A letter from Pastor Joel Littlepage, to white participants and supporters of the Leadership Development Resource
To my white brothers and sisters:
I have come to the conclusion that there is a communal agitation occurring among a substantial number of white people today. That agitation seems to stem from the use of the word white itself: calling white people, well, white people, pointing out the social and systemic realities of whiteness in America, and being intentional about the balance of power and representation between whites and people of color. That agitation shows itself in the finding that many whites believe they are facing palpable racial discrimination today, a position that is frankly absurd. It shows itself in the Church when the call to de-center whiteness and create spaces for minority voices and majority listening is met with claims of “reverse racism” against whites. For many, this agitation has unmasked a deeper anger, fear, and resentment.
As a white, male pastor, this agitation and anger creates a sorrow and fear within my soul. It is yet another harkening back to the narrative of white anger that has fueled racial animosity and oppression throughout the history of the United States. Much of this has to do with power and control. The history of race in America tells us that when whites experience the mere feeling of losing power, then people of color suffer the reactionary repercussions that follow. This narrative is playing out again within the political, societal, and ecclesial realms today. Racism is the undead beast among us.
I say all of this as a precursor to my note below in an attempt to paint a picture of our times and underscore the importance of white Christians resisting the racist forces in our country that seek to bend our desires towards animosity and hatred. A different path must be laid for white Christians that forms us towards humility, love, and redemptive suffering. This is the path that I believe the LDR Weekend is attempting to lay down for us.
The LDR Weekend, an event which has been a major part of my life and learning for nearly 5 years, has specifically asked white participants at this year’s conference to dedicate one of their seminar hours to a particular workshop. It’s called “Speaking Truth in Love as White People” and it seeks to create a space for “frank conversation and intensive training in anti-racism.”
This request has probably created discomfort, annoyance, or even anger in some. “Why are white people being singled out in this way?” some might ask. “What’s up with the forced segregation?”
I offer a couple of responses to questions like these:
First, LDR Weekend, by definition is the family reunion of a growing community of African American brothers and sisters and people of color who find themselves in churches and denominations where they are in the minority and are often culturally marginalized. As a white, majority-culture man, I have never felt anything but utterly loved and welcomed at LDR, but I have had to learn to come as a guest and learner. This means that I follow the lead of my hosts and teachers. At a fundamental level, this is their space, not mine. So, I go where they tell me because I trust and love them as family.
Many white people don’t often venture into black cultural spaces where they are not in control or in the majority. Sadly, this is often the case in the church as well. White Christians often long for people of color to come into their spaces but would never think to locate themselves in a church culture where they are in the minority. LDR Weekend, for a white participant, is a time to live out the call of Jesus, who told his followers that when they are invited to a party to “go and sit in the lowest place” (Luke 14:10) and to be “last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). In the Kingdom of Jesus, any opportunity to give up power and control for the sake of humility, service, and equity is a beautiful opportunity.
Second, to deny racism or to neglect the fight against it is a failure to love our neighbors as ourselves and live out the ethic of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:26). For whites, our position as majority-culture citizens of America grants us privilege and safety that people of color are not afforded. It is good and wise that we have time together, as white people, to have honest discussion and explore the ways that we can expose our own biases and be effective in the fight for racial justice.
The Bible is not a gnostic document. Neither is it “colorblind.” Redemption ends with “tribes, tongues, and nations,” (Revelation 7:9) not homogeneity and vacuous spirituality. The scriptures also display a profound understanding of cultural power dynamics between ethnic groups (Acts 6:1-6) and consistently prescribe a redemptive solution of subverting customary power structures by intetionally favoring the marginalized. We ought to do the same. White folks ought to own our ethnic identity of whiteness, explore everything that it means—the beautiful and the ugly together—and seek to offer ourselves in the call to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God,” (Micah 6:8). For that, we need to learn from those who have gone down this road and have committed themselves to following and learning from people of color. We need to learn how to speak, advocate, protest, sacrifice, and love. We—and I include myself in this—need to leave the silence of fear behind and learn how to “speak the truth in love as white people.”
To my white brothers and sisters, I say: please join me for this unique time that has been set aside for us by our brothers and sisters who have planned the LDR Weekend.
See you at the workshop!
Grace and peace, Pastor Joel Littlepage