A Seat at the Table

The first thing that I want to say before I begin is that I am speaking solely from my experience, and I cannot speak for anyone else. However, I do know that many people of color share the same sentiments. If you have any questions, comments, or simply want to dive deeper into this, I will make myself available. This blog post is just hitting the surface of a very deeply rooted issue.  

You know those metal foldable chairs they have in fellowship halls at old churches? The really uncomfortable ones that they use for the big lunches you have? This is a chair I metaphorically carry around everywhere when I feel like I need to establish a seat at a [sometimes metaphorical] table I am not invited to sit at.

Picture this: there is a long beautiful wooden table with beautiful wooden chairs. This table is where magic happens, where conversations arise that can change the world. This table has been the resting place for powerful conversation, controversial topics, and big decisions. It has heard laughs, cries, and many bold statements. Now, look at the people sitting around the table. The majority are people in positions of power, people with all of the qualifications, people with many opinions. But when you look around again, you begin to notice that there aren’t many differences among the people sitting at this table. They all look the same; they all believe the same things. They are all white Christians. They all seem to have an opinion on something they have never experienced, something they will never be able to really experience. They want to help refugees, but there is no refugee sitting at the table. They want to advocate for immigrants, but do not understand the oppressive immigration system and the fact that many people do not have a choice to be undocumented. They want to understand the Black Lives Matter movement, but secretly do not understand why the claim “All Lives Matter” is problematic in this conversation. They do not make room at the table for the ones they are trying to advocate for.

“When we meet people, and build relationships, our hearts are softened, we realize that issue is way more complex than we ever imagined.”

Social justice rings in the ears of many Christians, but few have made strides to understand, know, or even listen to their brothers and sisters who have been oppressed. How can we advocate for communities that we do not understand? When we meet people, and build relationships, our hearts are softened, we realize that issue is way more complex than we ever imagined.

There have been many times in my life where people have used me as a token for diversity. They like to have me around for the purpose of putting me in the brochure; they don’t actually care what I have to say. They claim diversity in the spaces they make me a part of, but disregard my experiences, opinions, voice, etc. What’s the problem with this? Well, everything…..

Do you believe you are called to advocate for your brothers and sisters of color? Do you truly believe that they are equal to you in the eyes of Christ?

The body of Christ is diverse.

1 Corinthians 12:13-20

“For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.”

In context, prior to this passage Paul talks about every part of the body belonging – specifically in regards to spiritual gifts. This passage also applies to diversity of the body of Christ, and everyone bringing something to the table. Every part of the body is important. God has made us diverse and different because diversity is beautiful, fun and interesting.

Today, I want to challenge you by boldly saying: you cannot advocate before you understand. And you cannot love the body of Christ if you do not advocate for your sisters and brothers that are minorities, marginalized, and disregarded.

So what’s next? How do you advocate? How do you fight for justice in the church?

The first step is to pray, ask the Lord to show you your heart. Ask him to show you where your prejudice lies, and ask him to soften your heart. Next, take responsibility for your prejudice. Take the responsibility for moments where you have been part of the problem. This is important. Confession is a major theme in Scripture and a part of many Christians practice in their weekly Sunday services. This is not new to Christians. We must acknowledge where we are wrong, and humble ourselves before God.

The next step is to listen, and step outside of your comfort zone. This can be difficult, and uncomfortable for a dominant voice to take a posture of openness and listening. You may feel defensive, or frustrated, but that is okay. Jesus believed in second chances, and so do I. At the end of the day, people just want to be understood. However, do not forget that it is no one’s obligation to explain things to you. Do not be offended when your friends of color do not want to sit and talk for hours about the oppression they face. It is exhausting to have to justify your humanity.

If you do not have friends that are minorities, this should be a wake up call. Go out and seek friendships with people that are different than you. Leave any and all hidden agendas behind. Allow yourself to find the similarities among you rather than differences.

Third, ask first what they need from you as a friend. Do not make assumptions about how to advocate. I once had a friend defend Hispanic immigrants by saying, “well who is gonna mow your lawn and clean your houses?” While I appreciate the gesture, immigrants are more than that.

And lastly, invite people to whatever table you are at. Whether that is your friend group, a discussion you are having, etc., create a seat at the table for everyone, because you cannot advocate for what you do not know.

I cannot even begin to express how many times I have felt like I needed to force myself into a conversation that directly involved me and my experiences. Make space for people at the table, and allow them to be heard. This may lead to discomfort but as Christians, we rely on Christ in us to change our hearts. We can listen, confess, and be corrected without fear. But it begins at a table where every voice is welcomed and heard. This is where change begins.

Giuliana Fernandez-Deza and was born in Uruguay and moved to the United States when she was three years old. She is a senior marketing and management major and a Bonner scholar at Berry College. Her dream is to open a coffee shop that hires people that have been incarcerated to reduce recidivism rates. Giuliana loves a good quote & Twitter is her main form of entertainment.

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