By Chaplain Mike
It is my hope that our conversation here at IM will include perspectives from as many cultures and traditions of the Christian faith as possible.
One privilege a hospice chaplain has is to become acquainted with people from various backgrounds and experiences. For example, I have thoroughly enjoyed befriending, serving, and spending time with many African-American families in Indianapolis.
Now that I am involved here at IM, I would love it if this forum could be used to help us all learn more about the black church tradition in America. Perhaps our conversation could be one small step in helping Jesus’ church, gathered from all peoples and cultures, become more unified in fellowship and mission.
I have lived most of my life in predominantly white communities. Growing up in small towns in the Midwest and the suburbs of Chicago and then Baltimore, we experienced little in the way of cultural diversity. In the 1960’s my Chicago grandparents left their city address behind and moved to the suburbs as the old white neighborhood changed. I played sports against teams with black players, but that was about the extent of my involvement with their culture.
The college I attended was in Amish country. Pure white bread, except for a few folks from overseas. We started our adult life in Vermont. All Yankee. All white. The Chicago suburb our young family moved to so that I could go to seminary was a diverse city, but our little church had few minorities, and my school, with its Scandanavian roots, was still mostly white and located in a wealthy, primarily Caucasian upper class suburb.
South side of Indianapolis, where I live now? African-Americans still hesitate to travel or settle down here on this end of town. At one time, this city was headquarters to the KKK, and the south side in particular has a long reputation for being a “whites only” zone. Though things are slowly changing, people of color remain a few flakes of pepper in an entire shaker full of salt here.
Still, I am part of a generation that came of age with the Civil Rights Movement, Black Power, the matchless music soundtrack of Motown and Stax records, movies like “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?”, comedians like Flip Wilson, Bill Cosby, and Richard Pryor, busing and integration. We watched the horrors of the Watts riots and Dr. King’s assassination. I’ll admit I really didn’t understand much and that I am still far from knowledgeable about my neighbors, but I have always felt the power of MLK’s dream.
So it has been wonderful to expand my woefully parochial experience and begin to get acquainted with folks from Indy’s black community.
Just today, I attended a funeral for a man who attended one of our city’s African-American churches. As I stood with his wife at the casket, she said her minister wanted to meet me, so I walked back to the piano where she was preparing for the service. When I introduced myself, she shrieked with delight, hugged me tight and said, “Mike! I’m so glad you’ve come! I so appreciate your ministryâ€”I was a hospice nurse before I went into the ministry. Would you please say a few words in the service today?”
The black churches have wonderful traditions in their funeral liturgies. Letters are read from their government representatives expressing condolences, as well as cards and letters from sister churches and other friends. The sense of a whole community grieving the loss of a friend and neighbor is palpable. Every pastor in attendance who has a relationship with the family is invited to give remarks. So I had the privilege of sharing my brief experience, expressing my condolences, and speaking a brief word of hope from the Scriptures.
The services are participatory and the congregation lively in response throughout. The pastor gave her message with such conviction and emotion that it was like she put her hands on my heart and just pressed hope into it. And, oh, the music!â€”incomparable in providing an opportunity for reflection and emotional release.
On this occasion, I was one of the few white folks in the room. Everyone graciously and enthusiastically welcomed me, and the service moved me more than I can say.
This got me thinking:
- Why do we hear so little about our African-American brothers and sisters in our discussions about evangelicalism?
- Why are we still so separated from them, some 45 years after the passing of the Civil Rights Act and everything that came after?
- Why are our churches still so segregated?
- Why are there so few partnerships between predominantly white churches and black churches? We have so much to offer each other!
While in seminary, I became acquainted with a ministry that has intentionally pursued racial reconciliation and partnerships between black and white churches. This ministry started back in the 70’s when a young white family and some of their friends committed to racial justice moved into the Austin neighborhood on Chicago’s west side (my grandparents old neighborhood!). They committed to live in this troubled area and share Christ’s love with their neighbors. The results have been remarkable.
Click here to read about Circle Urban Ministries and Rock of Our Salvation Evangelical Free Church.
There are many times I wish I’d gotten more involved in the city and with ministries like this earlier in life. And I wish I weren’t still so ignorant about what’s happening among my brothers and sisters from different places and backgrounds.
That’s where you come in.
In today’s comments, I would like to hear especially from our African-American friends.
We need you to educate us! What’s happening in the black churches today? What theological issues are you facing? What areas of ministry and mission are you excited about? What doors is God opening? And what do you think about the segregated situation we continue to have in Jesus’ church?
To be honest, I’m not sure I even know what questions to ask. Forgive my appalling ignorance and help me as we begin to talk.
Please let us hear about what Jesus is doing in your midst.
67 thoughts on “A Black and White Concern”
Sometimes, segregation is merely the path of least resistance. Churches are no different than lunch tables in a cafeteria which are often segregated by sex or race or class or attractiveness. Even without snobbery or class distinction, people in general feel more relaxed around others with similar speech, interests and appearance (clothing and hygiene, not skin color).
