HOT TOPIC: I GO TO CHURCH WITH WHITE PEOPLE

…okay and a few Blacks, and one Asian (I think). Diversity is a beautiful thing and I look forward to the day when we have even more diversity within my local church.

I am now reading the New Testament in an effort to finish up a course and I’m also contemplating a topic for an upcoming history paper. While reading, I constantly find myself confronted with the topics of division between both newly converted Jews (who are believers in Christ) and Christian Gentiles. The New Testament writers continuously challenge all Christians to practically live out the truth of the gospel they were receiving, but there were still divisions and misunderstandings between them, and there were also false teachings of the gospel that caused additional problems. I’ve been thinking a lot about the words that Christians speak and then the manner in which we practice our convictions. I am finding that is some cases, we are falling far short of being consistent in our “talk” and “walk.”

Today, I am specifically thinking about the issue of our creditability on the topic of “Racial Reconciliation” as addressed to the Lausanne Congress (global international conference on world evangelism) by Brenda Salter McNeil at Cape Town 2010 in South Africa:


Recently, I briefly discussed race relations between African-Americans and Caucasian Americans in this country with someone (a Christian I might add) who said to me, “There can be no racial reconciliation because of the history of slavery in the United States.” My heart broke after hearing this comment. In an effort to get our blog conversation started, I will only share a few of the reasons for my broken heart.

To begin, I love being an African-American woman. There are many aspects of my race and gender that are quite valuable to me and I bring those aspects to all of my relationships in hopes that they will be valued (not ignored) by others. In the same matter, I cherish each opportunity to learn from those who do not share my background and history.

Likewise, I do not ignore the realities of racism that has continually plagued this country. I don’t think any of us should forget the racism of our country’s past, or ignore it in its present form. Rather, we should honestly acknowledge and learn from our worst moral failures and darkest hours. We should see the sins of our countrymen for what they were and what they are: humans in rebellion against God and each other.

I visited the International Civil Rights Museum over the weekend, and as I watched the gruesome pictures of the murderers of young Emmett Till and the four girls who lost their lives in the Bombing of the Birmingham church, I thought to myself, “Christ came to redeem that.” As I saw the battled white male Freedom Rider, I thought to myself, “Christ came to redeem that too.” The truth of the gospel is that Christ came to make us all unlike our evil, selfish, sinful selves. He wants us to be like him, for “God is love (1 John 4:8).”

If we believe the truth of the gospel, then why are so many of our churches still segregated? If the local churches remain segregated (for “loyalty” to a particular racial or ethical culture), then why not at least partner with churches who serve a different demographic to show the world unity of the Christian family and regularly support evangelism and community outreach efforts?

Do you have intimate relationships with those of a different race or ethnic background? Is it evident that your local church values diversity?

Reminder: “My Comment Policy” discusses how to respectfully respond to the guests that I host on this blog.

© Natasha S. Robinson 2011

30 thoughts on “HOT TOPIC: I GO TO CHURCH WITH WHITE PEOPLE

  1. Natasha! This is a great post. I love what you said “Christ Came to redeem that!” Sometimes I wonder how in the world to make sense of all the racial tension that surrounds us today. I’m a white girl who tries her best to see the world through different eyes but at the end of the day I’m still residing in my white skin. My church is mostly white and the wonderful African-American women with whom I worship often joke (lovingly) about the oddity of their spending Sundays with a room filled with white people. But I applaud them for it. They love Jesus, they love our church. But this made me wonder how many white folks are setting up their souls in the middle of an African-American congregation? I know there are some but not enough. And it also makes me wonder, because of the history of racial tension in our country, how many times (white or black) we are not welcomed to worship with our brothers and sisters?

    Anyway, I don’t really have a coherent point here I suppose, but what I do know is that where we find a mix of all shapes and sizes, cultures and colors in worship is where we find God marveling at the beauty of creation together in praise to him.

    Well said my sister, well said.

  2. Tracey, the church that I attend in the Washington DC area is prodimently African-American and I do see a few white women popping up there. Part of that may be a generational thing, because they are young 20somethings who enjoy connecting with different people from various backgrounds through social media and in very diverse professional work settings.

