One of my favorite definitions of stewardship, generally attributed to Clarence Stoughton, is “stewardship is everything we do after we say, ‘I believe.’” Stewardship is love in action—it puts feet to our faith.
What does that really look like? It’s easy for those of us who are white to join the crowd in professing “Black Lives Matter,” make a donation, and return to business as usual without doing the learning, listening, and soul searching required to join the movement for lasting systemic change.
Too often we assume we are only good stewards when we are marching, speaking up, giving, advocating, helping. We move too quickly to action without adequate reflection. We are reminded that listening, learning, and relinquishing the microphone so others can step forward can be just as, if not even more important, movements of stewardship.
Listen to the voices of the Rev. Dr. Yolanda Denson Byers and Shari Seifert:
Yolanda: George Floyd’s death awakened a “sleeping giant” among white people of goodwill. I teach that stewardship pertains to how we choose to invest our time, talent, and treasure in the Kin-dom of God. Martin Luther once said, “God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does.”
It is imperative that my European-American siblings examine the stewardship of their resources closely to ensure that they are in alignment with their professed anti-racist ideals. It is easy to do performative allyship like a peaceful BLM march, donation of a bag of diapers, or the writing of a big check sent to a location one will never visit. It is harder to stay in the fight for justice, over the long haul, dismantling white supremacy in the church and in our world.
Shari: I have been amazed by the generosity that I have seen in the form of mountains of donations rolling into our churches. Many feel the need to “do something” to meet the immediate needs of people faced with no public transportation or functioning grocery stores. This help is right and necessary.
However, we white folks need to be careful not to fall into the “white savior” role with our trips to Costco meant to solve other people’s problems. This is but a short-term fix. To achieve the lasting, structural, change for which we all hunger, we must dig deeper and do some serious soul searching.
We have to see how we are broken, put forth the emotional labor to examine our complicity in the sin of racism, and assert that our “right to comfort” is not more important than professing in word, thought, and deed that Black Lives Matter. If we fail to do this, we will continue to prop up white supremacy in our churches, and in our world.
Let us not squander this historic opportunity. Changing systems and abdicating roles that we have been in for four hundred years is not going to be comfortable! But getting to the other side—bringing about the reign of God, justice, and the beloved community—that is the sweetest place we can ever imagine. Another world is possible, and the only way we can get there is together.
Yolanda & Shari: We believe that systemic change must occur. It will occur when our denominations invest in the retention of students and clergy of color, fully fund the budgets of churches serving the marginalized, pay clergy of color at denominational guidelines, and our churches choose to reflect the beautiful diversity of God’s creation in stained glass, song and reading choices, and even the dolls and toys in the nursery.
It will also happen when European-American pastors and lay leaders commit to being uncomfortable, risking rejection or rage, to boldly declare that Black Lives Matter in all that we say, think, and do. All of this requires deep commitment to interrogating our stewardship of white privilege in the church. It will demand the investment of time, talent, and treasure. It will take a changed heart and a willingness to put life, limb, reputation, and finance on the line for the sake of Christ.
Stewardship leaders in the Presbytery of the James, how are we using our time, talents, and treasures to steward the needs and voices of all God’s children?
Deborah Rexrode, PhD
POJ Associate for Stewardship
The Rev. Dr. Yolanda Denson Byers is the pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Becker, Minnesota and Shari Seifert is a member of Calvary Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. They have co-authored “Unpacking White Privilege: The Important Work of Making the Church Less Harmful.”