The church: the matrix of change - Part 2

Matthew Waterman

By Matthew Waterman

Jun 08, 2020

This is part two of Matthew Waterman's reflections on the subject of anti-black racism and the church. Read part one here. Matthew graduated with his Master of Divinity from Wycliffe College in 2020.


Today I want to write about a few specific issues that may be obstacles to lasting change in the matter of anti-black racism in our churches. I do not claim to have all the answers or ready-made solutions; but I think it would be reasonable to mention and perhaps even clarify a few matters that are close to my heart, and that may be useful for further contemplation and discussion.

1. When we speak about anti-black racism we must not ignore the unique history that started it, and continues to cause it. Briefly, anti-black racism stems from the theft of black lives from the African continent roughly between the 17th and 19th centuries. Their distinct ethnic identities were indiscriminately mixed on the slave ships used to transport them to the Americas, such that it was impossible for them to communicate and imperative to band together across ethnic lines in the grim struggle for survival. This thoughtless mixing by their white captors is a kind of genocide; their multiplicity of unique and beautiful cultural groupings and expressions was forcibly erased, and a new people without a land and common history was created by this violent rupture. The trauma and emotional scars of this history still affect us today. That is why it is not proper to just say "All Lives Matter;" we must take time to understand and remember this terrible story and how we got to where we are today.

2. From the time our ancestors entered the slave ships we were ushered into a structure formed for our demise and premised upon inherent and integral inequality. We fell prey to the savage calculation that our human strength and vitality could be leveraged for profit, and that the privileges afforded to our white counterparts by birthright could justifiably be denied to us because of our skin color. We are here to say loudly and in the strongest terms that THESE CALCULATIONS ARE STILL IN FORCE! This is why fair (in a legal sense) access to education, jobs, food, shelter, and degrees of economic prosperity cannot solve racism; the scales of justice are so skewed and broken that they must be radically repaired to give a true reading. Even if we are offered the same opportunities as our white counterparts, that does not add up to equality; we start at a marked disadvantage today because of the ever-present and continuing stain of the ideologies used to justify the cruel abuse and deprivation of our ancestors.

3. It can no longer be denied that the Christian church has aided and abetted the promulgation of the racist policies mentioned above. It also cannot be denied that this continues to the present day. Our churches must recognize that in much the same way our society has barred black people from full and equal status as human beings, the church has barred us from unequivocal status as God's children. We have been required to take on the extra yoke of whiteness in order to attain biblical holiness. We have been told that Christlikeness only exists in the form of white family life, white music, white language, white hobbies, white traditions, white institutions, white books, white history, white constructions of black history; in a word, that whiteness is God's great gift to the world and not his Son. It is our duty to remember this sordid history and work hard to overturn the lingering prejudices we have inherited.

4. Finally, it is a lie to say that openly speaking about anti-black racism causes division. We need to sit down as a family and sort these things out no matter how protracted and painstaking a process it may be. There are so many stories of blacks finding Christ and being found by him while under the yoke of oppression, written in their own words, that the churches need to hear. This is not a distraction, as some claim, from learning about the existence and attributes of God; it is application. There are too many rich men in the church who think they only have five brothers and forget Moses' words that Lazarus too is a brother in need of support, "so he can continue to live among you...fear your God and let your brother live among you" (Leviticus 25:35-36; CSB). These are God's words, and we should take heed lest we fall by the same pattern of disobedience as our forebears in the western church.

Let's keep the conversation going and not grow weary in doing what is good.