Of course the faith should not be about “feeling comfortable” but in reality, a factor in Sunday worship, has to be a re-charging of one’s batteries, in a comfortable place to find God and spend time in communal and restorative worship. We often get our faith challenged in so many ways during the week, sometimes we just want to feel at home on Sunday worship. Driving to a new parish in a poor, and often crime ridden area with small children is admirable, but not for everyone.
Wow, Kozak, your comment shows a monumental ignorance towards the idea of white privilege. As an attempt to help, I present The Invisible Knapsack, explained by lolcats. There’s an article linked in the opening paragraph to help explain things.
You should look not just at what you profess to believe and act, but at how White churches have treated Black and other minority people in the past. One of the largest evangelical institutions in the United states was founded with the goal of promoting slavery, after all.
I was born and raised in small-town Alabama in the ’70s and ’80s. From what I remember of my white nominal Southern Baptist childhood, the churches that I and my family attended were comprised entirely of other white people. No non-white people at all. Even more sadly, for many of my fellow classmates at the all-white high school I attended, there seemed to be no contradiction between their flagrant racism and the message of the Gospel. Was it such a surprise, then, that as a teenager, I became both vocally anti-racist and an atheist?
I will say that the Reformed Baptist church that I was a member of as an adult, for a few years, in Washington, D.C., was a very different world (and positively so) than the Baptist church of my childhood. I attended the marriage of two friends there, one white and one black, and race seemed to be the last thing on most peoples’ minds. The focus was on marriage being a picture of the GOSPEL– what a blessed relief from the hypocritical “Christianity” that I often saw in my home town!
I am honestly not sure how the racial segregation of churches such as the ones in my home town will end. Perhaps it will come through small steps…. people, little by little, choosing to step out of their comfort zones and simply attend churches with different racial makeups?
I confess that from my vantage point now, living in New Mexico, I can become heavy-hearted as I think about the Gospel witness where I grew up and the prospects for change there. Many parents simply hand their racist attitudes on to their children, who seem only too happy to adopt them. I have a sense that outside of the Deep South, such realities seem like those of another country… but they are very real and present in my old stomping grounds. Lord, help us.
Christiane, I don’t need an education about the Holocaust, thank you very much. I’ve spent years reading on Naziism, Zionism, the Restoration of Israel, the Christian Right (which I happily consider myself a member of) and its evil-twin, the Racist Right. And I’m sorry but while Caner’s remarks may be in questionable taste, seeing hate & contempt in them is really stretching things. Taking offense where none is intended causes one’s objections to truly offensive things to be taken less seriously.
Indeed, black Christians do so much for us white folks to get a sense of passion for our faith. I always so wish my white daughters would marry black men because to me they so seem to connect with the glory of God better. I so enjoyed my black friends in the army. They were in fact my best friends even though I came from a totally white background. They were so incredibly friendly and open to me, so much more so than my white buddies in the past. That sure opened my eyes to the incredible joy of knowing black friends.
James, your comment has value, just wanted to keep the focus on the black church as much as possible.
This blond-headed reader has been hoping iMonk would give some thoughtful treatment to this topic for some time. Thanks for doing so.
I’m also in the Atlanta ‘burbs, and live in a neighborhood which is about 75% black, which is somewhat different from the Midwestern farm community I was born into. (OK, I didn’t meet a black person until I was in 5th grade.) Just to make things even more interesting, my wife’s from East Asia. Anyway, my impression is that the newer non-denominational churches here in the ATL are more integrated than one might have feared, but this is only an anecdotal observation. I too would like to hear if any black residents of Atlanta might concur or disagree with this impression; their opinion is likely to be much better informed than my own.
I’ve long been struck by how white evangelicals often appear to put black expressions of faith in, shall we say, “moderation.” A black woman on the bus could say to her black friend, “Glory! The Lord really spoke to us last Sunday, didn’t she, sister?” but it would probably not mark an opening for a conversation with the white Pentecostal (say) man down the aisle as would precisely the same words coming from a white woman to her white friend. I donâ€™t think itâ€™s racism: blacks and whites go way back together in Pentecostalism. But it is something — another problem which has no name, perhaps?
Could some of the lack of integration today be due to, not so much the legacies of racism, but simply the current differences in political affiliations, which are too obvious for words? This seems more probable than deep reservations about, say, differences in worship practice: the Black Churchâ€™s vibrant style of worship doesnâ€™t disturb most evangelicals like it at one time did (though Iâ€™m sure many blacks find contemporary white suburban worship not so much stuffy as merely canned.)
Enough from me; I hope to hear what African-Americans think about these matters. Pax.
Sounds like a very interesting book, Bass.
Thanks Melanie. Thanks for sharing.
Umm, that was an odd edit. Deleted the comment about a couple First Nations authors (off-topic, perhaps?), but left in the correction to a comment that’s no longer there???
