#RacialRec: Diversity, who cares?

Since we are beginning the Racial Reconciliation series with a focus on church diversity, I thought it would be good to set a context with regular highlights from @ScottWilliams book entitled Church Diversity: Sunday the Most Segregated Day of the Week.

Like me, Scott Williams grew up with diverse experiences. He spent several years trying to make sense of living in two worlds, White America and the Black America. If you read the comments in my Facebook news feed during this heated political season, the reality of the previous statement would not seem so foreign to you.

I note these two difference perspectives because Williams makes an important statement in the book’s introduction:
If you change your perspective you change the game (14).

A lot of racial reconciliation is simply about changing our perspectives, being honest with ourselves that there maybe areas where we exude racism, there are injustices in the world which happen to other people that we simply don’t think about because it’s not in our faces everyday affecting our families or those we love. We must be honest that we make false assumptions about people concerning things we simply do not know. We do not take time to enter into other people’s worlds, to see what they are thinking, why they behave the way they do, or why we should even care in the first place. All of these attitudes reveal our pride, so this is a confession.

Throughout this series, I’m asking with every post that we exchange pride for faith, hope, and love. I’m asking that we exchange pride for worship. For me, worship is not simply singing nice songs or showing up to church every Sunday. Worship is a lifestyle, a practice of living everyday in humble submission to the Lord. Worship is the anointing, the oil that pours out of our lives, the fruit of our hands, the aura around us that lets people know that we belong to the King. True worship reveals that the Holy Spirit is at work in our hearts and lives, and the power of the Holy Spirit is what draws people to God and draws people together.

Throughout his book, Williams sounds the alarm for church leaders to surrender to the power of the Holy Spirit. “If we want our Church to be inclusive and truly reach all people for Christ, we must get the right people to the table, have the right conversations, pray the right prayers, and change the face of the church (34).”

1. Get the right people to the table. They have to want it. If diversity is of no concern to the leaders, they should not be at the table. If they have all of the answers (that’s the ugly pride again), they should not be at the table. If they have their own agenda, they should not be at the table because it is important to understand that diversity is not an isolated issue in the church. It needs to be addressed in connection with all of God’s priorities for a particular congregation. So who do you invite to the table? “He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol [examples in this case could be liberation, equal rights or perceived fairness, politics, American success, etc] or swear by what is false. He will receive blessing for the Lord and vindication from God his Savior (Psalm 24:4-5).” It’s really a heart issue. “If your heart is not right and you don’t have a strategy for diversity, it’s not going to happen (45).”

2. Have the right conversations. Anyone who is in a committed relationship understands the importance of communication. If communication is not happening, the relationship breaks down. This situation is no different. “If you are not trying to be intentional and purposeful about the church diversity issues, it’s a non-issue (45).” In other words, issues that go unaddressed do not solve themselves. Williams writes that we must be intentional, confrontational, authentic, and patient when discussing the issue of diversity in the church. I would add that we must be bold. Oftentimes, God begins a work in a person’s heart to confront an issue but they shy away—it might be because of fear or the thought that no one cares or nothing will change. For whatever the reason, we are paralyzed and do nothing. But everything about the Christian faith says that we must be willing to stand with God no matter the cost. We must be willing to take the risks even when we do not see clearly. We must be willing to lay everything on the line for the sake of our brothers and sisters. We must be bold.

3. Pray the right prayers. “Ask God to give you a burden for diversity in the church (45).” Those who are truly burdened by diversity are actually burdened for people. They care enough about people to look beyond themselves. These are the people who live missionally. They believe there faith actual means something, that a transformation has literally taken place in their lives and they live differently. They are not content with business as usual. These are the people who should be out front leading in congregations, setting the example for others in the church.
When we get the right people at the table, have the right conversations, and pray the right prayers, I believe God will honor those actions and change the face of the American church.

How have your experiences shaped the way you view diversity? How is the topic of diversity addressed in your church? What are some specific conversations we need to have?

© Natasha Sistrunk Robinson 2012

10 thoughts on “#RacialRec: Diversity, who cares?

  1. It was 1975…after the 60’s-70’s race riots. An inner city church in Chattanooga, TN was forming. We became members and thoroughly involved. What an education we received as we became confronted with institutionalized racism. We are so grateful to God that He led us to that church, but there is so much more work to be done. Thank you for addressing this important issue!!

  2. Im so on the fence when it comes to diversity in the church. Not because I don’t want it. Trust me, it would be cool to experience worship of different races here in America. I simply love the black church and its roots. I do realize if something stops progress then there is reason for it to die and with so many black churches caring for tradition than people and sound doctrine then I’m sure it may die anyway. Anyway so at the end of the day its a music issue for me. When I got to college I not only was the only black in an all white campus ministry. I was one of very few blacks at the church I attended. In both cases praise and worship was terrible for me. I missed hearing chatter during sermons. I missed celebrating black history month at the church. I missed my culture. Now are these things important in comparison to the gospel, probably not, but I havent gone back to a white church since. I think diversity needs to meet cultural needs. When I started a ministry on my campus that focused on reaching students of African decent people who looked like me gave their life to Christ, started going on mission trips, started studying their Bible, etc. There is a “comfort in culture” aspect that has to be addressed bc I was ridiculed and questioned by my white Christian friends bc I didnt like contemporary Christian music. My whole Bible study turned on me when they couldnt understand why I needed to start a ministry for people of African decent and why we couldnt all be together. I wasnt against diversity in the body. I just understood the cultural differences were hindering people from meeting and growing in Christ.

