Emily P. Freeman wrote a book and has a blog entitled “The Next Right Thing” (she has a podcast by that name too!). Emily’s work helps the reader develop the skill of discerning the next right step in whatever project, problem, or struggle they encounter. Her method has often helped me as I attempt to move from one context to another in my everyday life and ministry. Recently a friend informed me they wanted to leave their church because it had not adequately addressed the issues surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement that has swept across the country. They believed the church’s leadership should have spoken out or at least attempted to educate its members about the issues of justice that make up the struggle and the movement’s goals. As I listened and pressed into my friend’s concern, I asked myself what the “next right thing” might be for my predominately white congregation as we work to embody justice.
Take A “Next Right Thing” Approach to Racial Justice
Below, you’ll find three next step suggestions from my experience in a predominantly white congregation. While I believe these are meaningful steps, I believe the work of discerning your context’s “next right thing” could be even more impactful. There are many, many actions a congregation could take to work for racial justice. Practice discernment together so you can gain clarity about what next right thing(s) God is calling you into. Don’t worry if you need to start small, God can do great things with tiny seeds.
Three Next Step Suggestions
Look For Color
“I’m teaching my kids not to see color…” she proudly told me during coffee hour. We had been speaking of the recent killing of a young black girl by a white policeman. I asked her how she thought it was going, this colorless world she created for her kids. I guess my question surprised her as she sputtered to explain she just meant that she didn’t want her kids to categorize their friends by their color. I gently suggested that asking her kids to achieve the impossible perspective of color blindness was dismissive of God’s creation’s incredible diversity and beauty. As Christians, we are called to celebrate and cultivate God’s endlessly diverse world. If the church wants to embody justice in this way, it needs to look for color, acknowledge it, embrace and celebrate it, not imagine it away.
Be a Good Detective
“Well, I’ve never seen that happen,” he said dismissively, and the conversation quickly changed direction, completely dismissing the lived experience of the speaker. The black man was speaking of his experiences of micro-aggression in the retail world. He had been asked if he’d ever experienced racism in their small town, and yet, when his reality did not match that of the person requesting his perspective, the conversation ended. You cannot embody justice if you are unwilling to listen to another’s perspective. Any good detective will seek multiple eyewitnesses to a crime before concluding, and each of those witnesses will have slightly different perspectives. Justice is found by listening to all the views to find the truth, not confirmation of your own experience. After all, there are four different perspectives of the life of Christ found in our Holy Book, and we rely on all of them to know the Truth of God’s plan of salvation.
Expand Your Worldview
Many of us live in a monochromatic world of our own creation. We do not seek out new experiences or new stories. Others live in areas where they don’t have easy access to other perspectives or world views. Thankfully the world is filled with books, articles, TED talks, and YouTube offerings that can help open our minds to how others walk through the world. Understanding the lived experience of another gives us the opportunity to ask questions of ourselves, of our congregations, and of our leadership. These conversations allow for the possibility of change, the opportunity for growth, and the beginning of justice. Here is a well-cultivated list of resources for antiracism education for all ages.
Your next right step towards helping your congregation embody justice doesn’t have to be leading a protest; it may be conducting a book discussion on one of the authors listed above or listening to a podcast by a young black author. But without practicing faithful discernment about our “next right thing,” the church will continue to lose opportunities to speak the love of Jesus into a broken and divided world.