Rev. Dr. Lawrence A.Q. Burnley
Inaugural chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer for the Shaker Heights City School District
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Featured Article by Rev. Dr. Lawrence A.Q. Burnley
"Quest for Unity and Wholeness"
What role did the Civil Rights Movement play in the mid-twentieth century as an agent of religious unity? Conversely, what role did this movement play in exacerbating preexisting racial divisions? On the one hand, unity from the perspective of some European American (white) leaders within Protestant Christian movements can be understood as a salutary theological idea that has impacted race relations both negatively and positively. On the other hand, religious unity—specifically interracial unity within Protestant ecclesial expressions of the Christian faith—can be understood as the development and implementation of collaborative interracial strategies, policies, and practices committed to understanding, identifying, and dismantling all forms of racism (structural, systemic, and individual) within the church and the broader society.
Christian interracial unity is an outcome of interracial social relationships grounded in an understanding of the gospel of Christ, intentionally functioning in direct and purposeful opposition to all forms of racism. Put simply by James Cone, “racism is incompatible with the Gospel of Christ.”
Interracial unity understood in this way results in members of the Body of Christ seeking to transcend racialized divisions in the church and broader society, compelled as followers of Christ to understand and dismantle racism in all its forms. Interracial unity begins with naming, examining, and understanding what race actually is. This includes an intentional and ongoing examination of socioeconomic and historical forces that created this false social construct and its persistent and pervasive impact on the human condition.
First and foremost, interracial unity begins with a willingness of all members within the Body of Christ to talk about race. As simple as this may seem, efforts to achieve interracial unity are often thwarted due to reluctance, largely by whites, to engage in such conversations.