    1. Thanks for sharing and being honest, Tyshan. Trust me when I say, “I understand.” I wrote a post on worship today and that’s a major area of concern for me when thinking about this topic. I hope to address our “comfort” levels throughout the series. We are all guilty at some point or another of valuing our traditions over convictions in the Word. So hopefully, this series will get us all moving along together in the right direction. Love and blessings, Natasha

    2. Enjoying your own culture is even biblical– check out what Paul writes in Colossians 4:10-11. I think multicultural churches are a wonderful reflection of God’s beauty. But it’s not easy. Culture runs deep–it defines so much of who we are, and even of our theology.

      Tyshan, I’m so sorry that the people in your Bible study didn’t recognize the opening you were giving them to understand their God and His Word in a deeper and more accurate way. As a white student on a very white campus, I was privileged to be part of a multicultural Bible study. It helped prepare me well for life overseas as a missionary. But I think it also is necessary to truly live as a Christian in America.

      1. Kara, I believe you make an important point of how engaging in a diverse environment at home prepared you for missionary ministry abroad. Fundamentally, I believe this (the mission, sharing the gospel) is at the heart of this discussion, and whether or not we are concerned about sharing the gospel with all people of all nations, or just those people who look like us.

  3. It definitely has to be a conscious decision on the part of a church to want to be diverse. I say this as an African-American who spent 12 years in a predominantly white, middle-class, suburban, socially, politically and theologically conservative church. Two and a half of those years, I was an elder. I can tell you that I swallowed a lot of ignorance and disrespect from a lot of people who clearly had very little to no interaction with people of color and little knowledge, insight or interest into other’s lives and histories. It was as if nothing existed outside of their cloistered world and it was assumed, and even expected, that everyone was the same. That’s a hard environment to be in. When I left over a year ago, I spent a lot of time processing what happened and what I contributed to the situation by things I did and didn’t do. I had a lot of anger at myself for feeling as if I had betrayed my race. The experience has definitely changed me and one thing I don’t do is allow certain things to be said or done that I find annoying without somehow challenging them or allowing people to know where I stand. Because of my upbringing, I learned to just take a lot and not speak up and just play the nice role. But I’ve learned that there is a way to speak up and not to do so is often denying yourself and what you believe in.

    Having said all this, getting back to my original point, churches have to be churches that genuinely welcome people into their midst. Churches that are friendly, but yet blind to color and race and ignorant of culture, can often offend people in the things that they say, don’t say, do and don’t do. I think churches that want to integrate should have open, honest discussions with their congregations and manage their expectations and answer questions and concerns and no question should be off-limits. If the church is serious, lay it all on the table. The irrational fears, long-held beliefs that are more stereotype than anything, etc. Let’s face it, there’s stuff people do wonder about and they do themselves no favor not being up front about them because people are smart. They know when you’re staring at them. They feel the discomfort that you have around them. They hear the patronization in your voice. If stereotypes can be dealt with up front, then there’s no need for some of this behavior. Sometimes, I think people have no idea the burden that some carry going into environments like this and remaining civil and swallowing your pride, all while having people treat you like radioactive waste.

    There should also be expectations set that the church itself may have to change. Are they willing to open up their leadership teams to people of other races and cultures? Will they be open to ideas that are out of the norm for them? Are they willing to vary their worship style? Are they willing to include others in their church social circles? This idea that people are welcome as long as they come in and just assimilate, just does not work.

    1. Yes! Pat, thanks for sharing. As an African American in a predominately white church, I had definitely resonated with several of your thoughts. From my experiences over the past five years, there has been an attitude among the nice white congregants and leaders, “Come as you are and be like us.” Of course, that attitude does not value the minority as the unique image bearer God created. In today’s post, I started addressing the importance of leaders actually “leading” in this effort. I will elaborate more on the responsibilities of leadership in several posts next week. We will discuss stereotypes during the second part of this series. Thanks for contributing to this discussion, Natasha

    2. Thank you Pat, for speaking up. And for your conviction that it is necessary to speak up more. I can’t imagine how tiring it is, though! I pray that God would fill you with supernatural perseverance.

      The writings of John Perkins started my education in this, and I recommend them especially to every white Christian.

      http://www.belhaven.edu/news/articles/Dr.-John-Perkins-Speaks-about-Racial-Reconciliation-2012-03-30.htm

      I agree with what you’ve written about ‘friendly’ churches who really want the appearance of diversity.As a white Christian, I have been a part of two different multicultural church communities, connected with the Christian Community Development Association. Those churches which truly strive to be multicultural find that it’s very, very difficult. There’s a book, co-written by John Perkin’s son, that I would recommend as a starting point for those who want a diverse church.

      http://www.amazon.com/More-Than-Equals-Racial-Healing/dp/0830822569

      Maybe, with the wisdom of our fathers and mothers, we can avoid causing some the same pain to our brothers and sisters as we walk this painful, joyful road.

      1. Kara, thanks for bringing the work of John and Spencer Perkins to my attention. I think I’m going to compile a list of resources at the end of the series and will be sure to include this book in it. Blessings, Natasha

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