Buffalo Evangelical Free Church wanted to help. About an hour’s drive from downtown Minneapolis, the majority white church was deeply upset by the news of George Floyd’s death and shocked by the videos on social media.
As protests swept the city, the Buffalo, Minnesota, congregation started to ask what it could do. Pastor Greg Braly was eager too, but cautious.
“I think one of the mistakes that Anglo churches can make is to walk in with the white savior hat on and walk in thinking we know what’s going on,” Braly said. “We don’t.”
Braly asked the organizers coordinating food and other supplies for those impacted by the protests and police crackdowns for advice and got a very clear response: “You don’t know our culture. You don’t know our community. You don’t know our pain.”
Instead of showing up with a plan, the church needed to start with a relationship. Braly reached out to another Evangelical Free congregation and connected with the majority Black Riverside Evangelical Free Church, located between the airport and the VA Medical Center.
Braly became friends with Riverside pastor Prince Lee and then found ways for the congregations to connect. Lee spoke at Buffalo, the churches worshiped together, and the white suburban congregation supported the urban Black church with material and financial resources as it ministered in the city.
“We view the Riverside church as a partner and sister church,” Braly said. “They are the experts.”
Similar partnerships have formed across the Twin Cities. White evangelical churches have looked for ways to respond and serve while being more aware than they have in the past that there are better and worse ways to help. When Transform Minnesota, an evangelical organization that brings pastors together to wrestle with social issues, hosted a Zoom call with more than 250 ministers last May, multiple pastors of color repeated this point. If white, suburban churches really wanted to help and to be effective, they needed to listen to Black Christian leaders in the impacted communities.
“We don’t need saviors,” Charvez Russell, a Black Baptist pastor, told the group in June. “What we need are partners. … Yes, we need your help right now. Yes, we need your help cleaning up. Yes, we need your resources. But we also need long-term partners who are going to help us stand up for God and tear down the systems that hold people down.”
A year later, the pastors who have tried to respond to that call and forge relationships across racial divides say it hasn’t always been easy. On the one hand, pushing their white congregations to think about racism in their communities can stir up controversy and bad feelings. On the other hand, the pastors worry about saying the wrong thing and offending the Black Christians while trying to reach out.
“Everybody wants you to take a stand, but I’m not always sure what stand to take,” said Kory Kleinsasser, pastor of the predominately white Waite Park Wesleyan Church.
His instinct is to look for nuance. But attempts to emphasize complexities aren’t always welcomed.
“I have to make statements about things that I don’t feel like I fully understand myself,” he said.
Read more at Christianity Today