Abstract: What's a Predominantly-White Church to Do about White Supremacy?: Community Based Participatory Action Research in Richmond, Virginia (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

454P What's a Predominantly-White Church to Do about White Supremacy?: Community Based Participatory Action Research in Richmond, Virginia

Saturday, January 18, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Abigail Lash Ballew, MSW, Program Officer for Racial Healing, Initiatives of Change, Richmond, VA
Joshua Ballew, MS, Conflict Resolution Practitioner, Consultant, Richmond, VA
Background and Purpose: Following the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, the question surrounding what a predominately-white congregation can do about the reality of white supremacy compelled one historically white protestant church in Richmond, Virginia to engage in intentional steps to address racism. This Community Based Participatory Action Research (CBPAR) study explores the question: “What will our congregation’s response be to white supremacy?” In this study, we integrate approaches from social work, conflict analysis and resolution, and religious studies to apply a multi-disciplinary framework, addressing the research gap on anti-racist experiential learning within predominantly-white faith communities.

Methods: We first convened a planning team of interested church members to design a collaborative process. What emerged was a three phase church-wide series, which implemented in-home dialogues during the Christian season of Epiphany, five educational sessions during Lent, and further in-home dialogues following Easter. Facilitation training was provided to a cohort of congregants for the in-home dialogues. The plenary educational sessions drew from the expertise within the congregation to explore discrimination, privilege, power, and the particular history of the church as these topics relate to race. The final session was designed to elicit feedback about the series to-date, which then influenced the final phase design of in-home dialogues. Following the series, the planning team met to evaluate the process and provide input for future action.

Participants and Sampling Methods: Participants from within the congregation were recruited through voluntary response sampling, using church-wide announcements that resulted in: 55 participants for phase one, a range of 60-70 participants for each session of phase two, and 58 participants for phase three. The age of participants ranged from 11 years old to upper 80s.

Data Collection: Each in-home dialogue and educational session had a designated note-taker. Participant sharing was documented anonymously. We compiled and thematically arranged all qualitative data, then the planning team reviewed and provided feedback before the final report was provided to church staff and leadership.

Results: Key findings include generational differences in approaches to race, and an over-representation of white perspectives, producing narrative gaps. Analysis of narrative reports reveal attitudinal shifts toward anti-racism as a direct result of participation in the series. Raised awareness of the importance of race and reduced stigmatization of acknowledgement of race has been evident in congregational life, including public recognition of Black History Month and ethnic diversification of Jesus imagery.

Conclusions and Implications: Findings suggest that integrative experiential learning models that combine dialogues centered around personal storytelling with an educational component increase and improve congregants’ understandings of race and racism. We recommend that other CBPAR studies be conducted among predominantly-white faith communities to expand the sample size, adapting to the unique needs of each faith community and using religious institutions’ narratives and sacred texts to support the role of anti-racism in the broader movement toward social justice.