- Dear…Diverse Church Leaders,
First a little history. I have been going to church my whole life. Growing up, I spent my Sundays at all black Baptist churches. As a kid in Dallas, Texas, I lived primarily with blacks and Mexicans. The part that stands out to me the most was how much we celebrated Mexican cultures and holidays. It was far from a utopia but it left an indelible mark on me. As a teenager, I moved to North Carolina into a neighborhood that was mostly white. The occasional racism I experienced aside, I learned so much about a group of people I didn’t spend that much time with beforehand. From college to the present, my group of friends grew more and more diverse. I surround myself with different races, faiths, ages, etc. And my life is so much richer because of it.
But as a Christian, I never understood why we couldn’t worship in the house of the Lord together. I spent every day of my life in a melting pot, why not Sunday? So I found one. Not just a church where black members happened to be there, but a church that actually strives to build a multi-racial experience.
Over the years I’ve seen many more churches adopt this standpoint. But in the racially divided Bible Belt, this place seemed to be rare to me. So I dove in head first. It was the best of everything I could hope for. After being subjected to so much racism, my belief in racial harmony was jaded, to say the least. But at this church, I met good white folks who seemingly had all the best intentions. And to their credit, many of them did.
As I got more involved and became more familiar with the members – via get together’s, small groups, social media, etc. – I discovered an ugly reality. It started with small comments, then brazen social media posts about race and politics and later blatant overheard statements. The congregation was filled with the same subtle racism, class-ism, divisiveness that I had grown to know. Even worse, there was the same expectation of assimilation that I faced outside the four walls of the church. The more I saw, the more bitter I became. I pulled away slowly and then completely. I vowed to never step foot in that church and worship with those people again. I left believing that it wasn’t possible for multiple races to worship together.
After doing some research and speaking to other black folks, I learned I wasn’t alone. Many expressed a feeling of voicelessness. I, and many others I met, felt that we were invited to be at a church for the optics, not for true integration. These churches wanted assimilation, not diversity. To truly be a part of a church meant that the leadership cared about our needs, as they would everyone else’s – but church leaders never put those concepts into action.
It begs the question: Do you care more about the feelings of your white congregants over your blacks?
I know this question may sound judgmental, and I seriously don’t believe “diverse church” leaders purposely set out to isolate the feelings of one race of the over. But whether intentional or not, it needs to be addressed.
I am not so naive to think churches are not only business but also political. And with our country’s race relations at a tense level and the current controversies surrounding our current administration, we have never been more divided. That has to be a tremendously difficult time for those leading these multicultural congregations. Many churches choose to ignore this reality. And for some, it may be a good escape for two hours a week, but we cannot escape the world we live in when we walk out those church doors.
But can I be real a second, for just a millisecond? Let down my guard and tell the people how I feel a second? Ask the majority of even the most semi-woke black folk you know and they’ll tell you that talking to white folks (well-meaning or otherwise) about race can be like pushing an ice block up a mountain…made of ice. All of the White responses in the comment sections of racial-related posts on social media aren’t horrific. But conversations with our fellow white Christians (who seem willing to listen), will oftentimes end in a complete dismissal of our concerns whenever the conversation becomes a little too truthful. It’s soul crushing.
In those moments, what we need more than anything, is for you to step up and step in to help bring clarity and enlightenment to these situations. When your white members post racially insensitive or divisive things online, we need YOU to address it and explain it from our point of view. If you can’t see our point of view, that’s a problem in itself. But if you truly feel strongly about bringing us together, you can’t be afraid to take on the challenge that is presented to you. That means being uncomfortable.
Is it hard? Yea. But it’s not impossible because you do it all the time.
School shootings, mass shootings, national tragedies, politics – you hit those topics regularly. So why don’t we talk about the unarmed black people who are killed at the hands of police? How many of you had your congregants pray for the police officers killed in Dallas but not the families of Philando Castille or Alton Sterling who were killed the two days prior? Did you paint the Charleston church shooting as persecution towards Christians or did you call it what it was – a hateful, racist act?
If not, why?
Are you afraid your white congregants will run for the hills? That they will stop paying tithes? That they will give you the cold shoulder?
YOU chose to take this stance. YOU chose to reach across color lines. So I expect you do your calling regardless of the cost, just like you tell your congregants when you preach about faithfulness and trust.
Because newsflash: your black church members don’t have the luxury to shut their eyes and ears and pretend like these things aren’t happening. Every time we turn on the news and hear rhetoric from political pundits spewing lies about us to white evangelicals or see a black man shot by a cop, we can’t just ignore it. We can’t not feel it. If you really care, you’ll feel it, as well. And you’ll do everything you can to make sure your white congregants do too.
There are a lot of great examples that demonstrate a multiracial church experience can work, but church leadership has to put forth a valiant effort to accomplish that. While I stand by my decision to never go back to my old multicultural church again, there are many, many good people there whom I love. Those people have impacted my life and that of my wife’s. So for that, they will always be appreciated.
Your Obedient Servant,