Theology How to be an Ally 101

9 Ways to Move Away From Privilege

Branden Henry

There is no easy way around it. As a white man, regardless of what I do or say to support my minority brothers and sisters, I am enmeshed with a cultural system that does them harm. This strange mix of guilt and confusion tends to cause myself and those like me to stop, get quiet, and retreat from acting on the problems that impact my darker hued spiritual family.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve listened, I’ve read, I’ve retweeted, I’ve had hard conversations with white folks around me, I’ve been a part of a multi-ethnic body, I’ve repented, I’ve written, I’ve stood up to some institutional bias/racism, I’ve prayed, I’ve given, and yet, the problem remains largely unchanged. The question I now face is how can I, as a person who is a part of the systemic problem, become a part of the solution? Here are 9 ways we can begin carrying a larger portion of the burden of inherent bias, racism, oppression, bigotry and discrimination that weigh on our minority brothers and sisters.

Pray, like David, for God to search you and know you, and then expose you (Psalm 139). I am ingrained with inherent bias, since childhood. My neural networks have been flooded by a highly-racialized culture. Like weeds, these biases and racialized beliefs will continue to sprout up when I least expect them. When they are exposed, confess and repent, turning away from them and towards actively loving your neighbor as yourself. Do this individually, and as a congregation.

Support minority-led ministries through your finances (2 Cor. 8:1-5). It’s good to like and retweet, but the folks who spend the greatest part of their lives studying, praying, and fighting for the rights of minorities need sustenance. Give to their ministries.

I also know many minority men and women seeking Seminary education. If we want church leadership to have a range of voices, we need more minority trained and equipped leaders. Call your denomination’s seminary and ask how you can support individual minority students. If they don’t know, tell them to figure it out and call you back.

Be subversive to the majority culture you a part of (Matthew 10). Introduce books written by minorities into your sermons, bible studies, blog posts, and small groups. Do the same with who you quote. If your first thought is ‘But there’s no qualified minorities who can speak on ____’, check your implicit bias. Just because their work is not promoted by the powers that be, does not mean they are less qualified. Introduce new voices to your circles, and then make space to hear from them.

Become uncomfortable (Rom. 15:5-7). For those seeking to be in a diverse or multi-racial church body, try to feel more unnerved with your worship style than those minorities you are inviting in. Something I admired about my former ‘multi-ethnic’ church was how I would always be annoyed by at least a couple of the songs they chose, primarily because they didn’t fit with my preferred style. You can give up style without giving up substance, and in fact, you can often enhance the substance by trading in some of your preferred style.

Counseling is an essential resource for folks who have suffered race-related chronic trauma and toxic stress (Isaiah 61). I implore counselors to set aside a couple of sessions per week specifically for this reason and openly advertise it. Churches, set aside funds for this purpose and make it available to those in need – even, and especially, if they are not a part of your local body. Everyone else, offer to pay for weekly sessions for those minority leaders you hear in podcasts, blogs, and preaching. If they don’t need it, ask them to connect you to someone who might. I would suggest you find a counselor trained in EMDR and/or treating trauma to work with.

Ask for more diversity. If you are an alumnus of a Seminary, Christian college, or Christian private school, start writing letters to the current leadership asking (demanding if you have the clout) that they intentionally seek to fill teaching and leadership positions with qualified minority persons (Acts 15). Keep after them until they do. Ask for a timeline and publicly hold them to it. It should take no more than a year to begin making concrete changes to the leadership structure.

Encourage your church leadership to engage in the fight for unity in the body of Christ (Eph. 2:11-22). Offer to pay for them to go to conferences led by minority leaders or focusing on race relations in the church. Keep their kids while they are away. Buy books, send article links, and share a mean to talk about what you’ve been learning.

If your church leadership is pursuing racial unity, then give them grace as they stumble along. For many of us, this might be new, and as with doing anything for the first time, they probably won’t be great at it. Cut them some slack and encourage them to keep moving forward, no matter the set-back.

Move into the spiritually impoverished areas of America (2 Tim. 3:16). Take a call to the small church in rural America. Go and plant (or replant) churches in areas that have been too long deprived of healthy expositional preaching. Then let the Word do its work. If you are truly faithful to preaching Scripture, then you will necessarily be faithful to working towards justice for the oppressed. As you preach and teach, don’t shy away from the passages that will confront the inherent bias, and sometimes straight-up racism of your congregation.

Give away your power and position. If you believe Paul’s command to be like Christ in Philippians 2, then seek out ways to give up your places of power. Bloggers, speakers, pastors, priests, authors, editors, theologians and all others who have a platform, remember: like all things in your life, your platform does not belong to you, but to our Lord.

Be a good steward of the position you have been given, and step aside in order that we might have greater unity in our diverse body. Paul tells us in Philippians 2 that Jesus put off his rights as God, to be made a servant for our good. I implore you to at least put off your privilege, for the good of your spiritual family and the glory of God.

5 thoughts on “9 Ways to Move Away From Privilege

  1. Branden Henry

    Hey Peter,
    Sorry for the delay in responding. I just had your commented pointed out to me.

    Instead of discussing the history of systemic forms of racism (slavery, jim crow, department of justice findings on policing, redlining, etc.), I’ll answer your question based on the realities I’ve seen.

