A Conversation On Race

Kristin Pelletier

Kristin Pelletier

Central Writer & Editor

With members of Kensington Staff: Becky Lee, Steve Andrews, Jalen Seawright, Sam Franjione, Nancy Zott, Brian Petty, Aaron Jones, and Don Anderson

1. Does the church in the U.S. still have issues surrounding race?

I believe as a country we are still navigating the issues/sins of slavery in our past and how that created systems of injustice and racial inequity that still exist today. The Church is a microcosm of our society/country so is faced with these same issues. -Becky Lee, Move Out Director

Dr. King said, “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” The civil rights movement took place less than 60 years ago. We are only two generations removed, and both of these generations are still active in their contributions to our culture. The issue of race has not disappeared, it has only evolved into something more complex. -Jalen Seawright, Troy Worship Arts Director

Yes, it does. Because when you walk into a building there is usually a majority race, not real diversity. So then, maybe you’re choosing a church not based on what they preach but what race attends. And maybe it’s not exactly racism but it’s prejudice. If the person in power (the majority) is passive about helping out “the other” (the minority) than they are reinforcing prejudice – even if it’s not active harm. The way to solve is to be like Jesus is to step into the uncomfortable. -Brian Petty, Intern Admin. for Internship Program

Yes, the church in the U.S. still has issues surrounding race. I think this is evident because of the offense when race is brought up. We’ve seen it here at Kensington that many feel some tension or are offended when race is brought up or discussed. -Aaron Jones, Clinton Twp. Worship Arts Director

2. So what makes it better? Should we look at race (study, discuss, etc.) or stop looking and consider it a non-issue in order to move forward?

I’m torn. I think Morgan Freeman once said that racism will end when we stop talking about it. I don’t know if that’s true. I understand his statement, but I’ve learned that race is an issue. I don’t think the way to navigate it is to learn facts, but rather, I think the way to navigate it is to teach the values of Jesus through the lens of race and life experience. When we do that, and we bring light to where ignorance once was –I believe that will help us begin to understand. As a white man in the U.S., there are a million libraries full of life stories that I’ll never experience, so the more I can learn, from people different from me, the better. We were all made in the image of God, so the more I learn about others, the more I learn of God. -Sam Franjione, Assc. Student Ministry Director

Definitely the first. It takes honest dialogue and a serious dissection of our culture to see the myriad ways that race has shaped the world… [and]…it takes deliberate and often painful self-reflection to find the truth about how our race has affected us individually. This journey didn’t happen for me until I became a better listener, and friends and family members who were not white were willing to be honest with me about the pain and struggle in their own lives. It was humbling how little I knew and understood, how little I had considered what it meant to be white or to be a person of color. Then I became the mother of a black baby through foster care and adoption, and the conversation suddenly went from a mental exercise to a visceral experience. And since then I’ve read and listened and learned and explored, all the while knowing that I’ll never truly know what it means to be a person of color. But I can certainly become someone with greater empathy and understanding, ready to wade into the challenging world of racial reconciliation. -Nancy Zott, Kaleo Arts Content

I think it is important to look at race to make things better. I heard a wise quote once that went, “You can sweep the issue under the rug, but the rug is still in the house.” Not talking about race doesn’t solve anything, instead I think it can actually suppress feelings/opinions that can develop into a larger issue. -Aaron Jones, Clinton Twp. Worship Arts Director

I have been on a personal journey of discovery and learning about issues of systemic racism and how that impacts people of color in my community. As I have leaned in and begun building relationships with people, and heard their stories, I have realized that this issue of understanding racial equity is critical to loving our neighbors and living out the gospel both inside the walls of the church and also in carrying the gospel outside the walls. So yes, based on my personal experience, looking at race both in our current context and acknowledging the past and where we have come from is critically important to building bridges for restoration and healing and living in unity! -Becky Lee, Move Out Director

Yes, we look at it but we don’t focus on it. We look at racism like sin – you recognize the darkness because of the light. Racism is brokenness that will always be around, but we still fight against it. It can’t be our main focus, though, that has to be love. -Brian Petty, Intern Admin. for Internship Program

3. Why haven’t we made more progress? What is holding us back?

Naturally people tend to enjoy what is comfortable. We all like what we “know.” It’s much easier to go through life only investing in relationships with people who are “like” us. It’s uncomfortable and awkward investing in relationships with people who are nothing “like” us. This has given fear the advantage. Our cities are beginning to look a lot more colorful, colors derived from every corner of the world. What will we do with this new opportunity? Do we even see it as an opportunity? Will we embrace “the other?” Making ourselves vulnerable enough to extend a hand, maybe even learning a little about them in the process. For some, recognizing that there is still racial division and tension means that they must come face to face with their fear. They must be willing to loosen their grip on what they hold true. -Jalen Seawright, Troy Worship Arts Director

