“We must face the fact that, the church is still the most segregated major institution in America. At 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand and sing and Christ has no east or west, we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
I have the great privilege of attending a church smack dab in the middle of South Georgia where people of all ages, races, backgrounds, and cultures are not only welcomed, but beckoned. It is not lost on me how rare this is in the South where it is close to impossible in most areas to find a church that looks a bit like heaven. Most of them are limited to people of one color. So I have to ask…
Do we really want racial reconciliation? It seems to me that the Church should be an example to the world of what that looks like. We are the light, but in this instance, that light is hiding under a bushel.
Even in my own church where we stand alongside many people different from us every Sunday in worship, it seems we all gravitate in fellowship to people of our own race. Many times our Sunday School classes are mostly white or mostly black. Many times our tables at special events are filled with people of one race or the other.
It’s not because we don’t love each other that we do this. It’s just because human nature is to gravitate to the comfortable and we are more comfortable with our own color. I, personally, feel more intimidated when meeting or pursuing friendship with an African American. I am scared that I will say something wrong or offensive. I am afraid that we won’t have much in common. And yes, I am even held back by the fact that I would enter into a whole different culture…a whole different way of life…and to this “safe” girl that is scary.
I don’t know your reasons, maybe it is just that you have never thought about this, but…
… unless the Church of Jesus Christ can end its tendency toward segregation, nothing will ever change…NOTHING.
We need to be the leaders and the lights in this regard. We carry the responsibility of weeping with those who weep and since we have, of late, heard the cries of our brothers and sisters (many of them silent ones for fear of having their pain marginalized once again), we must address our failures to be the Church that Paul described in Galatians “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” and again in Colossians “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.”
And here is what he goes on to say… “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.” … that’ll preach reconciliation.
Y’all (and this word just proves my next statement) I am not “learned” in all the particulars that have led to the mountainous challenges that we face in the world of race relations in America. I do not know anything about systematic mistreatment and injustice or the philosophies behind the mindsets of people on both sides… I don’t even know much about the time of slavery itself, I only know one thing. The Word works and Jesus is the answer. He asks us to do some really challenging things sometimes. These things seem so anti-justice and anti-pride that they stick in our chests like globs of glue. “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
If we want peace, we are going to have to sacrifice for it.
So how do we go about integrating a largely segregated Church?
Invest in each other. Sherwood Baptist Church (my church) is a Southern Baptist church in the middle of Albany, Georgia with a white pastor and a history of 50+ years in the community. Just by this description, you would probably believe that it is a bunch of old white people trudging to church on Whispering Pines Road to sing out of hymn books and you would be totally wrong. Our church is alive with the power of the Holy Spirit and ministers to people of all ages, races, and walks of life. It probably wasn’t always this way, but somewhere along the way, someone made a conscious effort to invest in people of other races. We have a sister church down the street with a black pastor. He comes to preach at our church several times a year and our pastor goes to preach at his as well. They are a great example of how racial reconciliation only happens on purpose.
When is the last time you sat down at a table filled with people of the opposite color? When is the last time you made a conscious effort to try to listen and understand your brothers and sisters of another race? Both sides should be reaching across that invisible aisle as often as possible.
We need to seek to understand the other side of the conversation about race. Sometimes it only takes knowing how your words make someone suffer for you to never use them again. A man commented yesterday that telling African Americans to “get over” the past is like telling Jews to “get over” the Holocaust. They are still grieving the loss in some cases. We, as their brothers and sisters, need to protect that and to speak encouragement into them as often as possible. Others are feeling the pain of being mistreated or bullied for their color because of old and evil mindsets, we need to be QUICK to defend them whether they are present or not.
Stop patronizing. I think that nothing gets all over me so quickly as white people who are loud supporters of racial reconciliation, but very patronizing of different races in casual social situations. I’ve heard things that make me cringe when white people are with white people and then they walk out of the room and act like they are part of the solution. I don’t know if this happens with black people, but I am sure it does. Our little “bless his heart, he’s white” or “bless her heart, she’s black” conversations. This has got to stop. We need to see people as God sees them…unique and created for a purpose. Let’s call right “right” and wrong “wrong”, but let’s stop blaming it on the color of someone’s skin.
I don’t think that racial reconciliation happens when white people take a stance of pity on black people. I don’t think it happens when black people just assume that white people will never understand so they don’t even try. I don’t think it happens when we all are so focused on being politically correct that we need a teleprompter for conversations. We need to have a consistent heart in this matter.
Identify yourself with Christ. When you come to Jesus, you become a new creation…old things are passed away and all things have become new. Yes, I might be a middle aged white American woman attending a Baptist church, but ultimately I am a daughter of the Most High God. I don’t live by the rules of society I live by the rules of Scripture. You don’t get to tell me who I am, only the Word of God gets to do that. You can mistreat me. You can take advantage of me. You can laugh at me. You can manipulate me. And all those things HAVE happened in my life. But you can’t change my destiny and my destination.
Christ trumps all other identifying factors in your life. He becomes your all in all. But you are still very capable of identifying yourself by idols. Whether its skin color, country, football team, denomination or political party, we are very tempted as humans to identify with some worldly label rather than with Kingdom family.
Reach Out. If we are really serious about being players of peace in this regard, we need to be reaching out everywhere that we go. We need to make friendships with other races. Invite their families over for dinner. Consciously put our kids in situations where they can interact with other races. We need to have these things in mind when we choose our schools, our communities, our churches. We ARE the light. If we aren’t ending segregation, no one will. The law obviously couldn’t do it. Get uncomfortable. Jesus did…for you. If all you ever fellowship with, talk to, chill with, and seek out is people of your own race, you are missing out on God’s variety.
If you have a leadership position in a church, you are especially important to this call. Find another church that teaches the truth of God’s Word but is mostly a different race. Plan an event together. Serve the community together. Send each other notes of encouragement and gifts. Get to know the hearts of the people around you of other races.
Get Past Offense. As an adoptive mom, I know this one well. When we first came home from China, I just watched and waited for people to say stupid, uneducated things so I could complain about it later to my husband. I stopped fairly quickly when I realized that I had an opportunity to share the glory of God and I was losing it by holding onto offense. Well meaning, intelligent, loving, God fearing people say some really stupid things sometimes. And yes, I know that out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks, but not everyone who says such things is racist. Maybe they spoke without thinking, but they really did not intend to hurt. A woman asked me this weekend if my boys were my real children, after she had gushed and gushed about how great I was to bring my daughters home. On both points she was not educated, but instead of making it a big deal I just replied “Yes, Jordan and Nathan are my biological children. “ She was a sweet woman of God who has just never experienced adoption so she didn’t know all the politically correct ways to talk about it and ask about it. I have learned that only mercy will do in such situations…sometimes followed up by a little education so maybe they won’t offend someone else.
Now someone who is mean and superior and obviously not well intentioned is a far cry from my point. Such people usually will not hear your voice if you screamed at them, so it is best to ignore and move on. If their words hurt and offend, you likely will need the grace of the Savior to soothe that wound or a friend of the opposite color who can speak life into that area of insecurity so that you can forgive and prevent bitterness in your heart. If you can get past the pricking wounds of offense, you have won half the battle in reconcilitation.
No doubt racism is alive and well today. I think we have made more progress than most would like to admit right now, but it’s not enough. We are the light. What will we do with it?