Review of “Microaggression in Ministry: Confronting the Hidden Violence of Everyday Church”

Tears for NorwayCreative Commons Image by *Lie on Flickr.

If you are a person of color, female, LGBTQ, or a member of a religious group other than Christian, there is a high probability that you have been on the receiving end of microaggressions in one of its many forms. What Cody Sanders and Angela Yarber have done here is to give words to what every member of an oppressed or marginalized group in America has experienced at one time or another from those in the majority power group. The term “microaggression” is defined as “underhanded slights, insults and invalidations” that are meant to do damage to the souls and spirits of those who are a part of groups that have been marginalized.

This book is timely in light of the current political climate where racist, sexist, homophobic, and religious insults have been front and center and have been hurled about freely and liberally without embarrassment or apology by one candidate in particular.

The authors’ focus however is not on the larger society but on the church and the church’s ministry. They provide numerous stories and examples of how persons of color, women, and those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ) are often the target of microaggressions. These slights are unintended for the most part and they seem to be innocent on the surface — for instance:

  • the church that thought its Sunday school was so inclusive yet all of the faces in the curriculum were white.
  • the congregation that said it was open to interviewing a female candidate for pastor, yet there were no women on the call committee.

Many congregations see themselves as welcoming; but if that is how a congregation chooses to describe itself, Sanders and Warber would push the leadership to take a deep look at what “welcoming” means to them and clearly identify the work required to become “who you say you are.”

If a congregation sees itself as inclusive, it requires some deep and ongoing conversations with those members who are a part of marginalized and oppressed groups. This is not easy work nor easy conversations for the perpetrators of microaggressions (nor is it easy for those who have received microaggressions), but these are necessary conversations if the church is to become the body of Christ in a much more mature and authentic way. Thus the need to create a “counter-memory” (p.59) and a counter-narrative with multiple voices represented so that the congregation can create a new story.

Readers will find specific ways to address microaggressions through changed practices in counseling, worship planning, and pastoral-care delivery that are both insightful and helpful. But the white church that seeks to truly be inclusive must be attuned to the voices of those who have been wounded by the larger culture and by the church. Ultimately, if the white church is to be transformed, it must undertake to seek its liberation from what it means to be “white.”  

Racism fueled by white supremacy is so deeply ingrained within the fabric of American life that it continues to frustrate the vision and the meaning of democracy. And in so many instances racism stands in the way of who God calls us to be as the church. 

I am appreciative of Dr. James Cone who in The Cross and the Lynching Tree makes clear that white supremacy is terrorism. As one reads Sanders and Yarber’s book, it is not a huge stretch to see how microaggression and its various manifestations can be equally seen as forms of that same kind of terror in that the intent is to devalue and discredit those who are deemed “other.” Cody Sanders and Angela Yarber have made a significant contribution in taking our conversation about racism, sexism, and homophobia to a much deeper level.