The role for those of us who are white needs to be predominantly that of a listener and learner. It is really uncomfortable to be a white person in your 20s, 30s, 40s, etc. and be told for the first time that “You are white and that means by and large, life has been very different for you than it has been for me, your black or brown friend/neighbor/relative. And by different, I mean easier.” I’ve seen a lot of people have a pretty automatic rejection of that idea; that there are certain privileges or benefits to be had simply because of the whiteness of their skin. We want to believe that we earned the good things we have, that the world is ultimately fair and just, and that racism is either a problem of the past or something relegated to the margins of society. But unfortunately, none of that is entirely true. -Nancy Zott, Kaleo Arts Content

I would tell the white majority, to be open to having the conversation. Don’t try to speak for people of color. Don’t assume you “get” what they are talking about. Understanding a person of color’s culture is not a 50-minute lecture/discussion, it’s a lifetime of experiences and lessons. If you are truly interested in diversity and inclusion, be interested in a lifetime of getting to know a person of color and submerging yourself in their world/environments, even if its uncomfortable. -Aaron Jones, Clinton Twp. Worship Arts Director

4. For those of us who don’t understand how race impacts daily life, could you share some examples of prejudice you’ve personally experienced or witnessed?

There are many situations that take place in my day-to-day life where I am consistently reminded of my color. Especially living in an area where I am the minority. For example, here’s my Suburban Black Man Grocery Shopping Truth: People who know me, know that I enjoy wearing hats and dressing nicely. If I have my hat and nice clothes on, I’m only considered to be suspicious. If I have my “day off clothes” on (hoodie and sweats), I definitely need to be followed around the store…In my sweats and hoodie, I look like someone most people would see on the nightly news –like a person that has committed a crime. In my nicer clothing, I look like less of a threat and less likely to commit a crime. I can honestly say, I 100% dress the way that I do intentionally. I can almost guarantee how my day will go based on what I wear. -Jalen Seawright, Troy Worship Arts Director

In the church specifically, I’ve often received racial comments about a number of stereotypes. People have negatively addressed my hair, my skin color, my character, my talents, and my voice/opinion. I’ve overheard someone saying, “You know how “they” are.“ I’ve had people come up and say, “I don’t like your hair like that, it’s too crazy and unprofessional. You need to tame it.” Some have had the idea that black people are entertainers and were shocked when in conversation, it came up that I had a college degree. I’ve had an attendee of a church come up and say, “We need you to be blacker on stage. I’ve been to a church in inner city Detroit, so I know. We don’t need you to be a watered-down version; we need you to bring more blackness to the music.” (as if there is some formula to being black). Being a Christian does not disqualify prejudice in your heart. There is still a work that has to be done and change has to be embraced. -Aaron Jones, Clinton Twp. Worship Arts Director

Ask yourself why you’re reaching out. Is it out of love or out of fear? Sometimes, we want to know more about someone just so that we can label them. Then all the stereotypes come flooding in. I’ve been asked, “What are you?” When I responded, “human,” they continued, “no what are you? Your race?” When they found I was half black, I was asked if I understood ‘black vernacular.’ There were immediate assumptions made out of ignorance. When I come in contact with people who have ignorance, I pray for their hearts so that I can have grace. All of us should be constantly asking ourselves, “Am I doing this out of love?” -Brian Petty, Intern, Admin Asst. to Internship Program

5. Is there more unity across racial and cultural lines within Christian communities? Any personal thoughts on this?

Our skin makes us beautiful, but at the core, we all have the same blood. Within, we’re the same. God always judged according to the heart. He chose King David based on heart not height or appearance. I’m half Korean and half black, and grew up in a predominantly black school. In college, my friend group really diversified. My friend group is still very diverse but it’s based on what we have in common — which now is especially Christ. -Brian Petty, Intern Admin. for Internship Program

As far as cultural lines, it’s difficult because churches over time reflect the majority’s culture. However, we know all people of the world who enter heaven, will speak different languages and look different from one another. I think there is value in maintaining culture and in tradition, but I also think that when we have different kinds of people worshiping the same God, it’s one of the best reflections of heaven we will ever see. -Sam Franjione, Assc. Student Ministry Director

Jesus was clear with His disciples and community of followers that the world will know we are believers by the way way we live in unity and love each other. He also made it clear that we are to love our neighbors and people of color are most definitely our neighbors! The issue of race is complex and challenging to dive into and it takes humility, openness and a posture of learning and that is something that I want and pray the Church will take the lead on! I have walked alongside some friends of mine who are people of color and they are amazing, committed believers. Even though they may have experienced areas of tension or inequity, they’re hopeful and committed to the Church leading in this space. Seeing through their lens of what it may feel like at times to not be in the majority population has given me a deep desire to use my privilege as being part of the majority population to help carry their stories from the margins to the center of the narrative so we can all learn and grow in unity. -Becky Lee, Move Out Director

6) How do you cultivate a connection or friendship with someone different from you?