Color me confused.
Samuel, I love the way you think and perceive things!
And I’m a white, 18 year old, suburban Tennessean who has grown up in a white church. To be honest, I’ve had very little direct contact with any other race.
But anyways, I appreciate your thoughts Samuel!
In a way it brings some nuance to a situation which doesn’t seem all that black and white to me. Most of the “white” people I know don’t identify as such. They are, for the most part, within 3 generations of the old country (whatever that is) and their immigrant culture shades their culture, to some extent their politics, and their religion and the expression thereof.
I knew people who defined themselves as white in the small town I was reared in, but once I came to Chicago I met many more who defined themselves as Irish-American, Polish-American, Czech-American, Serbian American…
Jamie…I second your thoughts. It is not about stereotypes. I am not in America, or American but I see exactly how “whites generally … view their majority experience as the baseline reality (normative)” applies both within and outside of the Church. I attend a Chinese church. I am one of 4 non-Asians. The services are in both Chinese and English even though there are only a handful of English speakers. There was no discussion or debate about it. The decision to do this was made to include everyone. I have grown up in English speaking churches and at times saw people of different heritages disappear unnoticed. Only later did I realise that in general we, the white, comfortable congregation failed to get passed our position that they were going to learn english, eat what we ate and so on. We collectively assumed that our experience was the ‘experience’, and therefore the default.
I am not sure why this is. Maybe it is lack of experience in being a minority. Maybe it is lack or imagination or empathy. Maybe it is just other priorities. I don’t think it is malicious but possibly neglect or fear.
I am also wondering how the word obligation and love go together. I can choose to love or not but once I feel obligated it is no longer authentic but a burden.
Koznak, yes I ‘grew up’ in an urban area with little interaction with whites, however recently here in Florida is where I experienced discrimination outside of my home state and environment.
The US Episcopal church actually split into two and there was a Confederacy Episcopalian church, probably because the Anglican communion has such a concept of nation churches.
My experience with the Lutherans I know is they are predominantly German or Scandinavian heritage. It doesn’t look like a lot of effort was made to spread the faith (or attempts weren’t successful), just an attempt to serve the community that existed. Of course that could be because I’m in Chicago with Catholicism as the overwhelmingly dominant form of Christianity.
The SBC (Southern Baptist Convention) had this concept of the Strategic City Focus where they wanted to bring the gospel to the cities, especially cities up north and out west. It hasn’t gone completely well, my question is why not partner with the Missionary Baptists as their theology isn’t that far apart and the MBs are already in most cities.
I am not passing judgment on you. But the LA NAACP knows they encountered racism, too. I am asserting that it is not automatically true that, when a black person says they were discriminated against, they were in fact discriminated against.
Samuel indicated he did, in fact, grow up in an isolated black community with little contact with whites.
Since Rah teaches where my son goes to college, I may try to see if I can get an interview next time I’m in Chicago.
Great response Samuel. I think it is hard for some to realize that minorities who don’t live in isolated communities, or listen to a constant barrage of rhetoric experience discrimination on a regular basis. It’s isn’t felt or preconceived, it is often times overt and explicit.
“Any chance of seeing Soon-Chan Rah, or Edward Gilbreath, or other non-white guest bloggers? I think that would be in keeping with Michaelâ€™s vision, and would certainly bring another useful (dare I say, even needed) perspecitve to the iMonk community.”
I second that, Chaplain Mike,
I’m not sure how “being beaten up” when you attend church has anything to do with my comment.
I did not mean to communicate that minorities understand whites perfectly, or that all whites are ignorant. I have a caucasian father and a Korean mother. I’ve grown up in Korean and American churches. To some in the Asian community I’m white. To some in the white community, I’m Asian. Life is much more nuanced than that simple distinction.
I am not saying that one must adopt my worldview, but at some level we can only understand someone and empathize with them if we are willing to step into their worldview. And I was trying to point out that for whites generally, this doesn’t happen because there is a tendency to view their majority experience as the baseline reality (normative) and can find it hard to empathize with minorities when they talk about the difficulties they face because they are minorities. This plays itself out in many different ways in the Church which is what this post is about.
I don’t understand your last question. I think there is a miscommunication there.
In Portland Oregon I sense this same segregation between the very large group of Slavic immigrants who came in the early 90’s. Over the last two years I have been able to dip my toes into this community. I resonate with your deep desire to reconcile these divisions (drivn largely by skepticism and misunderstanding), especially now seeing how much the communities have to offer each other.
I’m excited to delve into this perplexing history. Ironically enough it was American ministries that paid the way for many of these Slavics fleeing religious persecution to come to America. The fact that American faith communities didn’t embrace them with open arms once they got here is ridiculous.
Hope this isn’t too far off topic.