    You raise an important question about how well we “welcome” our brothers and sisters from different racial and ethical backgrounds into our churches?

    The first time that I visited the church where we are now members, the pastor (white male) was preaching from James 2:1-4. He talked about discrimination and how important it is that we welcome people in the church regardless of their outward appearance. That opened a dialog for us to see into his heart. Small steps but a very long way to go…

  3. Natasha, maybe it’s not coincidental that today I was listening to _Radical_ (by David Platt on CD) on the way to pick up my oldest child from his public magnet schooling over on “the other side of town”. . . And in Platt’s book, he talks about the book of Acts and briefly mentions how the church in Acts faced breaking down diversity barriers. . . and each day when I travel 30 minutes to that “other side of town”, I think about these things involving race, diversity and our (and my own) cultural blindness.

    You know I’ll listen and talk about this anytime with you!

  4. HOT topic and you know I gotta comment.

    First off, my worldview is Christian. Secondly, I am a 50% blend, my mother is Asian and my father is African American. I have watched my mother and father endure racism from BOTH African Americans and Caucasians.

    1. Why are our churches still segregated? The simple reason is due to comfort. It is comfortable to be around people that look and talk like you. Most people will say, I am not racist, or some other politically correct statement. The truth is that diversity in the church, like corporate America, does not happen on a whim and a wish. It takes people making a conscious effort to be UNCOMFORTABLE (at first) and to compromise music style or food preference for unity. Unity and diversity in the church can only be obtained through the love of God and His word.

    2. Do you have intimate relationships with those of a different race or ethnic background? Is it evident that your local church values diversity?

    YES and YES. Two of my four closest friends are white females. One was my roommate in the Navy, the other a lady from Raleigh. The only thing that binds our friendship is our love for God. We can talk about anything, and often discuss race in a very transparent manner.

    I can joke about how certain white people thought I was adopted simply because my mother is Asian. Conversely, they can be honest about challenges they have had regarding race or racism in the past. Either way, we do not judge and are completely transparent.

    The church our family attends now is very diverse, as this is a minimum requirement. Notably, there are only 3 diverse churches in Charlotte…

    If Christ created man in his image, that should be enough to propel us to worship with other races. After all, isn’t heaven going to be a place where all races will bow their knees and prostrate before the King of kings and truly worship in unity?

    Best,
    Gina V.

  5. Gina, You bring up two very good points:

    1. We have to be intentional about pursuing the things of God no matter what they may be.

    I am not implying that all churches need or must be multicultural. What I am saying is that we should intentionally ask the question (if our church is segregrated), why is it this way? Maybe even take it a step further to see if we sincerely care about those that are not like us. If we never think about these issues as individuals and churches then something about that does not sit well with me because of the message of the gospel. Yes, it is an issue of comfort.

    2. Transparency

    I’m not interested in a multi-cultural church where everybody plays along, or act as if they are getting along for the sake of getting along. I want to completely be me and be fully embraced and loved for who I am.

    A white women once said to me, “I don’t see color.” While I understand that she was trying to be nice and say the politically correct thing, that is not fully embracing someone. I wonder how she would have felt if I responded, “I didn’t notice the fact that you are a woman.”

    God’s people should feel free to acknowledge someone’s being as God created them, respect it and learn from it. That transparency produces the unity of the body that is outlined in the New Testament. The best vision of this I can see is on the Day of Pentecost where the Holy Spirit fell on people and they began to speak in different languages, yet they all understood each other. Can God not fully manifest himself in the same way if his people would humble themselves, seek his face, and wait on him to show himself among them and equip them to live out the gospel in their every day lives?

  6. “Do you have intimate relationships with those of a different race or ethnic background?”

    Intimate? As in best friend? I honestly don’t have best friends – except my spouse, of course, and my sisters. But I do have friendships with people of different races/ethnicities. I enjoy talking to people in general, strangers or not. I have been the most uncomfortable talking to people from the Middle East these past ten years.

    “Is it evident that your local church values diversity?”

