A Vulnerable Discussion About Racism and Christianity With A Former WNBA Star…Jul 6, 2020
When Ciara asked me to write this guest blog post on racial discrimination and inequality, I said “yes” without hesitation. I love helping out a friend and her request totally made sense given the climate in America.
But when I sat down to actually write it, as a Black Christian writing to an audience of mostly White Christians, it was more difficult than I thought. Especially because I don’t usually categorize Christians into different groups. God says we’re ALL one body, no matter what color we are (1 Corinthians 12:12). But in America, since Black and White Christians have very different experiences, this discussion, however uncomfortable, is needed.
So what should I say to you? What do you need to hear from me? How, as your sister in Christ, can I help you be better for God?
I decided not to teach in-depth here about inequality and discrimination. There are plenty of resources out there, written by people who’ve studied it way more than I have.
I also have to admit that I’m scared. Because I want to write something honest, but over the last two months having these conversations with White Christians has been way more difficult than having them with White people who aren’t Christian.
But I’m not going to be biased against you because of the experiences I’ve had so far. Instead, I’m choosing to see your beautiful, open heart on the other side of this screen. And so after going back and forth, I decided to share with you, as your sister in Christ who is also a Black woman, how I’ve felt and what I’ve struggled with over the last couple months.
My prayer is to offer a perspective that you may not have considered before. It comes down to doing three things: hearing, examining, and responding.
I remember one time, my friend LeighAnne and I were driving from Texas to Louisiana. She was going to visit her parents and I offered to ride along. Several hours into the trip we both had to go to the bathroom, so we pulled off the highway into the parking lot of a corner store in some hole-in-the-wall town in the middle of nowhere.
Now as a Black person, I’ve been taught not to stop at random places in the South – because American history – but I was with LeighAnne (who is White), and it was day time so I figured we’d be ok.
We both went in, and when I came back out first, I started to reach in her car window to unlock the door and get in, but I caught myself. I didn’t want anyone to see me and assume I was trying to steal her car so I waited for LeighAnne to come back out instead.
When we got back on the road, I told her what my thought process had been, kind of in a joking way like, “Yeah, I have no idea where we are so let me not reach in here and have someone think I’m trying to steal something.”
LeighAnne looked at me, was quiet for a few seconds, and then shook her head.
“Chantelle, you know what’s crazy? Your car is way nicer than mine. You make way more money than I do. Yet I would have never been afraid of anyone randomly thinking I was stealing. That thought has never crossed my mind.”
Another moment of silence.
“Wow. That’s my privilege as a White person isn’t it?” LeighAnne said. “Yep,” I said, “But it’s not your fault. It’s the way we’re taught by the world we live in.”
I tell you this story to illustrate the moment that I think a lot of us are having right now. Many Black people look at injustice as normal because it’s been a constant in our lives. And many White people are looking at it like, “Wait, I thought racism was the KKK?”
And that’s ok. We don’t know what we don’t know. So to really understand the Black Lives Matter Cause, we have to understand “the talk.”
“The talk” is a conversation that the majority of Black parents have with their Black children in some way, based on the reality of being Black in America. It’s an attempt to protect their lives and equip them for success.
That last point is probably why, if you’re not Black, you haven’t heard about “the talk,” but it’s something almost every Black person has heard or learned as they’ve gotten older. I have personal, real life experiences with every one of those points and I know many people who do.
The BLM movement is about people of color deciding they’re no longer willing to accept the need to have “the talk” and instead, are demanding the systems that make it necessary be changed.
The thing about hearing is this. When we hear something we haven’t personally experienced, we can automatically discredit it as untrue. Or, like LeighAnne, we can validate the experiences of others and seek to understand.
If you’ve never had “the talk,” or don’t feel like the things said in it are part of your daily life, I would ask you to listen, hear, and validate the lived experiences of those who are different than you. America really is a different place based on what you look like.
Proverbs 18:13 – “To answer before listening – that is folly and shame”
Proverbs 14:12 – “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.”
When I found out Aumaud Arbery was murdered, I went off on Facebook, calling out my White friends and family for being silent and not caring about injustice. I was in my feelings, mad, and I let everyone know. As to be expected, people I love were offended and hurt by it.
But after going to the Bible, reading Scriptures like Proverbs 29:11 that says, “Fools give full vent to their rage but the wise bring calm in the end,” I saw that no matter what the situation was or how I felt about it, I was called to speak in love and gentleness.
So I took the posts down, posted a public apology, and tried to make things right. Because according to the Bible, I was wrong in the way I spoke. I wanted my repentance to be louder than my sin and my actions to glorify God.
I’m not even going to lie though, I didn’t get there right away. At first I was tempted to be defensive. I asked myself, “How dare they be offended? Don’t they see what’s going on? Of course I’m mad!”
And we’ve all felt defensive at times. This is a really hard issue to deal with, look at, and feel, regardless of which side you’re looking at it from. And being in the middle of an international pandemic doesn’t make dealing with all of this any easier.
For me, the last two months have been a time of constantly looking at myself, seeing the ugly things in my character that come out most during hard times, and trying really hard to change them. It’s been a constant denial of self, fighting to be Godly and going against all of my emotions in the process.
But I think the most hurtful thing for me during this time has been the conversations I’ve had with some Christians who aren’t willing to go through that same process by looking in the mirror and asking, “is racism and racial bias something in my character?” Instead of humility and grace, I’ve seen denial and defensiveness.
