In my head, I want to write a post called, “Uncle Tom, Oreos, and the Confederate Flag,” but I haven’t been able to muster up enough courage for that one, yet. So, let’s consider this post a test balloon of sorts. And, just to be clear, I didn’t want to write this one, either.
The other day, driving down a street in my town, I noticed a house I’ve never seen before. I have lived in this town for eight years, and I’ve traveled that very stretch of road at least a thousand times. But not until the other day did I notice the house sitting there on the right side of the road.
The house isn’t a new construction. It’s been there for a while. At least eight years. Probably more like eighty. But for some reason, I hadn’t noticed it before. Has that ever happened to you?
The whole white church/black church phenomenon in America is a lot like that house. It’s been sitting around for years — centuries! — but we keep going past it, never noticing it. It’s just a thing. It’s the way things are. And we keep on shuffling by.
I get it. I understand the history of the divide in our country. I do. I even understand the reasons for the divisions holding fast every Sunday, right up through the Sunday four days ago. So, may I say a few words?
The fact that we divide our church experience by race is wrong. All the reasons we give to excuse or rationalize or justify do not work. Here’s what I’ve noticed. If I go to a white church person and say something like, “Hey, what are your thoughts about diversity? How do you think that can happen here?” I get a response that sounds like this: “I know. I know! We are working on it. We really want to serve everyone. We want to see black people join us in our ministry here. We can’t figure out why more of them aren’t coming to us.”
If I go to a black church person and say the same thing, “Hey, what are your thoughts about diversity? How do you think that can happen here?” I get a response that sounds like this: “White people are welcome here! We would never turn anyone away. If they want to come here, we will welcome them with open arms.”
And then, everyone goes right back to their black or white church. It’s more than a little bit frustrating. So, I’ve stopped asking those kinds of questions. Now my questions sound more like this: “How come we can send missionaries to Africa, bloggers to Haiti, and youth groups to soup kitchens, but we can’t get white people and black people to worship in each other’s churches, right down the street or around the corner?”
From what I can tell based on the responses I get, no one is going to come. At least not the way we think it up in our heads. Droves of white people are not going to give up their praise bands and twenty-minute sermons to invest in two hours of gospel music and an hour-long message. Likewise, droves of black people are not going to give up the celebration of African-American culture and Black Liberation theology to invest in a culture with people in decision-making roles who do not look like them.
So, what do we do? We go.
We build a bridge.
We sacrifice something.
Honestly? (I’m speaking generally, here. There is no way I can speak for all black people.) Black people are tired of sacrificing things. We feel as if we’ve given enough, thank you very much. We are perfectly content to wait for white people to step across the line and make the first move toward reconciliation. As we see it, it’s long overdue. So, it makes me squirm to say we need to do it, anyway. We need to take a deep breath and go to the conferences and the retreats and the churches where we are most likely going to be the only person of color in the room. And, when we go there, we need to say, with grace, “Hey, how come I’m the only one here?”
White people, you need to go there, too. If I look at your blog roll or your list of retreat speakers or your list of keynotes at your conference and I see maybe one or two people of color in a sea of white faces, it makes me wonder, “They don’t know any black people? Do they even want me there?” Then, when you do invite us, it needs to be more than just trying to make the web site more colorful. It needs to be based on a real or desired relationship.
And we all know relationships are messy. Good Lord, we do know that!
“So what about you, Deidra?” I can hear you asking. “Your retreat was mostly white people. And the people who comment here are mostly white. So, what about that?” I ask those very same questions. Believe me. And if I ever get the courage to write that other post, I’ll share some more about that. The best way I can put it here, without having to muster up too much courage, is to say I believe this is my calling. I believe God has given me a unique set of life experiences which have shaped my world view and compel me to invite people into this conversation. And, for some strange reason, God has given me a little bit of credibility among some white people. That is no small task, let me tell you, and to me, it is clearly something God did.
It probably ruffles a few feathers. I get that. Maybe I’ll write that other post someday.
Here in America, we are inundated with choices. We can pretty much have whatever we want, and we can withhold stuff, too. I’m not trying to be political. I’m just telling you what I know. What if there were only one church in your town or your city? What if church was outlawed in America? Then what? How, exactly, would that play out here in the land of the free and home of the brave? What if entertaining the thought of having two or three people get together to read the bible might result in imprisonment, torture, or death? Then what? Would I be looking for two or three black people to worship with, or would I simply be looking for someone — anyone — who had the Words of Life to share?
“But that’s not how it is, here,” you say. And so I have to ask, how is it here? What are we doing? When we hold so tightly to the way we like things to be, what in the world are we doing?