    I don’t think it is evident. When we speak of diversity, I think of all manner of differences: race, nationality/ethnicity, talents/gifts, abilities, disabilities, physical appearances, life experience, family, language, and even sexuality, etc.

    The local church inadvertantly projects pervasive cultural ideals onto the congregation, and voila! We are homogenous, and we can’t seem to help ourselves from encouraging this homogeneity. We are blind to our plight, I’m afraid. Perhaps it is human nature to look around and compare ourselves to the people around us. . . we want to measure ourselves to make sure we’re “okay”, and we don’t realize how we’re measuring ourselves by worldly standards. We gravitate towards comfort and homogeneity. . . that which tells us we are “okay” and even superior to those we see might be less than us. (I’m certainly not saying this is right. It just seems to be human nature.)

    It takes us being filled with God’s love and being in awe of Him, I think, to appreciate the human life He has created to radiate back His glory to Him. How many of us stop to think of our sisters and brothers in Christ a world away at this very moment. . . different skin, hair, culture, experience. . . as our very important spiritual family? And what about the spiritual family members nearer to us? Do we understand the bond we share overcomes these things we see and judge by? Gina V., I like your reminder of us bowing in unity to worship Him together one day.

    I think we humans struggle daily with trying to love others in general – whether they are the same race or not. How often do we show deference, putting others before ourselves, in public places? This is not a common practice that I’ve observed. And yet, it is probably our most powerful witnessing tool. It requires nothing fancy, and it communicates care to all people of all diverse backgrounds.

    Natasha wrote:
    “Can God not fully manifest himself in the same way if his people would humble themselves, seek his face, and wait on him to show himself among them and equip them to live out the gospel in their every day lives?”

    I say right on, friend!

  7. Just this past Sunday I thanked God I saw our choir before us with many different skin colors singing in harmony & praising God! That was a glimpse of heaven! We are blessed as a congregation to be growing and seeing more diverse groups of people slowly filling our pews.But, we have a long way to go.We must get to know our neighbor or coworker as a person not judge by the color of their skin.We all bleed red!We all yearn for love & acceptance! It drivs me crazy when asked ,what is your race? We are human ,not color.I cherish the close relationships with my sisters with different colors.It has opened my eyes & heart! Thank you for addressing this issue that we all need not to be afraid of and just learn to let our defenses down. Sincerely, Karen

  8. Loved the importance of credability stressed at the Lausanne Congress: walking the walk and talking the talk? Sometimes in our prayer hour at our church we have prayed for diversity–for our church to look like “HIS Kingdom come”. But the problem comes when we want to make everyone else “in our own image” and are closed to the process of welcoming differences in the Body (except for the main doctrines of the faith) and learning from them.
    I remember once while on vacation I went to climb up a lighthouse but was to afraid of heights. The LORD sent three chaplans to take me up! Later I realized they represented the Trinity: An african-American man led the way and carried my water (Jesus); a blond woman followed close behind me (the Holy Spirit) and an older gentlemen gave orders from the rear. He was the commander (God)! After they talked me and guided me to the top–”Jesus” opened my water and handed it to me and “God” talked about the “creation” (all that we could see)! (The diversity was awesome!)
    I pray for there to be no prejudice in my heart; but am sometimes shocked how quickly I will form a judgement–so I also pray for the Holy Spirit to quickly convict me.
    ONLY by prayer and obedience (greater closeness to the LORD) will our hearts be open to others and more like Jesus Christ.
    Thank you for discussing this very important topic.

  9. Ms. Natasha,

    You know I love this topic!!

    You brought up a VERY important point in response to my earlier post that I wanted to highlight. You said, “I’m not interested in a multi-cultural church where everybody plays along, or act as if they are getting along for the sake of getting along.”

    As I mentioned in my previous post, there are only 3 diverse Christian churches (>25% minority) in Charlotte. When we first arrived in 2007, we were members (and are no longer) of a very large diverse church. One of the main reasons for leaving was because of the “everyone plays along to get along mentality.”

    Every Sunday, the Pastor would ask everyone to look around and then proceeded to congratulate the church for being so diverse. Over time, I felt this built a spirit of racial complacency and arrogance. While I do agree, it is no small feat to maintain a diverse Christian church; it made me feel as if I were a diversity token not a “true” church member. To quote Condoleeza Rice from her book Extraordinarily Ordinary People, “I would rather be ignored than patronized.”

