers and sisters. Subjecting children to whitewashed, white privileged teachings means raising future racists. Likewise, giving tithes (that Christian talk for financial donations to the church) to an entity that upholds whiteness is feeding white supremacy.

I wouldn’t be where I am today without my faith. Without it, I’m truly not sure I would have survived my battle with breast cancer or my near-death experience in an emergency room. There were times, God’s love and peace were the only things that sustained me through trauma. It’s because I have witnessed racism against my children and our family’s own journey to find a church that we feel is a refuge, that I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that Black Lives Matter.

Dear fellow white Christian, I want you to be able to say the same. Not with trepidation or skepticism, but with conviction, because you already know what is right. Because you already know what Jesus would do. You just need to muster up the courage to say yes: and then go find yourself a new house of worship.

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