Every week our church compiles a list of share-worthy blog posts. One of the posts was written by Matt Chandler for his church blog, The Village Blog. (You can find it HERE.)
I knew I liked Matt Chandlers’ teaching style but his blog post on racial divisions in the church made me like him even more. I guess the proper word would be “respect”.
I respect him more.
I respect him for “going there”
it gave me courage to “go there” too.
Even though he used the archaic term “anglo” to specifically refer to white people in general, which I found quite amusing by the way, I loved the gist of his overall message.
Basically, as Christ following people, we should not have any divisions amongst us.
Even though he mentioned only racial divisions in his piece, I would apply that “no divisions” concept to cultural/ethnic division and/or socioeconomic division as well.
I loved Chandlers blog post so much I shared it on my Facebook page with the lead in
“i dont think ive ever met white Christians and felt “these are my people”, well, at least other than my husband”
The more I thought about this, the more I realized that I may have over exaggerated.
I have found SOME white Christians, to be “my people”.
When I moved to Virginia after marrying my hubby, who is white by the way, I was immediately thrown into an all white church. Initially, I welcomed the simple fact that I just knew Christians. Up until my conversion, I knew not one. No…not one!
I knew mostly cultural Catholics.
You know…the ones that go to church for quinceañera’s, weddings, Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, every so often on regular Sunday’s and definitely holidays. Some even had Mary shrines in their front yard. I think the proper term for that particular idol is the Lady of Guadalupe, who my sister was named after by the way. But intentional Jesus following people….not so much.
I also knew Jehovah’s Witnesses, with their very strict works based, religious, cult like belief system that ascribes to a brain washed teaching that denies the deity of Christ by saying he was just a good teacher “who happens to be God’s son”. They also liken the Holy Spirit to be some sort of “force shield”.
But Christ following, salvation by grace alone through faith alone, die to self, sin killing, soli deo gloria kind of people…..well I knew NONE. God saved me at 33, with a life time of experiences under my belt, so that was a lot of years of lived life and meeting people and not knowing any Christians.
Either my former way of living was so far detached from God or God’s people, or the Christians that did cross paths with me were never intentional enough to get my attention….either way…..I had no idea real Christians existed.
(interesting side note)- Sometimes I come across articles of controversy surrounding the Christian faith or evangelicalism, or reformed churches that were written during my “dead in sin” years, and shake my head in amazement at the fact that I had no idea a whole other world was taking place. Sometimes I meet people my age, or a tad bit younger and they share with me how they grew up in church, went to Bible camp in the summer, listened to DC Talk and went on youth mission trips. They think I am strange because I don’t share those memories with them. Sometimes, I look back on my “dead in sin” years and I often feel sad that I missed out on so many possible ministry opportunities. Nevertheless, I am humbly and utterly thankful that God chose to save me at all, even if it didn’t happen until I was 33. Its been 10 years since and still…I have yet to recover from being saved…. as if that can actually happen. I personally do not think so. (end interesting side note)
Moving to Virginia was an eye opening experience. I found myself surrounded by white Christians who not only went to church on Sunday or special occasions, but people who eagerly, on purpose, intentionally sought Christ with their lives, words, actions, emotions and servitude spirit. I had never seen this. It was new to me.
Initially I accepted the idea that my Mexican American childhood, my forced entry into the American black culture in my late teens and throughout my 20’s and bit into my early 30’s, I assumed all my previous cultural experiences were “bad”. I tried to put on white Christianity and own it as mine. I rejected anything that had to do with my dead-in-sin past- even my multi-cultural-ness.
I even remember asking the wife of our pastor at church once, who I grew close in relationship with
“ok…now that I am a Christian, how am I supposed to vote?”.
I know it’s silly now to think that I asked that question….but for someone who had a drastic life conversion the way I did, whose entire life got turned upside down because of Christ….well that question seemed fitting.
Everything in my past reeked of death.
The way I lived, the way I dressed, the way I spoke, the music I listened to, what and how I ate, the way I parented (or lacked in parenting), my relationships- personal and familial, what I did with my free time….yes…even how I voted….was subject to Christ’s reign in my new life and I was open to allowing Christ to permeate everything.