    Thank you again for the thought provoking blog.

    Best,
    Gina V.

  10. Natasha:

    What you are describing here breaks the heart of God, and I pray that it would break my heart, too. It reminded me of Peter’s change of heart in the book of Acts, and how only the Spirit of God moving in our midst can usher in the change we long for.

    I fear that too often I and others in the church fear saying the wrong thing to our African-American brothers and sisters, and that this fear is rooted in a deep shame over our country’s history of slavery and the ongoing fear and prejudice that still mars our relationships. This is SIN, and to put it bluntly, we need to repent. We need to humble ourselves, move toward each other, and seek to love unselfishly.

    Brenda from Lausanne hit the credibility issue on the head–but I think of it in a local context first–if the church repented and modeled reconciliation, people in my community (i.e., my next door neighbors who blatantly voice their prejudices) would witness the transformative power of the Gospel. “Christ came to redeem that!”

    May it be so, dear friend. I pray it be so! And that it would start with me.

  11. This is a great article. How can you ask for forgiveness if you can’t forgive others?

    For me personally I usually like black churches because of the praise and worship, especially the music. Gospel music touches my soul that contemporary does not. I have attended some mixed churches where I will listen to gospel music in my car and come inside before the Word is given. A couple weeks ago I was at a predominately white church, and it was my first time I had ever seeing white Christians catch the spirit or the Holy Ghost. I was amazed and excited. I also throughly enjoyed the Word that was given.

    My last roommate was a white female and I brought her to my church in TX, that was predominately black. After church she said it was the first time she had been to church where everybody seemed genuine and real. Not just at church just to go. She said it was the first time she ever felt comfortable at church. I also hadn’t given her a head up that it was an all black church prior, so at first she was a little nervous. I felt blessed and amazed once again.

  12. Oh my goodness, I’m having so many emotions reading your comments. I thank you for your honesty and transparency.

    Emily, I agree that sometimes “the local church inadvertantly projects pervasive cultural ideals onto the congregation,” and particularly concerning this discussion, I would not consider that a “reconciled” situation…that would be more like a conditional assimiilation – “You are welcome at our church if…” not “Your entire being is appreciated and welcomed here. We acknowledge your difference as a gift from God and we believe that your contributions will be valuable here.”

    Over the past year, God has opened my eyes to the plights of our brothers and sisters all across the world. I’m constantly convicted and yet grateful for what could have been my life if I were born in some other country, or at a different time period in this country. I pray about those things, and gently try to share these experiences with others (hence the Worldview Monday blog topics).

    Thanks for your contribution, Karen. Please keep praying about our “long way to go.” I think this is one issue that the universal church needs to confront (and that can only happen if individuals in our local churches continue in these honest dialogs and seek the Lord in prayer about how they should respond).

  13. Joanne,

    I totally agree that a problem comes when we are “closed to the process of welcoming differences in the Body.” On one level, this is very much like the spiritual gifts discussion that Paul had in 1 Corinthians 12. People had various gifts but were arguing amongst themselves about who had the greatest gift and what gift was more important. They even got to the point where they assumed that some people were not as important as others in the congregation. Paul reminded them that “Yes” there are differences among you but there is one Holy Spirit, one Lord and one God. In other words, keep the main thing the main thing, and don’t let your differences be points of division. He concludes by telling them to desire the most important gifts of faith, hope, and love with the greatest being love.

    Like any other sin, this discussion comes back to the point that we do not love properly, not like Christ loves us (sacrifically, surrendering his desires and rights, submitting himself to persecution for those that he loved). Christ had all power and control and elected not to utilize it on earth because he saw love and reconciliation as the highest good – it’s righteousness! The gospel is the ministry of reconciliation of God’s entire creation to what he originally intended in the first two chapters of Genesis. Yes, as a redeemed people, we certainly must pray and be obedient to this high calling.