In real time denial sounds like, “racism might be a problem but not here, in my heart, my family, or my church.” Defensiveness sounds like saying someone trying to talk about racial bias is automatically, “dividing people,” “making everything about race,” or, “having a victim mindset.” These responses from people who love God have literally shocked and hurt me to tears over the last few months.
One of my Spiritual Mentors, Emma Causey, once told me, “When people are defensive, it’s because they are not ready to feel the pain of their sin.” It’s true. Shame is a really hard cross to take up, for all of us.
But America has a long history of racial sin – both overtly and covertly – that doesn’t just go away. Even in the church. We have to realize that as long as we choose not to feel the pain of our sin, we’ll keep hurting people. With this situation, it’s hurting our brothers and sisters and deepening the racial divide in Christianity. But in every situation the sins of favoritism, pride, defensiveness, and bias hurt our personal relationships with God. That’s the bigger problem.
So if you haven’t educated yourself on this issue enough to really look in the mirror and see if this is something you struggle with, I beg you to. Examine yourself even if you don’t think this is something in your character. Not because we all need to become Civil Rights activists, but because the only way that we can really love our neighbor as we love ourselves is to understand where they’re coming from and correct anything that won’t make them feel loved.
Jeremiah 17:9 – “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
Isaiah 1:17 – “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”
When I retired from the WNBA, I had been an athlete my whole life. Physical fitness was super important to me and the only people I was around on a regular basis were athletes. So when I first started going to church regularly, it was the first time I’d been around people who didn’t think that way.
One day shortly after I joined my church, a friend asked me to pick up her friend who was in town visiting from a sister church. We were all going to dinner together.
When the girl I was picking up got in my car, I noticed she was very overweight. And to my shame, I judged her. I assumed my moral superiority and looked down on her. And while I did make conversation over the course of the night, I didn’t treat her like I would’ve treated someone who was thinner.
When I dropped her off at the end of the night, I was disgusted with myself. I knew my feelings and behavior were flat out wrong. And because I’d been around athletes my whole life, I didn’t even realize I had this prejudice and bias. But with a simple act of trying to help, there it was, ugly and staring me in the face.
Now maybe you’re judging me for sharing that with you but here’s the thing: we ALL have biases and prejudices that are shaped by whatever environment we live in. Many times, as in this example, those biases are unconscious until something happens to make them conscious. But them being unconscious doesn’t mean we’re not hurting people.
We even see this in the Bible in Galatians 2:11-14. Paul calls out Peter for what would, in today’s terms, be deemed prejudice or racial bias. Peter, who God Himself told in Acts 10 to baptize Gentiles into the Kingdom, had gone back to his biases against them.
If a man of God as powerful as Peter could still have racism in his heart after years of ministry, we shouldn’t beat ourselves up if we discover ignorance, prejudice, or bias in our lives. We also can’t assume that we’re too “saved” or too established in leadership to struggle with these deep heart sins, or that having friends of a certain group exempts us from them.
Once we see it, we have three options on how to respond: run, persecute, or repent.
For me, in the situation above, I chose to repent. I called my Spiritual Mentor on the way home and confessed my sin. Then as soon as I got home, I kneeled on the floor – to show God how broken I was about my behavior and the seriousness of my request – and asked Him to please change my heart. I apologized for looking at His daughter in a way that wasn’t loving, asked Him to show me any other prejudices I had that I didn’t know about, and to help me see people with His eyes instead of mine.
From that point forward, I’ve gone after fighting against my biases of all kinds, and the stereotypes and assumptions that come with them. I’m thankful that I’m no longer trapped in the sin of judging people by their weight or treating them differently because of it. But I know that I’ll always have to make sure that bias doesn’t come back.
And so we all have to ask ourselves, “When I see my sin, what’s my response going to be?” Will we run by denying the problem and refusing to discuss it? Will we persecute by bringing up other people’s sin instead of seeing our own? Or will we choose to see our bias, feel the pain, and do the work to repent?
Freedom can only come with repentance. And to repent, we have to admit that is sin there. Racial bias is a lot sneakier because it’s baked into everything about our society. I mean, America is stolen land built by stolen people. But that doesn’t mean we can’t overcome it.
So if you’re reading this, have you committed to asking the hard questions and responding with repentance to anything in your character that doesn’t glorify God?
1 John 4:8 – “Whoever does not love does not know God because God is love.”
Acts 17:30 – “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.”
I want to leave you with one more example from the Bible. In Acts 6:1-7 there was an issue of one group of people being treated differently than another group of people. Because it was along racial lines, it would suggest some sort of racial bias or inequality was there. And this was not outside of the church. It was inside.
But what did the leaders do? They heard the complaint without dismissing the people complaining, they examined the situation instead of being defensive, and they responded instead of running from it. In the end, God blessed their humility, obedience, and love for each other by increasing their ministry rapidly.
This time has been hard for all of us. But we have a great opportunity to follow the example of the first century Christians by seeing the division that is already here and working to bring everyone to unity. I know that when we do, there will truly be no reason to categorize people as Black Christians or White Christians, but we can just be Christians who love God and follow Him together.
“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
– Ephesians 4:1-6
I love you and I would also love to hear your feedback. Thanks so much for listening.
Chantelle Anderson is a Confidence and Faith Coach. She helps spiritually minded women build confidence, identity and influence. Follow her on Instagram at www.instagram.com/misschantelle and join her email list, the Kite Squad, at www.ConfidentlyHis.com to get 10 confidence-building Scriptures!