Kozak, I hear what you are saying but I think you are assuming several things here. It’s not that I “feel” like I, or any other black person, won’t get a fair shake. I have first hand experience of discrimination, so your comment of “feeling” and how it is somehow systemic within the black community is an unfair comment. This is an example of some of what I was sharing earlier. Theologically speaking, the Incarnation teaches us specifically that Jesus fully embraced and understood our humanity in order to be not only a faithful High Priest, but also an altogether complete Savior. With that being said, we need to understand a person before we can pass judgment.
Oops. That was supposed to be “you could toss in…,” or “and Mixed Blood not Mixed Up into the mix.”
Where’s the edit button when you want it? ((blush))
My comment about ‘white privilege’ in the church is either still in moderation or it didn’t survive scrutiny.
In any event, I would like to recommend Robert McAfee Brown’s Reading the Bible Through 3d World Eyes. It’s pertinent to understanding racial differences, but speaks more specificlly to the danger of believing that that American reading of Scripture is normative. Loving our neighbor as ourselves involves trying to see things as he does.
I remember this issue being on Michael’s heart over a year ago, although I think it was addressed mainly in book reviews. Based on those reviews, when my employer sent me half-way ’round the world last year my companions during my 5 weeks in a motel room included Edward Gilbreath’s Reconciliation Blues (black man), Soong-Chan Rah’s The Next Evangelicalism (Korean man), and Brenda Salter McNeil’s A Credible Witness (black woman). These three looks at white Evangelicalism from non-white perspectives were real eye-openers.
I would say the most consistant lesson of these books was the tokenism that exists in white organizations, whether churches or publishing houses. Basically, any non-white members of the typical white board/organization are expected to toe the white line, and to think white and approve the white line of thinking. So the typical non-white board member has to really work to avoid just being window dressing in a supposedly integrated but functionally white organization.
By the way, I seem to recall Michael mentioning the possibility of Soong-Chan Rah doing a guest blog or two. Any chance of that happening? I really enjoyed the links to some videos of Rah’s, including one of Michael and him together at a conference, and I really enjoyed his commentary on the VBS program Rickshaw Rally (like his comment about dressing up church workers as prostitutes, aka geishas). Any chance of seeing Soon-Chan Rah, or Edward Gilbreath, or other non-white guest bloggers? I think that would be in keeping with Michael’s vision, and would certainly bring another useful (dare I say, even needed) perspecitve to the iMonk community.
I may be going to the meeting this month. I get Wendy’s email and even though I promoted their book on the Internet when I found out about it (I visited Ole Anthony’s place a few times), I have yet to buy/read it. I have a friend who’s been going to those meetings for over a year and just returned from France, so you probably know who I mean. We were in the same cult in Denton, and I think I still have issues I need to deal with, even though I left the place over 10 years ago. I’ll leave a comment on your blog so you have my email address.
Great points, Jaime
Our churches are seldom different from our culture. To enhance understanding, white Christians should to come to grips with a fact well known to everyone else – that the white experience is normative in the US. I’m white, and I’ve found (curiously) that the quickest way to send another white man into spasms of anger is to assert that we don’t have to put up with the racial barriers and stereotypes that those from other races have to every day. Indeed, it was white who originated the barriers and stereotypes.
Also check out the youtube videos of Tim Wise on the topic of white privilege.
In the same vein I learn a great deal every time I read Robert McAfee Brown’s book, Reading the Bible Through Third-World Eyes.
I’ve been going for over a year and just attened their (re)wedding. Love them! They are some of my best friends, and I have grown to love and appreciate them. Wendy’s book helped me a lot when I was first coming out of Doyle’s cult. Thanks, Eric! I will see them tomorrow at a birthday party and tell them you recommended them.
Small world. First, Ann, now you!!!
Us Christians have to stick together!
Eric, there is a Criswell College-Ergun Caner-Liberty University connection:
â€œAs an alumnus, Caner said he was â€œforged in the fires of The Criswell Collegeâ€ and credits the training he received while a student for whatever he accomplishes in the Lordâ€™s service.â€ Quoted from Baptist Press 2003 on the event of Ergun Canerâ€™s moving to Liberty University.
For what it’s worth, Caner’s many supporters think that what he has said about minorities and women is acceptable, he is still President of Liberty’s Seminary, (where he is very popular among the students), and he is currently the subject of an ‘inquiry’ at Liberty about the integrity of his own public comments concerning his past.
Liberty has already had an ‘inquiry’ that exonerated him, but when the press started to ask pertinent questions, the University decided to have ‘another’ inquiry. (?)
I read the linked article. It struck me that, as so often in America, there is a racial double standard here. Many whites are comfortable with it; I am not.
Note that, in order to attract blacks, one must pursue overt blackness. The one man didn’t have a concrete bad experience – he just thought people might not welcome him. This is the white congregants’ fault? So they celebrate MLK day, they bring in black speakers, they hold race forums. OK, fine. But still it’s not enough, because there’s no black in the pulpit.