    Gina,

    Let me throw out another point for consideration. When I briefly discussed this topic with someone previously, she said that multi-cultural churches either end up being as you and Emily have both described (and I have responded to) or they end of creating their own culture. After reflecting on that conversation, I thought to myself, “That’s it! When God shows up in the midst of something that is fully submitted and surrendered to him, there is a huge possibiltiy for something ‘new’ to take place – a miracle. That’s the point right? There should be something different about us, and people should be able to see that and glorify our Father in Heaven. We can all be different but together be a unified and peculiar people, Yes?” If we totally surrendered our programs, activities, worship, etc and allowed God to completely change our church experiences, wouldn’t that result in a new culture (both inside the four walls of a church building but also outside of the walls of the church)? Wouldn’t all of us be changed (not by abandoning our race, ethnicities, gender, etc but growing out of those realities)?

  14. Suzanne,

    Your comment almost brought tears. Yes, God is answering my prayer to break my heart for the things that break his. This does break his heart. And Yes, on this blog, I am calling Christians to witness to the transforming power of the gospel. Let it be so in each of us. Amen!

    Zerbin,

    Good for you for taking the initiative and inviting a Caucasian sister to a prodominately “Black church.” More of us need to do that.

    You know that I love gospel music, and you must know that I listen to that as I get dressed for church on Sunday mornings and as we drive to church. There is nothing that touches me like it! That’s my solution to the music “issue.” At the same time there are some great Christian praise and worship songs that quickly bring me to tears as I stand in awe of God. Very few congregations are able to offer that large span of diversity even in their music. You know, “Not everybody can sing gospel :-) It must be sung from personal experiences, raw emotions, no holding back, and it’s tough to do.”

  15. “When God shows up in the midst of something that is fully submitted and surrendered to him, there is a huge possibility for something ‘new’ to take place – a miracle.”

    This past Sunday at our church, I had the opportunity to witness such a miracle. One of the compromises our family makes to attend a diverse church is in the music department. You know that I LOVE Gospel music. We were finishing up the worship (singing) phase of church and transitioning into the tithe and offering phase. The keyboard player (a White boy from NC) started quietly playing, “He is Wonderful” By Lyndell Cooley.

    Great is he who’s the king of kings
    And the lord of lords he is wonderful
    Al le lu ia! al le lu ia! al le lu ia!
    He is wonderful
    Al le lu ia! sal va tion and glory.
    Honor & power. he is wonderful

    The next thing I know a miracle happened. The altos began singing, followed by the sopranos and finally the tenors/bass section. When the men started singing, the black folks started shouting. Then, the Messanic Jews started dancing up and down the isles. A few white and Hispanic people began weeping. I was doing all three.

    It was truly amazing to witness unity in worship.

  16. Natasha, good job. Obviously you have stimulated some conversation! I have found that getting out of our country and being with people of other nations, cultures, colors, etc opens my mind and heart to all of us. This makes it much easier for me to relate to/be friends with/love and appreciate people of different cultures and colors in our very diverse nation. I am especially grateful that our small, start-up, mostly student church is filled with diversity. Thanks for speaking up.

  17. I totally agree, Jeedoo! If there is one regret that I have from my time in the military is that I did not get as much international travel as I would have liked. I find that when international travel is not an option, great value can be gained from intentionally connecting with people of different backgrounds and learning from them, as well as reading about other cultures.

  18. As always, the post/replies keep me thinking. . . just wanted to add a thought I’d been having about this topic.

    Again, diversity is deeper than race/ethnicity. If we judge the diversity of a church based mostly on race/ethnicity, we need be careful. We may miss the boat on what we are supposed to be focused on as Christians. We have to be careful not to turn this into a “political social justice” issue, and instead we need to be very focused on what we are called by Christ to do: love others and witness for Him. We canNOT let government and political movements highjack our purity in serving Him. And we have to be careful to not assume that one race/ethicity needs to get off their duffs and reach out to the other. There’s a real need for us to get beyond the way people look, how they talk, where they live, and all that. . . and just LOVE others regardless.

