These are trying times in our country. As if a global pandemic was not bad enough, the great pandemic of racism has reared its ugly head once again through the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. It is not as if this issue disappeared for a season and came back in a new wave. Rather, those of us who have not had to face racism in our daily lives are witnessing what our black brothers and sisters have experienced in unending measure in our nation’s history.
I am not writing this to add to the tension. I will not focus on the reality that discrimination based on skin color or heritage has plagued societies across the world for thousands of years, nor will I spend time pontificating on matters of policy. Bottom line: I am not a policy expert. It is ok to say, “I do not know what the best way forward is.” The art of admitting a gap in one’s knowledge seems lost on us in our age of outrage and access to a platform to spew that outrage into. Instead, as a clergyperson, I want to draw attention to how the church can respond at the grassroots level not simply to change policy but change hearts.
Let’s Talk about Catechesis
Catechesis is the concept of teaching the faith systematically over a prescribed period of time, using a tool called a catechism. Traditionally, the content of the catechism was a detailed exposition of the faith using the Apostles Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Decalogue. This is what the ACNA’s catechism, To Be a Christian, does. If you want to check it out, Joshua Steele has provided a bookmarked version of the catechism you can reference here. Question 314 asks, “How should Christians understand the value of life?” (p. 103). The answer includes this profound statement: “Human life is especially sacred because we are created in God’s image” (p. 103).
Why does it matter what the catechism, and more importantly, God’s Word, says about human life? This matters because policy may be able to change many things, but it cannot change the heart. Only the power of the Holy Spirit can turn a heart of stone into a heart of flesh. Only the Word of God promises never to return void (Isa. 55:11). If we want to see racism die, then we must see the idea that we are equal sharers of dignity because we are made in God’s image become the predominant perspective in our society. This can only come if we as local parishes, as family units, and as individuals take it upon ourselves to catechize and be catechized under the authority of God’s Word.
Truly to end racism is to commit to the long haul. It is not a change in policy, which is ultimately needed, but a change in culture. This can only come from a change of the heart. I am not caught up in idealism here, either. I know it will be hard. The church must commit our conversations about human issues to being undergirded by the reality that we are all made in the image of God, and that those who are in Christ are new creatures altogether. This means rather than adding to the voices of hatred—on both sides of the argument—we usher a new voice, the voice of the Lord, into this conversation. It is the voice of Love.
Before I offer four levels of response in the church, particularly as it pertains to Anglicans (though, replace certain words like “bishop” and “diocese” and this becomes a more general call for the whole church), I want to get out in front of a possible dissenting view. As noted above, we live in an age where “real change” is synonymous with “policy change.” However, whereas policies may change certain consequences of sin, they cannot create regenerate hearts. Therefore the war on racism is a catechetical war on our sinful nature.
The answer to the first question of the ACNA catechism reminds us that of our own accord, we engage in “lawless living” (p. 23). Sin is “the way of death” (p. 24), and it alienates me from my neighbor and from God (p. 23). Therefore, while appropriate policy changes may be helpful, they will not restore the broken relationships between us and our neighbors. Only Christ can do that. Christ died to save us from our sins, and in that glorious redemption we can see our fragmented relationships begin to mend. We participate in this mending when we teach our covenant children the way of life, Christ’s way.
How do we begin?
There are four levels of response, and I will admonish each level here. They are: diocesan, parochial, the nuclear family, and individuals.
The Diocesan Level
At the diocesan level, I believe that it is incumbent upon the bishop and his representatives to admonish those under their care to begin constructive conversations on race, and to approach this matter in a manner which relies on our confidence in the resurrection of Christ and its implications on humanity.
The Parochial Level
At the parochial level, I believe rectors and other clergy ought to be actively committed to facilitating catechesis in their parishes. This is the duty of the clergy: to facilitate the development and maturity of a comprehensive, biblical worldview. In so doing, the matters of humanity cannot be a peripheral issue. It is also the role of the clergy to ensure that parents or guardians are informed and equipped to catechize the family under their care.
The Family Level
At the family level, the parents or guardians must commit to the consistent catechizing of their family. Whenever I counsel a family to do this, the inevitable first question is, “How?” It does not have to be hard. Seriously, let’s not over complicate this. Commit to family prayer and Scripture reading at a time that works best for your family. During this time of family worship, ask a question from the catechism. There are 368 questions in To Be a Christian. You can essentially ask one question a day and stay on track. The total time it takes to go through family prayer and one question on the catechism is less than half an hour.
Bottom line: if we have time for social media, sports, or TV shows, we have time to catechize our families.
The Individual Level
Finally, at the individual level, commit to reading Scripture. See what God’s Word says about the value of human life. Allow this to form your understanding of race, sex, and other key human identity pillars. It is by being formed that you are able, by God’s grace, to be an instrument of formation in the life of another. Ultimately, it is by having a well-formed theological anthropology (e.g., understanding humanity in light of the resurrection), that will best contribute to the eradication of race.
And so we begin.
Zachary Jones is married to his best friend, Bethany. He serves as assistant rector of Christ Church Westshore and is a chaplain candidate canonically resident in the Special Jurisdiction of the Armed Forces and Chaplaincy. Zach is currently finishing his Master of Sacred Theology at Trinity School for Ministry. You can follow him on Twitter at @thelittlevicar.