This quota mentality, needless to say, does not apply to whites. How many black churches are actively pursuing whites? How many would change worship style or stage white-specific events to attract them? What would happen to a white congregant at a black-majority church who complained that, despite everything, he was resentful because all the pastors were black? He’d be drummed out as a racist, that’s what.
Either we are brothers and sisters, or we are not. I am not to be lord over you, but neither are you to be lord over me.
Good Ol’ Doyle Davidson, eh? 😮
If you and/or your kids need/want some ex-cult support in the DFW Metroplex area, contact Wendy and Doug Duncan at VM Life Resources / DallasCult.com
I grew up and just moved away from Mobile, AL last week and I can say that in that part of the Gulf Coast this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Mobile (one of the major cities in Alabama and one of the busiest ports in the world) is very segregated. I honestly am aware of only one fairly integrated church in a city of literally three hundred and something churches. All the rest besides that one which is charismatic and non- denom are segregated either all black or all white. They emphasize different focuses in their theology and preaching and they hardly ever team up for ministry purposes (to be fair I don’t know of any churches who ever team up there). As an aside sadly Mardi Gras is even segregated in Mobile still. No one mandates this of course it’s just how things are for some reason. So dkmonroe’s words make me incredibly happy that some parts of the South are changing but in Mobile this is not the case. In Mobile, we go to the same movie theaters, stores and restaurants just not the same churches and hardly the same schools.
OK, but here’s another thought:
You feel like you won’t get a fair shake. How much of that is real racism, and how much is the constant barrage of rhetoric, in the isolated black communities, from preachers like Jackson, Sharpton, and Wright? I would submit that much reported racism is preconditioned to be seen. An egregious example is the assault on Hallmark by the LA NAACP for a card which says “black holes”. They have decided that it really says “black whores”, so of course Hallmark has begun the ritual genuflection and appeal for absolution.
“As an alumnus, Caner said he was “forged in the fires of The Criswell College” and credits the training he received while a student for whatever he accomplishes in the Lord’s service.” Quoted from Baptist Press 2003 on the event of Caner’s moving to Liberty University.
Cedric, go on line to the Holocaust Memorial Museum website and get educated about what CAN be the end game of using racial slurs and stereotypes in a society that is already deeply stressed and divided.
The time to stop the hate and contempt is in the beginning.
Allowing it to proceed is not an option.
Stupefying arrogance: whites are ignorant, but minorities understand whites perfectly. I don’t look forward to being beaten up when I attend church, Jamie. As far as I am concerned, I am obligated to accept you, to welcome you, to love you, but not to adopt your world view. And are you asserting that integration among blacks and Hispanics is “normative”?
Think of it this way.
Culture is another of those felix culpa things, in which God has acted to make a new and good thing out of man’s wickedness. Ann Brock mentions above that God is glorified in many ways, and I believe she’s right. But we also know there was a time when humanity was not divided by culture, and that there will come a time when every tribe, tongue, nation and people will worship together.
The major dramatic arc of the Bible is the estrangement of man from God, which began in Genesis 3, and doesn’t get completely accomplished until the Revelation. The estrangement of man from man has almost as large an arc, beginning in Genesis 11 and likewise not getting resolved until the end.
Mike, I think the gap you speak of can be crossed and recrossed pretty easily by individuals who are inclined to do it. But whole churches aren’t going to because it’s never going to be important enough to them. Probably the best example of color-blind integration in America is sports teams, and they accomplish it because players of all colors share unity of purpose.
oh wow! I just posted my comment and noticed Eric in the prior comment posted an article off of my site—so cool! Ya’ll are welcome anytime! We have LOTS to talk about!
Dr. Caner’s own difficulties notwithstanding, I as a white Assembly of God boy whose church has had a friendly relationship with the local black Apostolic Pentecostal church and blended services with them at times* can understand what he was talking about. And I don’t at all think he intended to be condescending or insulting. When white preachers (or Arabic ones- remember Caner is NOT a Euro-Caucasian) go on like that, it’s usually to contrast the liveliness and vigor and outgoing style of “Black Church” culture with the blandness of “White Church” culture.
* Yes, in spite of us being Trinitarian & them being Oneness, we recognize each other as Christian siblings.
I am looking forward to looking into your site in more detail. I noticed a hit on my blog and out of curiosity, I landed here. I have lots to say about this topic and I hope you will share your thoughts on my site as well.
I was involved in a ministry for over 20 years in Plano Texas. I arrived in the mid 80’s and left several years ago. I am white and my ex husband was black. I have four mixed kids. I have various pics on my blog and stories about our experiences since leaving this “ministry”
After leaving this group, the “Apostle”, who married my ex and I (he perfomed the ceremony), has since made numerous racist, slanderous comments about us i private and in public. I can send you a link of one of his internet broadcasts (live streaming), where he uses MY FIRST AND LAST NAME publically. His comment was as follows..
“—-wicked black men…all they want is a hand out..and to impregnate white women…like Isabel Nalley.. so they can live off of welfare.”
