Last night I took my kiddos, 10 and 15, along with a few of the youth from our church to one of the biggest finals in break dancing culture. Since moving to Los Angeles to be a part of a new church plant, we are eagerly looking for opportunities for our family to engage in the culture of our new city. Enrolling my kiddos in break dancing is one of those ways. The owner of the studio that my son attends organized a field trip to this event and since no one in our immediate family had ever been to something like this before, upon arrival, I quickly realized that there was so much that the church can learn from the b-boy culture. The break dancing community does diversity amazingly well. In spite of obvious differences off the dance floor, with break dancing being the common denominator, the love of break dancing brought people from all tongues, tribes and nations together for one night of celebration and togetherness.
Seeing this reminded me that the overall American church has desperately failed at representing all tongues, tribes and nations. If Jesus is the common denominator for all believers, why can’t we figure out this thing called diversity and why are our churches segregated to the point that they are? If we have the Holy Spirit of the Living God residing in our souls, why do we default to sameness, comfort, and ease in our churches.
According to the latest census, white people make up 61% of the American population, with 17.6 % Hispanic, 13.3 % Black and 5.6 % Asian with the rest of the population being either of mixed ethnicity or some other minority. These statistics show that white people are still very much the majority in our country. So if we superimpose those numbers onto a church of 100 people, whites would still make up the majority, but there would still be still be a fair share of OTW (other than white) represented.
However, from my own personal experience, regardless of where a church was located, the majority of solid Bible believing churches are not reflective of those census stats. As a matter of fact, regardless of location, a church was usually upwards of 90-95% white with the sprinkling of minorities making up the rest. We once were members of a church that had a majority black high school right across the street, but was 95-98% white. When we moved to another state, our new town was 84 % Hispanic and 14% white, yet the church was still 95-98 % white. Last year, my family and I attended a pretty popular reformed Christian conference in a major city. To my great sadness, this conference of about 7000 people were majority white – approx 98% – with literally a handful of Hispanics, a few Asians and a couple of young black men. Yes…..I counted.
Due to all that is going on outside of the church concerning racial tension, it is a good thing that the church is finally willing to look at what is broken and talk about some of these issues. The other day I came across this:
Great to get together with a good friend and talk through how two white males can fight against the racial inequalities happening within our country.
I am sure the person that wrote these words had the best intentions in mind and I honestly appreciate the fact that a conversation was actually taking place. However, these kinds of posts and even these kinds of conversations are not helpful. They merely give the appearance of having a desire to change the status quo, but in reality, talk is pretty cheap. Actually talking, tweeting, and preaching about racial reconciliation means nothing if you are not willing to simply walk across the room and strike up a conversation with someone who doesn’t look like you, dress like you, act like you. Then if you are not willing to get past the superficial chit chat and welcome people into your home or into your lives on a regular basis, or not willing to enter into their lives, then talking about racial reconciliation is a mute point.
I am grateful that the church appears to have awoken up from a comatose sleep concerning these issues, but sadly we are still missing the mark. The American church cannot and will not ever be able to fix or have any credibility concerning the secular racial division that happens between the majority and the minority outside the church if they do not address the segregation that exists in the church first. How can the church as a whole have a viable voice in our country’s super charged and often heated conversations concerning racial tensions if our own house is racial divided? Simply put…..we can’t. I would even say we are a major contributor to our country’s ethnic divide.
When the majority Christian has conversations about the minority Christian or just minorities in general, without the presence of minorities, these conversations only reinforce the great chasm that exists between these demographics.
Oftentimes, when minorities are finally given the voice to share their own experiences with others, they are often viewed as one who is not striving for unity. Sadly, they are declared to be divisive and no follower of Christ ever wants to be seen or labeled as a divisive person. Inevitably, the minority Christian no longer feels safe sharing their real struggles and pain. They often end up feeling isolated and misunderstood. How can authentic relationships be built if only one person, the one that represents the majority, has the freedom to be authentic?
I do find it refreshing that church leadership and even many celebrity pastors are writing blogs, appearing on national t.v. and outwardly seem to be major proponents of racial reconciliation. Majority Christians are even inviting minority speakers to their mostly white conferences. However, church leadership can encourage and motivate their congregants and conference attendees to be more proactive in accepting all nationalities till they are blue in the face, but if they are not first setting the example in their own personal lives, then honestly, their words are empty.
Whether anyone wants to acknowledge it or not, there is a real “good ol’ boy” way of doing church that has created the status quo of exclusion that many minorities often experience. If majority Christian’s are not willing to really listen with both heart and mind to the voices of minority Christians AND are not willing to welcome them into their network of church leadership and circles of intimate fellowship AND minority Christians are continually forced to keep their struggles and pain to themselves so as not to appear divisive or combative, surely, then the church has no business trying to fix or speak out against racial tensions happening in our country outside our church walls.
I am extremely thankful that minority believers are now rising up and saying enough is enough. Our voices need to be heard. Change does need to happen and it starts from both top and bottom, meaning leadership and lay folks alike. The small amount of minority Christians that make up the overall American church are boldly becoming the change we want to see happen. Which leads me to my next point.
As minority Christians, we need to realize that we are vessels of God that he has predestined to help other minorities see the Kingdom of God. We must exhibit Gospel intentionality in our own lives and make every effort to reach our fellow minorities for God’s glory. If we sit back on our saved minority laurels and expect the majority to come up with ministry programs and outreach plans to reach our own people, then we are part of the problem. God has saved us for a reason. Our transformed life is the only credibility we need to go back into our own neighborhoods and communities and love like Christ loved, preach like Christ preached, serve like Christ served. We surely don’t need the validation of the good ol’ boys in the current evangelical/protestant church structure to give us the “blessing” to go and make disciples. If minority Christians are not willing to put in the work of loving the people in our own communities, then the church will remain continually segregated and we are accomplices to the white savior problem that exists.
Our family is now part of a church plant that is changing the status quo of what church is supposed to look like. I am thankful that our pastors did not wait for the majority to change how church is done but they took it upon themselves to be the change they want to see reflective in the body of Christ. I am thankful that our three pastors make up three different ethnic groups. However, I also know that we must be very intentional and diligent to not be “that minority church”. If we want to represent every tongue, tribe and nation, that means our white brothers and sisters must also feel welcomed and loved.
Majority Christians, be willing to not only speak for your minority brothers and sisters, but most importantly, be willing to let them into your inner circle and your personal lives, not as token projects, but as true friends who are fellow brothers and sisters in the family of God.
Minority Christians, be the change you want to see happen. Stop trying force yourself into that good ol’ boy way of doing church. Stop complaining that they are not letting you speak at their conferences or recognize your preaching, blogging, teaching or writing. Start looking at your own communities and begin figuring out ways to usher in more beautiful people of color into God’s kingdom. Don’t be an accomplice to the white savior problem. Don’t wait for them to invite you into their homes and lives- invite them first into yours.
Maybe one day we can truly do diversity better than those outside the church. Maybe one day our common denominator, the love we have for our King of Kings, can motivate us to embrace each other the way break dancers do in the break dancing cypher as our churches reflect true, loving and sincere diversity. When the watching world is finally able to see this happening inside our church buildings, that we are not just talking the talk of racial reconciliation, like a resounding gong, but through our own personal lives we are also walking the walk.