It’s Black History Month. Plenty of events in the last decade or two have pushed us toward a long-awaited national conversation about race, but plenty of us have pushed back against that, too. Talking about race is uncomfortable, and, given our country’s history, that’s probably unavoidable. If you’re white and you feel comfortable while talking about chattel slavery, segregation, and police brutality, you’re doing it wrong.
It’s often said that you won’t learn or grow if you stay in your comfort zone, but people also don’t learn or grow if they’re pushed too far outside their comfort zone, because they shut down. In order to change people’s minds and foster growth and increased understanding, conversations about race need to push people—especially white people—to places that are uncomfortable, but, in order to be effective, they need to push gradually and in the context of trusting relationships. Is this bowing to white fragility? Perhaps, but the fact that people don’t learn when they’re too uncomfortable is not specific to conversations about race.
Mainline Protestant churches sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that their progressive theology automatically puts them on the right side of history and means that they’ve already arrived when it comes to social justice. Yet mainline church bodies are some of the least diverse in the United States: the Presbyterian Church USA is 88% white, the United Church of Christ is 89% white, the Episcopal church is 90% white, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is 96% white. These numbers indicate that, despite (or, some would argue, because of) their theology, these church bodies still have work to do when it comes to racial justice.
Sparkhouse created the Dialogues On: Race adult curriculum in response to the need for churches to have deep, real conversations about race that pair hard truths with trusting relationships. Dialogues On: Race is a seven-week small group course that combines readings, documentary-style videos, and small-group discussions in order to help people move toward a greater understanding of race and racism in the United States and eventually to move from dialogue to action.
Dialogues On: Race uses the dialogue techniques of self-awareness, contextual listening, listening without judgment (not the same as agreement!), storytelling, admitting what you don’t know, asking follow-up questions, and finding common goals in order to foster dialogue that doesn’t devolve into a screaming match. The small groups focus on one of those techniques each week, building from week to week, in order to go deep with each other and have honest conversations.
Maybe that all sounds great to you, or maybe you’re worried that a combination of honesty and having to listen without judgment might mean accepting racism from other people and not having a means of challenging it. If you fall into the latter camp, you might be glad to learn that the Learner Book and DVD for Dialogues On: Race center the perspectives of scholars and church leaders of color—including Lenny Duncan and Rozella Haydée White—who don’t mince words when it comes to the injustices they see and experience as they move through, study, and minister to the world.
As a seven-week study, Dialogues On: Race is well suited for Lent, especially since Lent has long been a time of reflection and repentance. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which this year is February 26. We hope you’ll consider using the Dialogues On: Race curriculum in your congregation—and that, even if you don’t, you’ll find a way to have deep, vulnerable conversations about race that move you to act for justice.