This, my friends, is an example why we still have so much division in our midst. The link is on my site, but I will gladly send it to anyone interested in hearing this vicious lie in context
Looking forward to many interesting comments when I have more time…
I second all of this.
Some things never change, it seems:
Also click on the link at the end of the article for jsr.fsu.edu/Volume10/Freeman.pdf
Here is a quote from Dr. McKissic’s blog:
Ergun Caner made condescending and stereotypical remarks concerning the Black Church in a sermon preached at First Baptist of Jacksonville, FL. Canerâ€™s observation certainly would not be true of the Black church that I pastor and the majority of Black churches that Iâ€™m aware of. Yet, his remarks were met with approving laughter. I donâ€™t believe that he would have made those same remarks in a Black church. Caner essentially said Black churches do not put the preacher up to preach until about 1:00 p.m. Thatâ€™s not true. Black churches, according to Caner, take up â€œtwelve offeringsâ€. Thatâ€™s untrue. Caner further stated:
â€œâ€¦ you go to a Black church gentlemen, you are not going to have on a blue suit, you are going to have blue shoes to match, and your handkerchief is going to match your tie, and your whole outfit is going to match your car. Itâ€™s BEAUTIFUL. And ladies: when we talk about black church, weâ€™re talkinâ€™ about hats. And Iâ€™m not just talkinâ€™ Easter hats as some of you may wear, Iâ€™m talkinâ€™ â€™bout satellite dish hats. [laughter]. Big enough to receive a signal, with a curtain rod goinâ€™ down the front that you can just pull the curtain acrossâ€. [Ergun Caner, The Warrior Church, June 14, 2009]”
The saddest thing I heard about lately in the realm of fundamentalist/evangelicalism:
a head of Seminary at Liberty University had made remarks about observing black Christians.
He used numerous stereotypes to draw laughs from his audience.
This was reported widely, but was written about very movingly by a black Christian leader named Dr. McKissic, a Southern Baptist, who was deeply shocked by the performance of the seminary president, a man who heads the seminary at Liberty University, Dr. Ergun Caner.
Using stereotypes to get a laugh at the expense of black Christians, while being the head of a Christian seminary: can someone PLEASE explain to me how this can be, and still honor Our Lord Christ?
What is wrong with people? Not just the ‘president’, but also the audience who laughed and ate it all up? I tell you that is a sign that there is much work to do to bring people back to Christ, and that the work needs to begin in the seminaries, and with the teachers, the professors, and the presidents, to change their hearts and turn them towards the Lord again.
Thank you for your thoughts.
Again, I take your point, and would never argue that we should all give up our different styles and meld together in some bland mixture. However, where I live, it’s like we don’t even know or appreciate that the other exists and that we are part of the same mission of God in the world.
Julie Lyons, former Editor-in-Chief at the Dallas Observer, and her husband Larry (and their son) are the only white members of an inner-city South Dallas Black Pentecostal Church, Body of Christ Assembly. Her book about it is great reading (in part because Julie is a good writer):
Holy Roller: Finding Redemption and the Holy Ghost in a Forgotten Texas Church
One of her reasons for writing the book was to give White Christians a better understanding of Black churches and Black church life. I can recommend it to iMonkers (and others) unreservedly, and have bought and given away more than a dozen copies (and have visited the church as well – if you go, be sure to bring 32db earplugs!).
Hello I like your approach…..I’m a African American woman who have been part of the black church construct all my life….I believe different cultures have different distinctive….They are all good…. They reflect the diverse nature of God…. I believe as Christians we all worship the same God but we celebrate him through different means (different languages, expressions, music, cultural contextualization). Itâ€™s a beautiful thing because thereâ€™s diversity in unity. If you put a diverse group of people together each group will move toward what’s familiar.
“Why are our churches still so segregated”?
There’s nothing wrong with segregation as long as it’s about a worship style, culture difference and not race….The dominant culture in any church should be the culture of Christ… We all no this is not the case….I believe as African Americans we just view God differently than White America….But, I believe the culture of Christ can be expressed and manifested in many different cultural forms.
Today we see a lot of Hispanic Churches all over the country now. Why? Because they are needed…I believe as Christians we all share the same faith, mission, vision yet we express them differently…we uses different styles to worship God – not to mention the type of music we sing….Again the stories that we tell and the lifestyle that they we live are drastically different than what suburban America can tell.
Do the church have to be one culture? No! Maybe the white congregation worship God differently than the black congregation but both still worship God…. The church, collectively as a whole, can have a dominant culture of Christ…. Yet they have different worship styles in which they express the same values differently. If God wanted “same” He would not have made “different.”
