Race is frequently analyzed in politics, education, medical care, and judicial processes. However, race and religion are two topics that are not often discussed in the same sentence. 

On Sunday, the Charlottesville Clergy Collective held a Livestream and panel entitled “Difficult Conversations: Religion and Race,” a follow-up to the 2019 series “Conversations on Reconciliation.” 

Anthea Butler, an associate professor of religious studies and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania, spoke on her new book. She was later joined by Gayle Jessup White, Monticello’s public relations and community engagement officer, and Tricia Johnson, director of the Fluvanna County Historical Society. Charlottesville Clergy Collective member and founding Pastor of Amazing Change Ministry, the Rev. Devin Coles, served as the moderator. 

While working with a small group within the Collective to address the current culture of issues, Coles suggested highlighting difficult conversations that Christians were uncomfortable discussing. Met with slight hesitance, he expressed the importance and need of such topics and was able to persuade the small group to present the idea to the Collective as a whole. 

A few members of the Collective held reservations about the topic due to the sensitive nature of race and religion. One reason for the hesitation was the title of Butler’s book, “White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America.” The title takes a direct approach at calling out the racism of a specific religious subset. 

“A lot of people were more reserved based on the language of Dr. Anthea’s book as they view themselves as evangelical,” Coles said. “They were looking at the distinction between the language of the book and their own identity.” 

Coles believes that theology and ontology play a role in the absence of conversations of race in the church. Theology is the study of religious beliefs while ontology refers to the philosophical study of being.

Although initiating such a panel took a little convincing, Coles persuaded the Collective of its importance. 

“You cannot conquer what you fail to identify. Identifying and recognizing are two different things,” he shared. “If we don’t address an issue, then the issue will continue to manifest and continue to grow.”  

During the panel, Coles discussed the difference between nonracists versus antiracists and also called for fewer allies and more accomplices. 

Similarly, Butler called participants to consider the ways in which racial structure has controlled our nation. 

“I think that it’s disingenuous to believe that certain kinds of political or social groups in this country have not benefited from racism,” she said during the panel’s Q & A. 

Coles looks forward to the opportunity to have more panels on difficult conversations hosted by the Charlottesville Clergy Collective. 

Reflecting on Sunday’s panel he said, “We have a responsibility to minister to the whole man. We can’t go on the tangent of faith and leave it there. There’s mind, body, spirit, and soul. We have to be able to minister to all of those things.”

He hopes that the audience will continue to do the work and implement what they’ve learned daily. 

“Information without application is ignorance,” he offered. “Therefore, the information you take you have to apply it. You have to apply it in your social groups, you have to apply at work, you have to apply it wherever you go.” 

The live stream can be found at: https://fb.watch/7htvadwpH6/  

Upcoming events can be found at: www.cvilleclergycollective.org 

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Patty Medina

Patty Medina joined Charlottesville Tomorrow as engagement reporter in 2021. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from Full Sail University and is also a 15-year Air Force veteran with three years of military foreign affairs experience.