A few observations as follow-up to my last blog. It seems many white churches are painfully aware of the problem of Sunday-morning segregation but have no strategy to change it. If they are waiting for that day when twelve families of color magically walk through their doors, they’ll be waiting a long time.

Last night, I performed one of the most painful exercises I have ever done. No, I’m not talking about barbell lunges. In an effort to find a church with a racially diverse congregation, my wife and I went through the entire directory and looked up the various churches on the internet. Websites can be very revealing. Photos even more so. For example, a friend had recommended a certain large church downtown, claiming that such an inner-city church must surely have a diverse body. We looked at the church’s website, but saw no people of color in the photos. Then we looked at the church staff page. I am sorry to say that of the twenty of so ministry and administrative staff positions, all of them were filled by white people. Every single one. The only people of color were on the custodial staff. (If you spent the time to scroll down to the bottom of the page, past the elderly lady who makes the sermon tapes, you might see them). What a statement! Sadly, this is only too common here.

As pastors, why would we expect a person of color to feel welcome or comfortable in our churches if we make no effort to show diversity in our staff, or at least in our worship team, announcements, or what we present from the altar? This makes a huge statement about what we value as a congregation. Some pastors may claim that there are no people of color in the congregation to draw from. That’s rather a passive argument. Okay, then hire someone. If we have no problem hiring a janitor with dark skin and trusting him with the keys to the building, then we can certainly hire a qualified person of color to make announcements from the pulpit, or lead worship–something! If this sounds unscrupulous to us, then I suggest we do not grasp the gravity of our situation. Or perhaps darker forces are at work here.

Another reason people of color may visit our churches but never stay long may be in the tone and content of what is presented from the pulpit. People of color may feel that we have no concept of how they live and the things they deal with on a daily basis. They’re right. Many white churches spend time praising the United States of America as if it were the greatest thing since aerosol cheese. This is a great country, but it is not so for everyone. It may seem hard for us to believe, but many people of color actually find it difficult to make it here. During a recent sermon one white pastor launched into an encomium on the greatness of the American justice system. I could not help thinking of how a person of color would feel hearing that (fortunately, there weren’t any near the place).

Sure the system seems great if it works for you, but that is because it is engineered to work for white people, especially the affluent ones. In reality there are really two Americas, one for the white and rich, and one for the poor and people of color. If we really want people of color to stay in our churches, we need to get to know that “other” America. We need to immerse ourselves in the issues and challenges they face, talk about things like racism, economic disparity, injustice. It will do us and our congregations some good. People of color also tend to vote differently (you mean it’s possible to vote “the other way” and still get into heaven? Amazing, isn’t it?) It’s time to break out of the white Republican bubble and see the rest of America.

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  1. Another great one on racism and the church Steve. Many of our churches are completely unaware of the “other” America – the lives of its people, their experience with our justice system (Trayvon Martin anyone?), or economic system, or just the enduring not-so-subtle racism in our institutions (e.g., voter registration). I guess, speaking generously, this is why the church is so silent on many social justice issues at the heart of Biblical revelation. The church has become a club, sometimes a great club, but a club nevertheless, and a club that is mostly for economically well-off whites and minorities who don’t mind adjusting to them (their agendas, values, ways of doing things, etc.). The church rarely speaks truth to power on social justice issues, and at worst, aligns itself so closely (politically) with the most flagrant offenders (of civil and human rights), that it couldn’t possibly critique those powers anyway, and joins with them in (at the last) silent assent – and therefore responsibility/ guilt. The secularists and liberals could show us the way, if only we would listen. (And now maybe the new Pope will be the next one to put the church to shame in this regard.) Instead, it’s the usual answer is “We don’t do that.” or “We won’t get involved in politics.” When I was involved with Occupy Wall Street, one thing I loved was the passion of so many people for the rights and welfare of others. It was a self-sacrificing love, given without regard to merit and without conditions. Think about that, and then think about the average church.

    • Thanks, Bill. Yes, I’m hoping the new Pope’s “Franciscan” agenda of pax et bonum will trickle down. Francis of Assisi’s message of peace not war, love of creation, and care for the poor are 3 messages we need to learn and implement, as they are the 3 major crises the world is facing and has always faced.

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