Our vehicle is having technical difficulties, and so I’m writing this in a waiting room at the Subaru dealership near St. Louis, Missouri. Yesterday, H and I got up early(ish) and drove nearly eight hours, from our home, to Missouri. There, we witnessed the marriage of our dear friends’ daughter to the son of a missionary who has lived much of his life in Kenya.
Driving down the highway on the way to the wedding, it struck me that it’s been nearly a year since a group of us traveled to St. Louis. Last August, four of my writer friends and I traveled to Ferguson, in the aftermath of an altercation between Officer Darren Wilson and Michael Brown. That altercation ended with Michael Brown dead, a season of riots, and many people reeling with questions about race in America, policing in our country, and the role of the Church. Back then, I needed to know more. I needed to see things for myself, with my own eyes, and unfiltered by the media, and that includes social media.
I didn’t realize it’s been almost a year since we made that trip, until yesterday, driving down the highway with H.
One of the very best things about a long drive with just H, is that we get to talk. H is a wise man. He teaches me a lot and, of course, we talked a lot about race and faith and God and white people and black people and church and the body of Christ and stuff like that. We talked about it before the wedding, and we talked about it after the wedding. And, believe it or not, we talked about it at the wedding.
At the wedding reception, we sat with John and Lori. They were kind and sincere and they engaged us in conversation and welcomed us warmly. Lori asked me, “Didn’t you come down here to Ferguson last year?” And that sort of opened a door to a conversation you don’t usually have with people you don’t know at your friends’ daughter’s wedding.
It turns out that John grew up in an integrated church in St. Louis. The church was the very first in St. Louis to vote to integrate. John wasn’t sure, but he felt that vote had been taken back in the ’50s. At that time, there were about 2,000 people who attended the church. But, when the church made the decision to integrate, according to John’s recollection of the history, about 1,000 people left the church. When the dust settled and the church hit its stride again, there were about 800 dedicated members, with a pretty even demographic: half white, half black.
John is my age, so he wasn’t around when all of that was happening. When he arrived at the church as a child with his family, he arrived at an integrated church, and it was all he knew. John’s only experience of church was of an integrated church, and he thought it was a good thing.
Now, let me just take a minute for those who are new here, to say that I believe integrating our churches is an important step to healing the deep, gaping wound of racism that our country seems to keep falling into. Needless to say, I was intrigued by John’s story.
So, John grew up in a church that was active in social justice issues and, specifically, in working to end racism. There was a lot of talk, John said, about black and white issues. Eventually, John went away to college and, in his freshman year, he had what he called a “born again” experience. John said that, when he returned to his church that next summer, he tried to tell his church family about this new experience, but, he told us, the church just didn’t seem to “get” what he was saying. Disappointed, and looking for some direction, John eventually left that church and joined a large, white church where the emphasis was more on the Holy Spirit and not much at all on social justice.
One day, John’s mother visited him at his new church. She looked around and said to John, “It’s nice, but there aren’t any black people here.” John told us he got the impression his mother felt the church just didn’t measure up.
I made a mental note of that.
And, here’s something else: Over time, John and Lori’s church has begun to attract some people from India and, as a result John and Lori have developed friendships with some people who are different from them. Lori leaned in and told me how these friendships have helped her recognize and press through some stereotypes she had held. “Recently,” Lori said, “we got some new neighbors, and they are from India. And do you know what? I walked right over to them and introduced myself, because I felt very comfortable with them!”
So I told John and Lori how I believe the Church would have a lot more credibility in the conversation about racism in our country, if we could figure out how to worship across racial lines. I pointed to Lori’s experience with the Indian members of their church and how that helped build a bridge between her and her new neighbors, and John and Lori nodded their heads. We were sitting at a table at the wedding reception and the Maid of Honor had taken her place. The toasts were about to begin, so my conversation with John and Lori ended there. But, I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
In the year since our trip to Ferguson, I’ve had lots of questions rumbling beneath the surface—questions I’d like to ask white people. Over the past few years, you have proven that this blog is safe place to ask tough questions, and I have toyed with the idea of asking you my questions here. I’m like you. I don’t want to offend. I don’t want to say the wrong thing. I don’t want to put my foot in my mouth, or step on you with it. But, love hopes the best, right?
The other day, Lecrae posted a video, asking some of the questions I’ve been asking. I shared that video on my Facebook timeline, because it articulated my feelings so well. Seeing Lecrae ask his questions made me start thinking, again, about asking you my questions. And then, my conversation with John and Lori sort of sealed my fate. This may be a one-time thing or, it may unfold over a series of posts. We’ll see. But for today, I’d like to ask a few questions and offer you space and grace to answer them, in your own words. As always, this is a safe place. And, let’s be kind to one another, as we always are.
Here’s some of what I’m wondering (and I realize one white person doesn’t speak for all white people). Feel free to answer them all, or pick and choose and, thanks in advance:
- If you attend church, does your church talk about racism? If so, do they talk about it too much, not enough, or just enough?
- Do you hear something off-putting in the tone of people who raise the topic of racism on social media? If so, what “turns you off” the most?
- What are your thoughts about white privilege? Does that term make you feel defensive, inquisitive, or something different?
- As a white person in America, do you believe you are afforded advantages not available to others in this country?
- If you are a person who invokes the phrase, “All lives matter,” what do you mean by that?
- When you read about John’s disappointment with his integrated church, what was your reaction?
- When you read about Lori’s encounter with her new neighbors, what was your reaction?
- What do you believe the bible teaches about racism? How does your biblical view impact your involvement in conversations about race?