Reflections Following the White Co-Conspirator Summit

As members of the NBA Board of Trustees, we were invited and encouraged to participate in the White Co-Conspirators

Rev. Dr. Jacque Foster
Rev. Dr. Jacque Foster, NBA Trustee

Summit, a two-day virtual conference facilitated by the Scarritt Bennett Center with the sponsorship of the National Benevolent Association. I knew this invitation was not only a gift to me personally and as a minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), but was a critical part of NBA’s commitment to work through a racial justice and equity lens.

What I did not realize when I registered but came to appreciate was how the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) came together with ecumenical and interfaith partners to co-sponsor this summit through the Scarritt Bennett Center in Nashville, Tennessee. The sponsorship of the OGMP, Reconciliation Ministry, NBA, Vine Street Christian Church (DOC) of Nashville, and four Regions (Illinois/Wisconsin, Upper Midwest, Greater Kansas City, and Pacific Southwest) helped to make this possible for all, including many Disciples clergy and lay persons.

As one who has participated in many anti-racism trainings over the years and in training for trainers, the idea of the White Co-Conspirator’s Summit was compelling for me. I have most often been involved in events in which we were intentional about creating a space for the voice and participation of people of different races, believing (rightly) that white people need to hear the truth of people of color, and that we need to have open conversations with each other as a part of the process of anti-racism work. I still believe this is true.

However, a complementary truth has emerged: anti-racism work is work that white people must do. White people have created this White Supremacist society and it is our work to face it, peel back the layers, see it for what it is, dismantle it and then work with people of color to build a society for all of us. It is our spiritual work, our soul work, to dig deep enough to realize that our racism has robbed us all of our full humanity. Even those of us who believe with every fiber of our being that racism is a sin, have placed the burden of the work to be done on our Black, Latinx, and Asian/Pacific Island siblings. We have acted as if it is the job of people of color to educate us, and their job to be the voice against racism and the voice for building a just and equitable society in which all are valued. Frankly, we have wanted to say that we are anti-racist while protecting ourselves and limiting our risk.

A week or so before this summit took place, I came across a conversation on Facebook between friends I highly respect. The conversation was between people of color. The woman who initiated the conversation had heard about the White Co-Conspirators’ Summit. She expressed concern about an all-white event doing anti-racism work. What approach would it take? Could it be trusted to do good work? I appreciated her concerns. Another woman of color who is a vocal leader in our neighborhood responded that she understood the concerns, yet she was definitely in favor of white people taking responsibility and doing the work. Others added to the conversation, including someone who indicated that she had seen a list of some of the leadership of the summit and felt positive about it.

This conversation reminded me that we are never talking either/or – either interracial anti-racism work or white spaces for anti-racism work – or Black/Latinx/Asian-Pacific Islander spaces for anti-racism work. All of it is necessary. We need to listen to the voices, the stories, the stated needs of people of color. We also need to do our own work in our own spaces.

White people need to learn how to be in spaces that are not white-centered. We need to de-center whiteness in how we see and interpret the world. It is my hope that this summit has sown many seeds and plays a role in helping us to deepen our understanding of the following realities:

  • The sin of racism and how it distorts one’s understanding of God and humanity; the repentance work we must do for our souls and the healing of the world
  • The history of the Church as a perpetrator of White Supremacy and the fundamental responsibility the Church must now take in anti-racism work
  • What it means to de-center whiteness by becoming co-conspirators (risking ourselves in the work) rather than seeing ourselves as white ‘allies’ who choose to keep a safe distance, deciding when and how much to risk.

Coming out of this important event (which, by the way, did also include some people of color) there are things that I believe people in the church need to understand:

First: Anti-racism work is not political work; it is faith work and soul work. Jim Wallis of Sojourners spoke about the ways “Christianity has been and is a perpetrator of White Supremacy.” He reminded us that white slaveholders wanted to keep Jesus away from people who were enslaved. Still today White Supremacy requires covering up Jesus. “What is at stake here is nothing less than the Image of God – the Imago Dei. Voter suppression is an assault on the Image of God. Racialized policing is an assault on the Image of God….we are all to be stewards together, have dominion together over creation. When we divide in this way, we are assaulting the Imago Dei.” (Jim Wallis)

Second: Many of us want to talk about reconciliation and unity without naming and working on our racism. There must first be reflection and repentance. This is soul work. Until I see how my racism has dehumanized me as well as the other, and until I can see it clearly enough to take steps to repair the damage I am doing, I cannot know what reconciliation could look like. Too often reconciliation and unity have been seen as a quick escape from doing the painfully hard work of facing racism.

Third: Hannah Adair Bonner in sharing her powerful witness, identified a critical turning point in her life as the moment she chose Black trust over white approval. I have come to believe that a significant part of solidifying White Supremacy has been to inflict fear of losing the approval of other white people. We all know how it is done; how the lines are drawn; how our loyalties are questioned; the names we are called if we are siding with the Black community. I realized while listening to Hannah that it is not only a matter of choosing Black trust over white approval but, for me, a matter of choosing to trust the God I have come to know in Jesus over white approval.

Where to go from here? I can only say that I am on a path that is soul-freeing, and sometimes scary, and that brings grief and joy. What I want for me, as an older white woman, is to continue to discover who I am in life and ministry, to risk more, and hopefully become a faithful co-conspirator. A helpful image to me from this White Co-Conspirators Summit is that an abolitionist had to be a co-conspirator. Let it be so for us.