The Church Christian Living Justice

5 Signs That You Need to #LeaveLOUD

Ally Henny

Black Christians often enter predominantly white or multiethnic churches hoping to participate in a spiritual community where the fullness of their identity in Christ is seen and nurtured. All too often, however, we end up contending with ignorance and insensitivity. We expend immeasurable amounts of emotional labor trying to educate our white siblings about how to behave in more ethical, inclusive, and racially sensitive ways. We endure repeated indignities and slights to our personhood. Some of us have even found ourselves sharing pews with Christian Nationalists and hearing a white supremacist gospel from the pulpit.

Many Black Christians are starting to reevaluate their participation in predominantly white and multiethnic churches after months and years (if not decades) of bearing with people who seem allergic to making any significant changes or repenting.

How do you know when it’s time to go? Here are some signs that you should #LeaveLOUD:

  1. The Holy Ghost says it’s time to go. This should be a given, but I include it for those among us who need reassurance that leaving a toxic church environment is, indeed, a spiritual act and can be prompted by the Holy Ghost. The Spirit guides us all in different ways, and so I cannot give a definitive answer to what the Spirit’s leading might look like for you. Only you can know whether the Spirit is guiding you. If you are experiencing some of the other signs and your spirit also feels unsettled, there is a good chance that the Holy Spirit might be trying to speak to you. Spend time in prayer, meditation on God’s Word, and in counsel with believers who don’t have an agenda to make sure you stay where you are (or to persuade you to enter another toxic church).

  2. There are promises, but no policy nor strategy to confront racism. In our current social climate, many white-led churches are concerned about managing their public image to make sure that Black folks “feel welcome” in their churches, but they do absolutely nothing to manage the racism in their midst. It’s one thing for a pastor or church to have a “vision” or “heart” for “racial reconciliation.” Having a workable strategy supported by policies, programs, and funds is an entirely different matter.

    If your church is not working toward SMART (Strategic, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based) goals regarding race relations in your church, you should be concerned. If they always have something “in the works” but rarely, if ever, deliver, you should be concerned–especially if the plans involve limited input from a diversity of Black/POC perspectives.

    You should also be concerned if white leaders regularly call on Black people to educate and shoulder the emotional labor of telling their stories to create “teachable moments” for white members without using those moments to create lasting change. Our stories and emotional labor are not commodities. We don’t have to offer our pain in exchange for dignity and respect.

  3. You keep having the same conversations. A lot of our white siblings in Christ are just now learning how to treat us with respect. As frustrating and perplexing as that is, I believe in giving people who are operating in good faith a chance to do right while remaining gracious as they stumble and fumble their way to progress.

    However–and this is key–there is a difference between being gracious and being walked on. We should be gracious toward people who are actively working to correct and grow from their mistakes. When people keep saying and doing things that they have been told are harmful, they choose to walk on us.

    If you find yourself having the same conversations with the same people day in and day out. Week in and week out. Month in and month out. Season in and season out. Year in and year out…it’s time to go. Don’t waste another syllable on them.

    This doesn’t just go for your personal conversations; this applies to the cumulative conversations that have been had in your context. When several people have had several conversations with people who continue to be obtuse, it’s time to leave them to their obtuseness.

  4. White people can be racist, but you can’t talk about it. If church leaders try to limit Black folks’ response to racism but don’t say anything to the people trafficking in conspiracy theories and support for harmful, racist rhetoric and policies, it’s time to go.

    If people question your salvation or orthodoxy when you say something as simple as “Black Lives Matter,” it’s time to go. If you can’t have a Black opinion about Black issues that affect your Black well-being, it’s time to go.

    If you find yourself and others asking, “how Black am I allowed to be before it becomes a problem,” but whiteness and white culture are unreservedly placed in the center, it’s time to find a new church.

    If the “race conversation” in your church/ministry caters more to white fragility than it does to Black people’s freedom and dignity, it’s time to #LeaveLOUD.

    If conspiracy theories and racism are being preached from the pulpit, it’s BEEN time to go.

  5. Black people are leaving–or not engaging at all. We should be concerned when multiple people leave a church because of their experiences with racism and/or the church’s lack of responsiveness to the issue of race. We should also be concerned when an institution has a questionable reputation among Black people in the broader community. It is all too easy for us to get wrapped up in a ministry or church that is toxic when we view our membership and participation as an individualistic endeavor and fail to listen to the spiritual community around us. It’s all too easy to believe that other Black folks are troublemakers without considering that they might be making “good trouble.” There is a point at which our fellowship with a church becomes an implicit endorsement, if not tacit complicity, of what goes on there.

If you discern that it’s time to go, don’t be afraid to take the first step. Surround yourself with other justice-minded believers who can offer prayer, emotional, and practical support. Where possible, try to sit down with church leadership to share your decision to leave. Be clear and honest about your observations and experiences. Share your decision to leave with the people that you were the closest to in the church. Allow yourself to grieve leaving. Write down your experiences and feelings (or record a voice memo). When you’re ready, share your story.