Being a slave to Christ meant every nook and cranny of my Mexican American person was and is His.
Nothing was off the table with Christ.
Shouldn’t my identity in Christ trump my Mexican-American identity?
If so, then “my people” were no longer just Mexicans. As a matter of fact, because of Christ, His people were now “my people”.
But if I am going to be honest, I don’t often feel that Christ’s people are “my people”.
There have been some exceptions though.
In the past a pastor and his wife welcomed us into their lives. They loved us like family – blended, broken family and all – all the Mexican parts, the black parts, and the white parts. Almost daily they poured into our lives with unconditional love and intentionality and by doing so, they eventually became “our people”.
Our former small group in Virginia that met every Sunday evening welcomed us and loved us as well. I felt more unconditional love from this small group of Christians than in my entire life thus far, yes….at the time, even more so than my blood family. The small group was not all white, though many times it was (other than my family of course) We were a tiny bit multi-ethnic and very much multi-generational. No divisions existed in our small group. Not even socioeconomic divisions separated the love and fidelity we all shared with Christ. We prayed together, worshiped together, studied the Bible together, did ministry together, even went on missions together. These people became “our people”.
However, no cliques were formed as we did not do “life” together. We met over open Bibles and then went about the rest of our week as if on mission.
In hindsight, God knew what He was doing by FIRST giving me and my family that beautiful picture of what “no divisions” looked like. Unfortunately, He sought fit to show me what division looks like too.
Enter small town Texas.
Texas was a different story all together. Small town church looked vastly different from my former small group. Small town church was deeply segregated. Even my former church in Virginia was deeply segregated. As were most churches.
Several of the small towns we lived in, the majority of the population – Mexican. My husband got his first taste of reverse discrimination in small town Texas, where he was not hired for certain positions he was clearly qualified for, but due to not having a Mexican last name or his ability to speak Spanish, he was overlooked.
An interesting fact though, is the majority of these evangelical churches in majority Mexican small towns were made up of mostly white Christians. We visited a few, well almost all of them, and I began noticing a pattern that caused me to step back and start asking questions, even if the questions were only to myself.
Why are most evangelicals white? (All the churches I have ever been a part of have been majority white, regardless of denominational affiliation)
Why are they, the majority white evangelical Christian, not trying to reach the non-white for the glory of God…especially the ones that live down the street? Or in the “bad part” of town?
If the predominately white evangelical Christian truly believes that there is ONE God and the only way for salvation is through His Son Jesus, why are they arguing over music styles or new chairs for the fellowship hall instead of figuring out ways to reach the ones that have shrines in their yards?
If Christ makes us one body, one church, one bride, why is Sunday morning so segregated?
All these questions lead me ask this about myself –
Why do I inevitably feel so uncomfortable in all white churches?
I definitely will not stop going to church due to my discomfort because I love the church, which is the body of Christ, but I think my discomfort comes from a yearning to see un-segregated, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic churches that have solid expository and/or exegetical preaching coming from the pulpit.
The longer I am a Christ follower, the longer I have come to the conclusion that Sunday segregation is not necessarily a racial issue….thought at times, especially in certain churches, it might be.
What I have personally observed…is that segregation on Sunday is largely due to cultural and/or ethnic differences.
Culture is what cause people groups to behave in certain ways collectively that reflect a norm in any given society. Historically, culture was defined by how certain people groups view food, arts, music, clothing, sports, film. etc.
Without having to break out the old college anthropology or sociology text book, I found an all encompassing definition of ethnicity online.
Ethnicity is a “socially-defined category of people who identify with each other based on common ancestral, social, cultural, or national experience. Membership of an ethnic group tends to be defined by a shared cultural heritage, ancestry, myth of origins, history, homeland, language (dialect), or even ideology, and manifests itself through symbolic systems such as religion, mythology and ritual, cuisine, dressing style, physical appearance, etc.”
Pretty much, anything and every thing that makes up a person and why they do what they do, live the way they live, eat what they eat, believe what they believe etc…is ethnicity or culture.
The difference between culture and ethnicity is that culture changes, ethnicity does not.