The thing we’ve seen that breaks barriers is to spend time together and hear stories. It’s easy to dislike people that you don’t know but completely different when you personally know someone and have listened to their story. You look at one another differently. If we sit and look at the issues intellectually we don’t make much progress, but when we step into relationship, that’s where change actually takes place. -Don Andersen, Global Director

You have to enter into that seemingly uncomfortable or potentially unknown territory. At the level of personal friendship, I think it can be organic. If it’s forced, most people wouldn’t call that a friendship. My friendships with people who look different than me have been born out of the things I have in common with them. We may not have race in common, but we have a whole lot of other things in common –whether it’s the music we like, or write, or the sports we play, or the God we serve; it could literally be anything. The reason some friendships don’t form is because we focus on the one thing we don’t have in common instead of the countless things we do. -Sam Franjione, Assc. Student Ministry Director

I cultivate friendships with people that are different from me by pursuing the heart of the Father. I think it is definitely a challenge, but you have to be willing to embrace the uncomfortable. Personally, my different friendships were formed by me being willing to put my guard down and trust others despite the bad experiences that I’ve had in the past. I will say more commonly than not, you see people of color crossing the line to befriend white people rather than the other way around. I can’t generalize a reason for this –maybe its fear, but I see it being a common trend outside of the “blind side” mentality (saving someone which in the end will benefit you). -Aaron Jones, Clinton Twp. Worship Arts Director

There is no perfect way to do this because we are all imperfect. What is miraculous is that in our imperfection; our weird, awkward and uncomfortable attempts at relationships give birth to reconciliation, peace and ultimately a legacy that will create a better world for generations to come. So, keep your eyes open and ears attentive to who God brings into your life wherever He’s calling you to. When you encounter a person that is other than you, because you will, simply engage in knowing them– not what you can do for them. Share a meal with them. Over time, respectfully ask questions and when you don’t understand, pursue understanding. Be honest with yourself about your feelings when uncomfortable topics arise. Honestly and humbly address them and see which ones may be based in fear and ignorance simply because you’ve yet to understand. And most importantly, ask God to remove the feelings, thoughts, beliefs and convictions that aren’t of Him. To the minority, be sure that your heart is soft. Cynicism is like a weed, when watered, it has a unique way of growing up and choking the life out of beautiful moments where reconciliation can happen. It is very easy to believe the worst, assuming that people come to the table with evil intent. God calls us to to be completely humble and gentle; being patient and bearing with one another in love. If we aren’t able to come to the table with a soft and willing heart, we’ve lost the battle before it’s even begun. -Jalen Seawright, Troy Worship Arts Director

Living in a majority white neighborhood, our family has had to be intentional about creating relationships with people of color. This effort has been so rewarding in terms of learning and growing! Some friendships started as conversations in Kensington’s lobby which led to inviting families to dinner in our home. A natural friendship begin to form and grow out of that simple act of hospitality. We’ve experimented with eating at ethnic restaurants and going to music venues that expose us to more diversity and potential relationships. We have engaged in learning opportunities where we have partnered with other families to expand our circle and invite people to our table who may be different than us. We hosted a gathering called “Love Feast” through an organization called Preemptive Love, and God brought a beautiful mix of ethnicities, cultures, and backgrounds together. Through conversations and sharing our stories in a posture of openness, we learned that we actually have more in common than we have differences. We’ve also stepped out with a small group of women to invite a diverse group to read a book on racial reconciliation, called Be The Bridge. This has been transforming and God has birthed a beautiful desire for this group to continue journeying together as we get to know each other’s stories and tackle how we can become bridge-builders in racial reconciliation. -Becky Lee, Move Out Director

7. What do you want our community to ponder today, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 2020?

Would you risk your life so that people — people that no one thinks are valuable — could make a few more cents an hour? As a child in Memphis, Tennessee, I was in a bubble. Dr. King was shot two miles from my house. The next day at school, there were boys on the playground bragging that their fathers were a part of the conspiracy. The world that we lived in celebrated the assassination of a human being. Dr. King gave his life so that sanitation workers could make 80 cents more a day. There was so much sacrifice in this – he had been warned and still he came. Another member of Kensington I know well, witnessed his cousin being lynched and had to stay hidden.

It is so important that we don’t disconnect our lives from history. It would be a great tragedy to disconnect ourselves from the victories and failures of our ancestors. In Memphis in the 60s, I grew up in a society that celebrated the victories and didn’t recognize the failures. To do this is to go through life sleep-walking. Our goal as human beings has to be to continually become more and more awake. God is moving. He’s changing peoples’ hearts. -Steve Andrews, Lead Pastor

One of my favorite quotes by Dr. King is this: “And when you come to the point that you look in the face of every man and see deep down within him what religion calls “the image of God,” you begin to love him…” -Jalen Seawright, Troy Worship Arts Director

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Join us Sunday night, December 5th for a Community Prayer Vigil at Kensington Church at 6:00 pm. Invite friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers to come together for a time of hope and prayer. 

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updated June 23, 2021

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