    I honestly think that if the “heart condition” is treated, that many of these issues we face (like the need to see one another as brothers and sisters despite our skin color or ethnicity) will be resolved through us becoming true, sincere followers of Him. This is how I think the mentoring program can truly make a difference! Individual hearts growing for Him and helping others to do the same. (You see why I am excited for what you have started!)

    If we look around us right where we are, we will see much diversity – even among those of the same race. It’s when we make assumptions about others that we miss out on opportunities to witness, to grow, to learn, to help, and to love.

  19. Ladies, (and a few gentlemen) I’m much older than I suspect you all are. And as such bring a slightly different perspective to the table.

    As a product of deep south racism in the 50′s and early 60′s, and a rebellious spirit as a youth, I sought out relationships with those of another race. I was raised by a dear African American nanny and loved her to the depths of my soul. But until college never went to school with a person of any color. I remember the “white” and “colored” water fountains, bathrooms, etc. It sickened me to see how filthy the “colored” ones were allowed to become. Going to college in the 70′s in Memphis, these things were talked about among the students. I think we all (at least my little multi-racial group) were appalled that such behavior was in our past.

    Marrying a military man, we worked and live with all sorts of diversity. Many men had married Asians. Mixed marriages among all the races was not unusual. And I made an appalling discovery about myself. For the first time I realized I was racist.

    This has led to a lifelong pursuit to trying to find out WHY.

    Think I’ve come to the conclusion that I didn’t MEAN to be that way. And perhaps I really wasn’t. Perhaps I was just aware of differences. Like women are aware about men.

    I think (not sure, just think) that the majority of people SAY they don’t care if the person sitting next to them is different, but in reality most of us are a tad uncomfortable. Have more to say, but perhaps it should not be written down.

    I LOVE gospel music and have visited many African American churches. But never a member of one. And have been treated extremely well. And I try to reach out to the people who look differently (Native Americans, Asians, Latinos, etc) in our home church. But have to ask myself — do I ask them to my house or just shake their hand at welcome time?

    Christianity should be an all inclusive thing. God’s heart breaks every time we shun those different – whether racially, culturally or socioeconomically. I pray I hear the Lord as He whispers to me to reach out to whomever He places in my path.

    Natasha, I love you like a daughter. And you’ve taught me sooooo much. I am extremely proud of you and your accomplishments. I highly respect you for your commitment to not only attend a predominately white church, but to reach out and share your life with others.

  20. Emily,

    I totally agree with you that whenever sin is present, we have to comfort, confess, and repent of our heart issues.

    Diversity, is certainly deeper than race and ethnicity. In this particular post, the focus has been on race and ethnicity because that is one (though not the only) area that blatantly or subtly divides the American church. I think that division should disturb us enough to ask ourselves and each other difficult questions like, “If I am a Christian who happens to be Hispanic, and Hispanic people are the only folks that I choose to hang out with, why is that? And, am I truly loving ALL brothers and sisters in Christ if I continue to make that decision?”

    What we are discussing here is how we allow the gospel to take root in our lives and show itself in our actions. It’s quite easy to say, “I love everybody,” but then we must evaluate that by checking the folks that are welcomed into our homes, and the folks listed in our email and cell phone contacts. The reality is that God says that we do not love him if we do not love our neighbor (1 John 19-21).

    I was reviewing my lecture notes on Ephesians today and the question was asked, “Why do we retain Paul’s focus on reconciliation between Jews and Gentiles when our real focus is reconciliation with God?” Read Ephesians 2:11-22. The short answer is that God wants one group of unified people (not the same type people) for himself.

    You also make a excellent point about the opportunities that we miss when we do not value the differences of others.

  21. i thought this articlle was well done. these are the same sentiments i share. Christ can reedem it all in relations to race. to God be the Glory and may christians step in and walk in the love That Jesus commanded. Our relationship with God should impact how we view and treat others.

  22. I am a middle-aged white male-and ever since grad school at PENN 30 yrs ago, I have found all-white churches boring-after all, did not Christ die for every tongue and tribe? And so I find out myself driving 130 miles roundtrip every Sunday to attend the only racially and socio-economically integrated church in Erie, PA- for “Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all(Col 3:11).” And when I gaze upon the diversity during worship, I gotta believe that Jesus is smiling down on us…

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