The Fantasy of Being a Race-Neutral Church

I was taken aback by the latest Supreme Court ruling on Affirmative Action and acceptance of the false doctrine of race-neutral policy. In an article written for the Atlantic, “Race Neutral Is the New Separate but Equal” by Uma Mazyck Jayakumar and Ibram X. Kendi, the writers make a strong argument that the doctrine of race neutral is a fantasy. In comparing “race neutral” with “separate but equal” they write:

“Then, the fantasy was that separate facilities for education afforded to the races were equal and that actions to desegregate them were unnecessary, if not harmful. Today, the fantasy is that regular college-admissions metrics are race-neutral and that affirmative action is unnecessary, if not harmful.”

Jayakumar and Kendi use statistics to show that the removal of affirmative action policies in higher education will probably be devastating to people of color, especially African Americans and Latinx.

I’m worried about the spill-over effect of higher education giving up on Affirmative Action. A Politico article by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw states the problem well:

“When fewer minority candidates get accepted into institutions of higher education, this is not just an issue for the elites. It functionally will mean fewer diverse doctors, lawyers, educators and lawmakers, which will significantly impact the quality of life for Black Americans. Research has shown in areas with more Black doctors, Black people live longer—even in counties with just one Black doctor as opposed to none. Black lawyers can create more equitable outcomes for Black clients. Black students who have one Black teacher by third grade are 13 percent more likely to enroll in college and 32 percent more likely if they have two Black teachers in that same time period.”

As Jayakumar and Kendi writes, “Just as Plessy v. Ferguson’s influence reached far beyond the railway industry more than a century ago, the fantasy of “race neutral” alternatives to affirmative action defends racism well beyond higher education”

My concern is the downriver effect of these policies beyond higher education and on the church and future pastors. A bachelor’s degree ordinarily is required for admission to seminary. If the effects of this current Supreme Court decision reduce the number of people of color in colleges and universities, it may also reduce the chance of seminaries having excellent people of color as students.

Furthermore, how will churches call pastors of color when the society in which we live, the jobs on which we work, and the schools in which we teach and learn no longer value giving everyone an opportunity to learn, work, and live beyond the racial caste system they were assigned at birth? Does the church have faith to push against societal winds, which says, “Racial status quo is enough,” “Stay with your own,” and “Keep calling and hiring what replicates the way we look now?” The Presbytery of Chicago currently has 21 people of color serving as pastors, with 6 serving congregations that are majority white.

The Supreme Court decision may be the wake-up call the church needs to look at the ways in which we call pastors and hire leaders and staff. We could ask ourselves, “In what ways does our process allow things to stay the same and reduce the opportunities for people of color to enterour system? If our call and hiring process claims to be race-neutral, what do we need to change?” These are the questions I hope we can grapple with together as a presbytery that cares for the well-being of the Body of Christ.

Rev. Craig M. Howard