    The first time I saw systemic racism at play was when I moved to the Mississippi Delta to teach 2nd grade in a rural, all black school. Granted, I was a white guy from an all white town and a majority white college, which is probably why I was shocked, but I saw a state school system that was historically setting up black schools to be less educated, less resourced, and significantly disadvantaged. This town, Lakeview, AR, was a poor farming town. The residents of that town grew up as children and grandchildren of sharecroppers, who grew up as children of slaves. One example of the systemic racism they had consistently faced for the entire history of the school system could be found in the library. As a black school they had only ever received the hand me downs from white schools after school integration. This meant that in 2003, most of their library books about the sciences were pre-moon landing. This kind of thing was consistently found in every aspect of the district. It didn’t matter how hard the teachers tried, they started out at a significant disadvantage to the white school district 15 minutes up the road. Eventually, the state shut that school down and bussed the kids to the white school (which is an entirely different subject about how most of the systemic racism has attempted to be solved, just start over and imagine that now everything is fine).

    Secondly, I’m a marriage therapist by trade, as well as trained in Biblical studies. That means I understand everything in terms of systems. For instance, families are a system with some sort of hierarchy (some healthier, some unhealthier). For instance, in an authoritarian family system, a father can rule the family in such a way that rules are rigid and relationships are cold. This type of family system consistently lends itself to the abuse of the children.

    Churches are no different. Paul talks about the church as a body (a biological system), wherein every part of the body is dependent upon every other part. This is why an abusive leader harms not only the victim, but the local community as well. I think this goes further as we understand church in the catholic sense. What happened to children abused by pastors in a denomination and geography different than mine, still affects me as a part of that global body. I believe this is why the standards for leaders are so rigorous in 1 Timothy.

    Governments are also a system. The laws made by the legislature have an impact on the courts, while the decisions of the courts have an impact on the legislature. When the government dictated and enforced laws that made life as a non-white person more difficult than the life of a white person, they were facing a systemic injustice. For instance, when schools like the one I mentioned prior were unable to educate black students with the same resources as a white school could educate its students, and then voting requirements were enforced that would forbid primarily those educated at poor, black schools, the oppression they experienced wasn’t coming from the enforcer of voting laws at their local voting station, but from a government system that seemed wholly set against their having a voice.

    All that to say, it’s hard for me not to see systemic racism. Sin has always been about having power that doesn’t belong to us (ie – eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil), and will always tempt those in power to abuse and misuse their power.

    White vs. Black wasn’t a schema invented by those who wanted the dichotomy, as you said in reference to King, just as abused vs victim wasn’t invented by the battered wife. Those who abuse power will always minimize the hurt of those abused.

    I’ve listened to Shapiro and the like. I think they approach this from a place of wanting to disprove what they don’t want to see, and denial has always been easier to grasp than reality.

    Here’s al ink to an article I wrote about denial that I think is helpful when deciphering arguments from all sides of the issue at hand:

    A link to a helpful podcast by Jemar and Tyler on systemic racism:

    Let me know if you have any other thoughts/questions. I’ll try to respond faster than 6 months 😉


  2. Kara

    Thank you for great ideas and a challenges!

  3. Peter A

    Brandon, good to hear from you, brother. A few thoughts though: where’s your evidence that systemic racism exists? I’m not talking about people who are racist. Of course there are racist individuals, but where’s your evidence there is such a thing as “systemic racism.” Please show me a school, university, or current place of employment that has a policy that says, “If you’re a minority, you’re not allowed.” If anything, Afirmative Action has had a drastic effect on middle class white men, than minority’s. The other thing is that by stating white privilege, you create a dicothmy much more in line with Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and the new left, more so than the thinking of MLK. MLK never wanted to divide things into “black” vs “white” dicotomies. Rather, he wanted us to see how “all men are created equal, regardless of race.” How do you create a distinction to what you’re saying to the current victimization mentality of the current identity politic? Finally, have you engaged with people like Ben Shapiro or Larry Elder who’ve done, in my opinion, a masterful job destroying the concept of a “white priveledge.” I’d love your thoughts on how they challenge this concept.


  4. Branden Henry

    Great addition George! Public rebuke too often gets bad press these days, but you’re spot on in naming it as a bible-informed (and commanded) tactic for confronting sin. It’s always heartening to see church and/or denominational leaders step up and call out the sin of racism in their local and global believing bodies. Keep striving for unity brother and thanks for the feedback!

  5. George Canady

    Hello Branden,
    I am grateful for your recognition of our advantage in the American white Church.

    Suggestions like these from young men are encouraging to some who have been practicing them in the Church for some decades.

    I assume If any endure a long journey down this path that you have laid out they will find it dark, steep and sometimes lonely as many others have.

    May we not look behind, for I fear we won’t find many white American Christians following us.

    But let us take heart as we know Christ is in what you suggest as we remember this sacrifice is “as unto the LORD”.

    If you will allow one other biblical approach that was quite humiliatingly effective for Jesus, Paul and other teachers in scripture; open public rebuke of those who claimed they earned, deserve or took pride in ethnic privilege.

    I think we should not be shy in this as it is biblical; assuming we are prepared for the same biblical backlash.

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