One thing I noticed about visiting different churches over the summer is how racially segregated the American Church is. Most of us say, “So what? Blacks and whites like different styles of church, and that’s about all there is to it.” I used to think this way too as I grew up in my all-white church, in my mostly white town, while I attended my mostly white high school. Actually, I didn’t think this way about race in the Church because I can’t say I ever thought about it at all.
I remember in Crossroads‘ first year as a church (6 years ago), my friend’s wife brought up the value of multiracial churches and how we should pursue being one. I dismissed her idea. If people are coming to know Jesus, who cares what race they are? Why waste time that could be spent directly on the Gospel itself? Blacks like black churches and whites like white churches, let’s leave it at that.
But is it really this simple? It certainly was to me until I read the book Divided By Faith in seminary and attended the “Face the Race” conference that GRTS held, featuring authors George Yancey, David Livermore, and Michael Emerson (co-author of Divided by Faith). It was like an Old Testament prophet knocked at my door and revealed the greater truths of God to me that I had been missing my entire life.
Divided by Faith is a book that chronicles the white Evangelical church’s response to blacks, starting with the era of slavery and moving through each successive racially significant time period in American history, ending with how things are today. It is a fascinating account, as well as sobering and convicting, realizing that the racial segregation found in the church today has direct roots to how white Evangelicals did not allow blacks into their churches (or their lives) throughout the century that followed slavery. The authors also do lots of research on how white Evangelicals’ view race. As I read the accounts given by white Evangelicals, I realized they were saying the exact things I would have said to the survey questions. I’m not racist. I have black friends. I didn’t have anything to do with slavery. We should focus on other things in the Church, like on Jesus and evangelism, not race relations. etc etc etc
I don’t have the time and space in a blog post to give Divided by Faith the detailed justice it deserves and all the profound truths it illuminated to me.
If you are white and have never felt what it feels like to be a minority, I encourage you to visit an all-black church. The people will likely be very friendly, but you will also feel uncomfortable and very aware of your skin color, even though no one will say anything about it to make you feel this way. This is the experience black people have when they come to all-white churches, and it’s why they don’t come back, no matter how friendly we are. It’s something you’ve never thought about before, and likely never will, unless you go and experience it for yourself. And it’s why things in the Church need to change.
I strongly encourage you to read Divided by Faith if you welcome your eyes being opened. If you prefer the head-in-the-sand approach I lived by for most of my life, or the defensive approach many choose, you are free to do so. I would ask you consider one more point though…
As I prayed about what to preach on for my first Sunday back at Crossroads (following my summer sabbatical), the Holy Spirit made it very clear to me and opened my eyes to some profound truths found in John 17. Jesus is praying that future believers (the Church) will be unified, the way He and the Father are unified, and by this the world will know who Jesus is and that He loves them! It’s a pretty amazing thing, and it’s also amazing that this is pretty much the only thing He prays for in John 17, just before he is arrested. Of all the things he could pray for us, he prays for this. And we typically skip over it, not knowing how to apply being more unified as the Church. But if you look at the early Church, the number one conflict they had to resolve was the Jew-Gentile conflict. Most of the New Testament letters (our books of the Bible) were written to these early churches, teaching them how to be unified as Jews and Gentiles. Jews and Gentiles were two different races who had an ugly past together (sound familiar?), but the unique thing about their relationship was they did not have the “convenience” of having Jew churches and Gentile churches. Each town only had one church and in it, Jews and Gentiles had to learn to overcome their differences, and their hostile history, to become brothers and sisters in Christ under one roof, united in the love and grace of Jesus that they all shared. If an outsider walked in, they would be astounded at the unity of two groups of people who had been against each other for so long, and had so little in common, yet were loving each other and praising God together. This is how the world will know who Jesus is, and that He loves them!
This is what I preached on this past Sunday, and it’s the vision and calling the Holy Spirit has placed on Crossroads Church. I encourage to join in this vision and be a part of the answer to Jesus’ heartfelt prayer for us in John 17:
(Sorry about the low volume level, had some technical difficulties which hopefully we’ll get edited but for now, it’s a good thing I have a loud voice! You should manage, but will need to crank your volume a little)
You can listen to (and/or download to your computer or iPod) a high-quality audio copy of the sermon here, then click on Sept. 9th, 2012.