A North Carolina church is offering a program called "Racists Anonymous" that helps people overcome racist tendencies by using a 12-step program similar to how "Alcoholics Anonymous" treats those working to overcome substance abuse.
Trinity United Church of Christ of Concord, an LGBT-affirming congregation, started the program in late July and has held five meetings since then, averaging out about a dozen attendees of varying races and genders.
The Rev. Nathan King, lead pastor of Trinity UCC since 2001, told The Christian Post that their program was modeled off of another Racists Anonymous group that meets at Congregational United Church of Christ in Sunnyvale, California.
"We began it because we recognized our participation in a system of discrimination against people of color and we seek to be more consciously aware of our internalized prejudices so we can change our behavior," explained King.
"This is how we move the conversation forward and love more fully. Racism is a spiritual disease. In biblical terms it is sin. The 12-steps offer hope for turning that over to the care of a higher power."
King also told CP that the Racists Anonymous program is complimentary of his church's longstanding commitment to social justice causes.
"With the past two years of high profile gunning down of black men in Ferguson, Baltimore, New York, Cleveland, Charlotte, Fairfax, Charleston, to name a few, hopelessness was settling into our prayers," continued King.
"We grieved. We prayed. We cried. We were wondering where and how it would finally end. We wondered if it would ever get better. It was clear racism was alive and growing."
In recent years, many have expressed concern that racial tensions in the United States are on the rise, amid high-profile police shootings and fatal attacks on police officers in cities like Dallas.
To counteract the sense of growing hostility, many churches have looked to hold events to help encourage racial reconciliation and peaceful dialogue.
For example, last November then Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd spoke at an event alongside National Baptist Convention, USA President Jerry Young titled "A National Conversation on Racial Unity."
Sponsored by Mission Mississippi, Floyd told CP in an interview last year that the event included "solemn and painful moments, but also hopeful and joyful moments."
"I believe God wedded our hearts together where each of us could talk openly and honestly about the subject of racism. The Lord was upon the gathering," said Floyd.
"We spent a lot of our time talking about some specific actions we could encourage churches to take to move toward racial unity in our nation."
When asked by CP what he hoped participants in the Racists Anonymous program took away from the experience, King of Trinity UCC replied that he hoped the "participants become more aware of what a racist thought and action looks like, and that they receive support for eliminating those thoughts and actions from their lives."
"I hope we eliminate racism within ourselves and provide hope for others to do the same. I hope participants' lives are transformed and that we eliminate racism in our society one person at a time, one day at a time," said King.