Anti-Racism Team Update – Congregational Survey Summary 

Ralph Carter, Melanie Jones, Elizabeth Laidlaw, and Laurie Mahoney 

Six months into Third Church’s “Listen-Learn-then Act” approach, approved by Session in September 2020, the Anti-Racism Project team conducted a congregational survey to support these objectives:

  1. to ascertain the general mood or opinion of the Anti-Racism Project, and
  2. to inform the Project going forward.

The survey included questions related to anti-racism broadly, about: participants’ current level of awareness, changing views, priorities, and perspectives in relationship to their own racial/ethnic identities. It also asked about Third Church’s Anti-Racism Project in particular, about: individuals’ participation in anti-racism activities, concerns and recommendations for the Project, dreams for our church’s future in this area.

We emailed the survey to almost 800 church members and friends and received 100 anonymous responses. Of these, 59 were suburban residents aged 65 and above. Seventy-nine respondents were aged 50 and above, a significant over-representation of that segment within our total church membership. Ninety-eight respondents identify as white, which is proportional to the percentage of white people in total church membership.

Here are important findings:

  • 55 respondents were very aware of the Anti-Racism Project, while only 5 were not. Of those 5, all have read at least one anti-racism book.
  • Over the past 6 months, 84 have become more aware of the need to dismantle racism, that is, the need to remove barriers from society’s systems that prevent equality and equity. Only 8 have not changed their views; we cannot ascertain from this survey whether this means they were already fully aware, reject the idea that dismantling racism is a need in the first place, or something in-between.
  • Respondents rated top two priority issues are Poverty/Housing/Jobs and Education.
  • No respondents stated racism had “nothing to do with them.”
  • We assessed white respondents’ perspectives using Cristi Demnowicz’s racism scale. Each respondent was asked to check as many statements as apply. The majority of responses mapped to:
    • Abolitionist –  “I try or will try not to be at the center when a person of color who owns experience and expertise is present.”
    • Allyship – “Systemic racism is very real and needs to be ended.”
    • Awareness – “My experience as a white person is very different than that of a person of color.”
  • Other perspectives from white respondents included:
    • Woke Justification – “There is only one race; the human race.”
    • Denial – “I don’t see color when dealing with people.
    • Justification – “I see reverse racism

About their experience at Third Church one person of color wrote:

“…at times I felt invisible. Even after attending and seeing people regularly for years, people kept thinking I was new or it was my first time in worship. On more than one occasion someone called me by the name of one of the other few people of color in the congregation, as if we were indistinguishable.” 

Respondents indicated concerns about the Anti-Racism Project grouped into four areas:

  • A lack of focus and clarity around the mission of Third Church and of this project. 
  • Third Church has insufficient trusting relationships with minority congregations.
  • Potential for failure to bridge from authentic listening to authentic acting.
  • The project may leave non-digital members behind, and may fail to connect with members unwilling to engage with anti-racism.

And you shared many valuable suggestions for the Anti-Racism Project, including: 

  • Offering implicit bias training
  • Offering a panel led by a POC member for those who identify as POC to have a space to share their experiences.
  • Collaborating more intentionally with other Presbyterian churches. 
  • Educating our members about how racism has ALWAYS been an issue.
  • Recruiting new members, representing as broad a diversity of age and race as possible, to the Anti-Racism Project Team.

We are currently contacting 16 individuals who indicated interest in project engagement. If YOU feel called to participate, please reach out to any of this team’s members!