The Stewardship of White Privilege

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.” 

Stewardship in a Liminal Time

Recently I have heard the word “liminal” used many times to describe this season we are experiencing in the life of our churches. The word liminal comes from the Latin word limens, which means “limit or threshold.” Author and theologian Richard Rohr defines liminal time in this way:

“It is when you have left, or are about to leave, the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else. It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer. If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run…anything to flee this terrible cloud of unknowing.”

Faithful Stewards

Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.
I Peter 4:10

So much has happened in the past month, and our calendars and lists of activities have completely changed. We have replaced daily and weekly meetings at the church to Zoom meetings and conference calls. Worship has gone from weekly gatherings to video or recorded events. Sessions are meeting virtually. Everything looks a bit different than it usually does this time of year.

Conversion from Scarcity to Abundance

Spending time in study together is a profound way for the leadership of a congregation to bond and become stronger as spiritual leaders. As a member of the session of my own church, we have begun a study of “Neighborhood Church: Transforming Your Congregation into a Powerhouse for Mission” by Krin Van Tatenhove and Rob Mueller. The first chapter in this book begins with an understanding of how congregations can learn to embrace fundamental changes in perspective that will lead us away from a focus on ourselves to a focus on those where God has planted us.

Stewarding Congregational Wellness

Some stewardship committees focus most of their attention on the fall Stewardship emphasis. Frankly, that’s plenty of work. But our calling as stewardship leaders is not just to the fall “ask.” We are also called to help shape the identity of stewards among our peers and as a community. We are entrusted with many assets, some of which are physical (like buildings and money) and some of which are relational (like our congregational community or our congregational mission). All of these are inflection points where we can invite others to think and act like stewards.

Christmas Gift Giving

People born between 1977 and 1985 are often referred to as millennials. However, nine years is hardly enough to qualify as a separate generation and so many who are born in that timeframe feel as though they don’t quite belong. They have one foot in Generation X and one in Generation Y. They are the bridge between an analog childhood and a digital adulthood, and we often remind them of that.

Practicing Gratitude

Mark and Lisa Scandrette have written a book entitled, “Free: Spending Your Time and Money on What Matters Most.” They provide a profound approach to thinking about the abundant lives that we live and how we manage the gifts and resources that God has provided for us. Thanksgiving is next week and expressing our gratitude and thanks seems to flow freely, but what does gratitude and thanks look like for every other day of the year?

Giving to God

Stewardship is not just a way of life; it is a good way of life. In fact, for many, it is a way to a better life. Stewardship means belonging to God. It means allowing God to rule our lives, putting God in charge of everything, including our time and our money. Surrendering control does not come easily to any of us. But God is good at ruling people’s lives. If we really do belong to God and if we really do put God in charge of everything, we will not be the worse for it.