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I Have a Confession to Make

I have a confession to make.

I've been leading a group of white Christians for the past 6 months in unlearning our white supremacy. We've met once a month to do the hard work of looking our own racism in the face and calling it out, together. And I haven't really talked about it.

When most friends and family have asked what I'm up to on such-and-such a night, I've called it a "Bible study". And it's true, in a sense, because we have studied the Bible as part of our learning, especially Philippians 2:1-11, but the reason I didn't let the words "I'm gathering with a bunch of white people to unlearn our white supremacy" rattle off my tongue like I do when talking about the group with colleagues is...fear.

I have been afraid to speak the words "white supremacy".

I have been afraid to speak the words "white supremacy". I've been afraid of explaining 1) what it means (it’s not just white people in hoods…or holding tiki torches); 2) why I have something to do with it; and 3) what any of that has to do with church or the Bible. What if my stumbling words were met with a blank or bemused stare? What if they didn't take me seriously?

The 2nd question is the hardest to answer, because I'm still figuring out the answer. (#1 and #3 are much easier.) What could I have to do with the belief that white people are inherently superior?

I benefit, simply because I was born with white skin, into a white family, from systemic racism that is built on white supremacy. I can’t say it any better than my friend Michele Visser does in this Facebook post. I won’t be followed in stores by clerks who suspect me of stealing because of my skin colour. My resume won’t be thrown in the garbage when a potential employer sees my white name. I won’t be painted into a corner by a stereotype of my race—almost all of the time, I will be allowed to be an individual, not a representative of everyone else who shares my skin colour. In the Christian Reformed Church, I can go anywhere in Canada and play Dutch bingo and get an instant smile, an instant wink of recognition. “Oh, you’re connected to..! Oh, your parents are from…! Oh, do you know…?” (There's nothing necessarily wrong about finding common ground with people--but are we paying attention to how it shapes our community identity and who is kept out?)

If I don’t speak out about that system that is benefitting me, I am complicit in it.

If I face hard times in life, it’s not because of my race. And the counterpoint is that my friends, colleagues, mentors, and family members who are people of colour are much more likely to face those examples of discrimination that I mentioned. (In Canada as well as in the USA—you’re not off the hook, Canadians.) If I don’t speak out about that system that is benefitting me, I am complicit in it.

I’m reminded of two passages that I’ve come to understand more deeply this year:

“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9)


"I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it….The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.” (Revelation 21:22-24,26)

Have you ever gotten a foretaste of that diverse, heavenly crowd, all singing God’s praises in their own way, laying the riches of their own backgrounds before God’s throne? I have—and, friends, it is sweet. It is worth yearning for.

In our Kenosis* group, we discussed times that we had been able to connect across cultures and had tasted a bit of that Kingdom. One woman shared about a period in her life when she was a new mother and alone in an unfamiliar place, and was befriended by a woman of colour, who bridged the distance to her and showed her an authentic, reciprocal relationship that became her lifeline in a difficult time. Another person shared about the simple joy of being welcomed into the homes of her refugee friends and being able to let down all the pretenses that she feels she has to carry around her other friends—she feels truly and completely accepted among them. I shared about the way that my friendships with people of colour bring me into a more multi-dimensional experience of God—if you’ve heard songs of praise to God sung in a language other than your own, inspired by the same Scripture that speaks to a different people in a different way, I bet you know what I’m talking about.

Friends, we are being invited into that Kingdom vision. We can participate more fully in the diverse, multifaceted Body of Christ now—and oh, the joy it is! It is challenging, to be sure, but so are most things that are worth doing. Whoever said following Christ was easy?

Friends, we are being invited into that Kingdom vision.

I have no excuse for my fear, because every time I called our Kenosis community group a Bible study, I passed up an opportunity to pass on the knowledge and insights that people of colour have shared with me about the systems of oppression that they face. I passed up an opportunity to make the change that I am in this Kenosis group to make.

It's time to call out white supremacy more boldly, in myself, in the Church, and in society, and to practice calling other white people in to the journey of unlearning the racism we are taught implicitly from birth.

So, to all the people of colour who may read this: I'm sorry. I'm sorry for being passive and complicit. I'm sorry for letting my laughable fear keep me from being a better ally. I promise to be more courageous.

Let this be a moment when we look this evil in the eye and commit to having no part of it.

And to all my white sisters and brothers: will you consider joining me? If you're Canadian, you can email Bernadette Arthur at to get involved in a Kenosis group. If you’re American, you can email Shannon Jammal-Hollemans at about resources like Waking Up White and other discussion guides.

Let this be a moment when we look this evil in the eye and commit to having no part of it, whether by omission or commission.

*The name of these “Kenosis community groups” is inspired by a presentation made by Christena Cleveland at the CRC’s Engage 2016 gathering, when she called white people to follow the example of Christ in emptying ourselves of our privilege. (See Philippians 2:1-11.)

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