When you visit the website of Sparrow Women you are met with the warm smiles of a (racially) diverse team and their one word mission statement, “Peacemakers” followed by their definition of the word, “A person who brings peace. We exist to catalyze the next generation of reconcilers”.
At first glance, one might really believe them at their word. You may just be convinced that they really do exist to work toward peace and reconciliation. Regardless of where you stand on Christianity or the church, we can all agree that this is a noble alternative to what mainstream Evangelical Christianity has been known for.
So where does it all go wrong? DeeDee Roe shares as a Black woman who attended the conference saying, “As the conference began, I quickly realized it was overwhelmingly monocultural. Though there were a diversity of leaders, the message was white-centered. Race was intentionally avoided and dismissed”. Read her entire reflection here. It is dangerous to believe that diversity makes a space or group of people non-racist.
You are not exempt from engaging in anti-racist or anti-oppressive work simply because you have a more colourful workplace, friend group or family. If anything, we are going to hold you to a higher standard when you claim to care about BIPOC (Black Indigenous and People of Colour) and are in close proximity. When it comes to lower level racism , you are the ones who will have the most opportunity to commit micro-aggressions. You will also miss out on the real opportunities to listen and do better when you’re so focused on proving how “not racist” you are.
While frustrating and disappointing, we were not the least bit shocked when we learned of what Ekemini Uwan experienced after she took the stage at this Evangelical Conference. A powerful, unapologetic Black woman brought up the transatlantic slave trade, colonialism in Africa and the murder of Trayvon Martin in a room full of (mostly) white Evangelical women. She was not there to discuss this delicately. She reminded the room of “peacekeepers” that, “The Gospel is Offensive”.
Sister Uwan was not on that stage to keep people comfortable or to speak in abstractions and that was where she went wrong. Church folk are okay speaking about injustice as long as they are not held accountable for being the perpetrators of it.
The attempts at silencing and erasure that our Nigerian-American sister experienced at Sparrow are all too familiar to us. We have worked to address white supremacy in modern missions, international adoption and in all the ways the white Evangelical church has caused harm in Black & Brown communities around the globe, we have been accused of “being used by the enemy”, “dividing” and we’ve been called racist more times than we can count.
Here in Uganda we are all too familiar with (mostly white) Evangelicals coming in and claiming to care about us and our communities. You come in the name of “serving the least of these” with no intention of addressing the systems of oppression that put you in the position to be traveling halfway across the world to do your ministry work in the first place.
White evangelical groups like Sparrow are quick to silence Black women who are holding them accountable for their racism and white supremacy and slow to speak up against serious violence committed by their own in their God’s name. We have watched this so clearly with the case of theRenee Bach and Serving His Children, an American Missionary who came with no education or medical training and ended up experimenting medically on hundreds of Ugandan children.
We have watched the missionary community here in Jinja, Uganda defend Renee and her actions because she is a white woman and her intentions matter far more than the hundreds of Black lives lost in her unlicensed facility. We have listened to endless excuses and justifications offered by her fellow white Evangelicals, including her best friend, a NYT best-selling author you’re all very familiar with, Katie Davis Majors.
You can adopt Black children, start organizations in Africa, you can have Black friends and hire Black women but if you are not committed to addressing your own white supremacy and dismantling the power structures that allow it to continue, you are keeping the peace at the cost of perpetuating oppression.
So where do you start? How can you break this cycle of white supremacy within the church, in this world and start actually working toward justice? Listen to BIPOC voices, engage in anti-racism education, remain self-aware and practice humility. Acknowledge your own role in upholding white supremacist and oppressive power structures and commit to putting what you are learning into practice. Layla F. Saad’s, “Me and White Supremacy” workbook is a very good place to get you started on this journey.