Some of my favorite teachers are: David Jeremiah, Charles Stanley, Chuck Swindol, John Piper, John MacArthur,etc…But at times I love to here traditional black preaching like T.D.Jakes, G.E.Patterson, Jeremiah Wright, Charles Blake etc….I believe God loves difference…. it’s Satan who has the problem
Many denominations split into northern and southern versions before or during the Civil War. The Southern Baptists are perhaps the clearest example, splitting from the Triennial Convention in 1845 when the convention banned slave owners from becoming ordained missionaries. To be blunt, the Southern Baptist Convention began life as the pro-slavery wing of the Baptists. The anti-slavery wing evolved into the American Baptists. Many, though by no means all, other church bodies underwent a similar process.
The origins of modern Evangelicalism are complex, but a non-trivial part comes from these old southern churches. To again be blunt, what about this would be attractive to the descendants of their slaves?
The northern version of this was de facto segregated neighborhoods, or even entire towns.
The effect in both the north and the south was the development of parallel church structures.
Why does this continue long after the Civil Rights era? Why wouldn’t it? Neighborhoods are still segregated, though perhaps less so than in the past. Economic separation is a huge fact of life: African Americans are common in white collar jobs, but they are only a fraction of the community. To the considerable extent that people’s choice of church is determined by geographic and economic factors, continued segregation is unsurprising.
This is true even within a denomination. The Lutheran church in America never went through the sort of split the Baptists did (if only because there was no national level organization back then to split apart). There have been significant, though hardly overwhelming, numbers of African American Lutherans since the 19th century. It is very common to find a handful of African American families in a Lutheran congregation, and for this to have been true for as long as anyone can remember. But the broader social forces still apply, and you can also find predominately black Lutheran congregations in some cities. There is no such distinction on the synodical level, but the distinction is strong on the congregational level.
I’m a white guy, but I work for an African American Christian publisher in Chicago. It’s a really great and enriching experience to see a different side of the faith than I’ve been used to. This blog showcases a lot of our perspectives on the relevant issues: http://www.urbanfaith.com
You might also be interested in my friend Ed Gilbreath’s Reconciliation Blog.. He has a good book along these lines too…
But couldn’t there be other kinds of partnerships and relationships that still allow each group to maintain its own distinctives?
Here in the rural Midwest, the Catholic church is the most integrated institution I see.
I wasn’t directing anything at you, Ragamuffin. Your post about worship style just made me think of that experience, that’s all.
I am African American (Haitian particularly) and growing up in a urban area where the population was predominantly Black, our interaction with “white” americans was very minimal. The culture of the African American church lends itself at times to isolation because of the history of discrimination in this country and we felt like no one really understood our experience except the Biblical Israelites. Incidentally, most African American theology parallels itself with the Old Testament narrative of the Israelites. Anyway, the theological issues in the African American church are not isolated there particularly; the “prosperity gospel” and ecclesiology come to mind here.
I think it is safe to say that discrimination is still an issue and I have experienced it recently. I am now residing in South Florida by the way. Because we feel like we wont get a “fair shake”, being able to relate to “white” americans is difficult. I know of a few churches that partner together but they really are few and far in between. I think the issue is twofold: White americans seem to resent always having to feel like they have to “pay” for what has happened in the past which can result in either aggressive evangelism (which doesn’t work) or complete withdrawal at the possibility of never being able to meet the demands (which also doesn’t work). I think my black brothers and sisters need to have a little more grace here and my white brothers and sisters need to have a little more loving patience with us.
Churches tend to remain segragated due to the locale in which they find themselves in. Churches tend to be a reflection of the community in which they are planted so you will not see a white person in an urban church because they don’t live there. You are more likely to see a black person in a white suburban church because of their attempt to “move up” and away from the dangers of the inner city as well as their career that affords them that chance. These are not easy questions because the answers are cultural as well as theological. Currently, I attend a predominantly white church (250+) and I feel like a part of the family….sometimes. Theologically, I know the issue is not necassarily discrimination, but the sinfulness of the human heart and I wish more of my black brothers and sisters would think more theologically in that regard. I think the American church at large, both black and white, need a more robust understanding of the Gospel. There’s alot more to be said, but I hope this gives you some things to chew on.
Very good, Ragamuffin. Yes, it is a complex thing.
We should think of it as three kinds of people, not just two.
There are white people who are more comfortable with other white people doing things the way white people do them. Then there are black people who are more comfortable with other black people doing things the way black people do them. And there’s nothing really wrong with either of these groups. Lastly, there is a third group, people of both colors, who really appreciate the mix. They aren’t interested in showing the other group “how we do it.” They aren’t interested in which side is “more right than the other” or in winning any battles. They just really like the mix.
The ability to appreciate other people’s habits and practices is, like every other good thing, a blessing. “A man can receive only what he is given from heaven.”
Oh, I don’t confuse the two. I wasn’t saying “African”, I was saying “African American”. And I’m fully aware of those cultural differences.
One interesting experience I had makes clear that we should not confuse “black” with “African.” A Lutheran church I served at as organist for a short while was primarily composed of black folks of Caribbean heritage. When their young, new, white pastor come on board, he immediately brought in an African-oriented hymnal/worship supplement. The congregation was offended and though there were no real “hard feelings”, they made it clear that they were not Africans and they actually preferred what I considered the most “classical” of the various orders of worship in the Book of Worship. I really enjoyed that group and found them to be one of the most organized and reliable congregations I’ve ever dealt with.