For example, even though my ethnicity is Mexican/Spanish (from Spain), I don’t speak Spanish fluently, I rarely make Mexican food, and the norms that reflect my immediate family do not necessarily reflect that I am ethnically Mexican. However, when my extended family arrives, my house is beautifully transformed into all things Mexico. Spanish is spoken fluently, Mexican food is always being cooked on my stove, and my dad is forever in his Mexican/Ranchero style of dress – to include his cowboy hat, belt buckle, and pointy cowboy boots. I love it! In these visits with my extended family, culture and ethnicity dance harmoniously together. It’s beautiful. Once my extended family leaves, my home reverts back to what my immediate family’s norms are. The culture in my home changes. My ethnicity does not.
Culture not only changes within smaller people groups, it also changes based on overall region. North Texas has a different culture than south Texas. Austin has a very distinct culture as does small border town. Dallas has a different culture than…lets say….New York or Atlanta. Urban areas have a very different culture than the suburbs. The Pacific northwest has a very different culture than the upper east coast. The culture in the American south is vastly different from the American southwest.
Most often, people stick to what is familiar, inside and outside the church, and that familiarity is typically based on culture or ethnicity…not necessarily the colors of our skin. Most often, people reach out, befriend or engage in conversations with people who look like them, act like them, parent like them, play like them, eat like them.
Whites are most comfortable with other whites who converse, pray, worship, talk, dress, eat, drink, act, look, parent, like themselves.
Blacks are most comfortable with other blacks who converse, pray, worship, talk, dress, eat, drink, act, look, parent, like themselves.
Hispanics are most comfortable with other Hispanics who converse, pray, worship, talk, dress, eat, drink, act, look, parent, like themselves.
Asians are most comfortable with other Asians who converse, pray, worship, talk, dress, eat, drink, act, look, parent, like themselves.
well…you get the picture.
Its just comfortable. It’s easy. Its safe. No feelings of uncomfortableness.
Our churches are no different.
We gravitate toward sameness in our churches. We forget that our superficial cultural and ethnic differences mean absolutely nothing compared with the unity of Christ….and there is so much more beauty in the act of setting aside our differences to be united with Christ with others who are undeniably different.
We fail to realize that in safe, comfortable, easy places where Christians meet, divisions and walls are erected. Christian cliques are formed.
I honestly don’t think that Christians are intentional or purposely wanting to erect division, walls or cliques. Again, I think it’s just easier. Due to our sinful default mode, it’s just easy peasy.
Sadly, it’s in those places, with those people, those Christians, I feel most alone. I retreat. I slink back.
Thankfully, there are the few rare exceptions.
And oh how I love meeting those few rare exceptions.
Those white Christians who love people different than themselves.
Those white Christians who are not afraid to extend their hand, their lives and their love to people who are sometimes the complete opposite of themselves, not only in culture or ethnicity, but socioeconomic and educational differences as well.
Those rare gems purposely tear down ugly divisions and never think to erect walls of familiarity.
There are Christians who, through an intentional desire to understand and embrace cultural or ethnic differences, find beauty in getting past immediate cultural or ethnic differences to see the beauty and unity in Christ.
I’ll be honest though, I am not very good at extending my hand out first. I usually see already built walls and cliques made by white Christians and retreat (I single out white Christians here because in my personal experience, that is who has made up the churches I’ve personally been a part of)
Sometimes, I finally muster up the courage to speak first or attempt to engage, and I find myself hitting walls or turned backs and get my feelings hurt.
It’s easier said than done to say I should not take it personal. I do.
I have to remind myself often of Christ and His discomfort. He did not go to the cross because it was going to be easy, safe or comfortable. He went to the cross because it was hard, unsafe, and uncomfortable….yet it was very much necessary. In the end, when Christ conquered death, those that hear His voice, He made them His.
From all tribes, nations, and tongues.
Basically all cultures and all ethnicity.
I am thankful that there are those rare exceptions that see me as a part of the body of Christ too. They see my brown skin, my Mexican-ness, my different cultural-ness and press in. In the act of pressing in, they discover, as well as I, that we are not so different after all.
I am thankful that, when I am at a point where I feel most alone, God sends a gem.
Extended hand. Open heart. Warm laugh. Sincere ear.
Oh God and my Savior, help me to be that gem too!