THRIVING for Racial Justice

by Denise Roy

I am writing this on the anniversary of the day George Floyd died under the knee of Derek Chauvin. It is a day of mourning and rage, but it is also a day of hope. Hope for deep, sustained racial reckoning kindled by a renewed commitment to racial justice. A concrete source of hope for the Alliance of Baptists comes from the five-year THRIVE project, more specifically Churches that THRIVE for Racial Justice, a project of the Alliance in partnership with the Lilly Endowment and sociologists of Race and Religion.

Alliance Director of Partnership Relations Paula Dempsey and her team have assembled a cohort of 27 THRIVING churches spanning 19 states and two Canadian provinces. One of the churches is University Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where Pastor Doug Donley and I are the THRIVE clergy and lay representatives, respectively.

On Saturday, May 22nd, Pastor Doug and I joined the other THRIVE clergy and lay representatives for a five-hour introductory gathering hosted by Paula Dempsey on behalf of the Alliance. To prepare, participants watched the compelling interview by Alliance President Michael-Ray Mathews of Robert Jones, author of White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity, from the plenary at the Alliance annual gathering in April. We also read an essay entitled The Invention of Whiteness: the Long History of a Dangerous Idea, by Robert P. Baird. These powerful, provocative messages set the stage for the important racial justice work that will take place throughout the five-year THRIVE project. (I recommend both; hence, the links.)

The meeting provided a rich and exciting introduction to the THRIVE sociologists, cohort representatives, goals, and structure. We learned that the cohort will function as a “learning community.” That means we will support and challenge one another on a journey to discern our own roles in racial injustice and then to disrupt systemic racism.

After introductions and a large group exploration of the Alliance’s new, and very moving, Covenant and Mission, much of the time was spent on three small group discussions. In groups of about five, participants discussed questions about mission, messages, money, ministry, and mentors viewed in terms of our current understanding of key realities of racial justice. We took a different perspective for each discussion—the broader world, church practices, and church priorities. A program thoughtfully designed to spark reflection and nurture relationships.

The hours flew by and left us longing for more time to discuss the fascinating and challenging questions presented, as well as to get to know each other in more depth. We were assured that those opportunities will come, but patience is decidedly a virtue in this project and in the larger project toward racial justice. At several points, we were reminded that the larger project is a generations-long effort that requires faith and commitment.

During the month of June all congregations in the Alliance are urged to recruit members to sign up for the Alliance mailing list to enable their full participation in the online survey to be administered in the fall. Widespread participation in the survey is critical to shed meaningful light on where we stand, as individuals, as church bodies, and as the Alliance, in the journey toward racial justice. Circulate this google form to add your congregants to the list today!

Denise Roy serves as the president of the church council and lay coordinator of the THRIVE project at congregational partner University Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minn. She also teaches on the faculty of Mitchell Hamline School of Law where she is the director of externships.

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