Glad to hear this dkmonroe. How about some of our other readers? Is this true across the south, or is Atlanta an exception?
I’ve pondered this at various times before. The only time I’ve been part of congregations that had significant portions of both races (not just a few of either side sprinkled in) was when the overall “style” of the worship service tilted more toward what one would typically see in African American churches, even if the church was still majority white and the pastor was white. Soulful, R&B tinged Gospel style music, lively exhortation style preaching (more TD Jakes than Charles Stanley or D. James Kennedy), a more free-flowing order of service and almost an expectation that the congregation should be more vocal in response.
I’m not saying there’s anything necessarily wrong with that. But I know that were you to give me a choice as to what kind of worship service I like to be part of on a weekly basis, it tends more toward reflective, “reverent”, quieter, contemplative, liturgical. I prefer more of a calm, measured teaching style of sermon. I love the structure of liturgy. For whatever reason, that style doesn’t seem to resonate with most of my Christian friends who are African American. They find it boring and stiff for the most part.
So what are we to do? Should these distinctive worship styles be blended such that neither eventually exist anymore on their own? Is one side more right than the other? I hate the sound of that line of questioning because it sounds eerily familiar to the same kinds of BS arguments people who oppose “mixing” of the races in marriage and having children use. But I think it’s a legitimate thing to ask. If we want to have more integrated congregations, who’s going to end up giving more ground on this kind of stuff? Because beyond anything to do with whether black or white folks want to worship next to someone of another race (I think most would like to), you’re going to have to address this issue of worship style.
And that doesn’t even get into the issues regarding church leadership. For decades, black churches (especially pre-Civil Rights Era) were one of only a few places where black folks felt they truly had the reigns to decide their own course on something. All other areas of society they were relegated to subordinate roles, but here they were pastors, bishops, deacons/elders with real authority and a degree of self-determination. When the church becomes more blended, each side is going to have to really sift through the issues of leadership and direction and accept some loss of previously held power and authority. Can they do that? Do they want to?
It’s a complex thing.
Well, I’m an Asian American and I’ve related some of my experiences on this issue of race at my blog. But as to why there isn’t more integration in some of our communities, I think it really just is an ignorance by white people. There are many people who fill our churches who are white and they love Jesus and want to be known for his love, but because of their majority experience, the experience and daily reality of their minority brothers and sisters does not register on their mental landscape.
That is to say that for a white Christian in a predominantly white region, thoughts of racial reconciliation and integration do not occur naturally because their existence is seen as normative. I have seen this played out in many ways, where some of my white brothers and sisters have a “why don’t minorities get over it” attitude. And I think the love of Jesus pushes to seek understanding and empathize with others, and often times in the case of racial issues, a more defensive/accusatory approach is taken instead of a gentle, open, and forgiving one.
I am white (Mike, we’re almost neighbors–I live in Lawrence, on the NE side of Indy) but back in the mid-’80s we were part of a church in a poor neighborhood of Cincinnati that was unusual; it was half white and half black. The leadership was integrated too; it is possible, even if it doesn’t happen often. One quirk: the brothers and sisters of color added a lot to the worship, but they could not find a black worship leader; the only ones who could get them to “cut loose” and raise the rafters were white. I have always considered that as God’s way of telling them “You need each other.”
I guess this must be a regional thing. I live in the Atlanta, GA area and every church I’ve been a part of has been very integrated. There are quite a few predominantly black churches, one of which is a very traditional, liturgical, 1925 Book of Common Prayer Anglican church. The one racial complaint I heard when I was in a local megachurch was from an Asian gentleman who was bothered by the fact that people kept directing him to the “International” ministry. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a church that was all-white except for when I was growing up in Vermont.
Why are there so few partnerships between predominantly white churches and black churches? We have so much to offer each other!
Do we, though? Evangelicals need to be careful about reaching out to the black church with any notion of sharing our views with them. My black co-workers are mostly disgusted by the frivolousness and irreverence of contemporary suburban-affluent evangelicalism. They don’t want anything to do with it. So any reaching out needs to be done with humility.
Bill Hybels at Willow Creek has made this a big emphasis lately, as you may have read in this article in Time:
You’re not looking for my comment. I’m white and had a predominantly white upbringing. But as mom to three precious and beautiful dark brown-skinned babes, I look forward to the comments that may follow. Thank you for opening this discussion.
I know that when my husband and I were in mission work, African-American churches were welcoming and supportive of us and blessed us greatly. We had done nothing to deserve it; it was just grace.
A really good recent book on the topic is “The Decline of African American Theology: From Biblical Faith to Cultural Captivity” by Thabiti M. Anyabwile. It attempts to anser most of the questions posed here.