“It’s appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian American is 11:00 a.m. on Sunday morning.” – The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Wednesday the 23rd Lawson Wijesooriya, Director of Blue Sky fund and Elder of East End fellowship in Richmond, came and talked with the GotH interns about White Privilege and Racial reconciliation. I went into the conversation skeptical. How would a group of six young white people have a meaningful conversation about reconciliation and White Privilege? It seemed hypocritical. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Right from the beginning we addressed this concern of mine and began discussing how Race effects all aspects of our society from Wealth, to the types of foods we eat, to hairstyles. The borders and divisions in our society are predominantly racial ones, sometimes literally. However, what struck me most, once we dived into it, was how the church (I use this term in a general sense) was so strongly divided by race. It was then when Lawson offered up this quote from MLK. She then talked about the church of unity and how the narrative of the Gospels was a uniting one, one which forced people to reconcile difference in order to become one body, to become a community of inclusion, support, acceptance, and love. All people were invited and forced to interact with one another especially if they held differences. When the Disciples were sent out they were sent not into their own communities, but into ones that were very different from one another.
This message really struck me as something so clear and obvious, that I was amazed, no baffled, that this was the first time I had heard this. I grew up in the church, I have preached the Gospel, have given spiritual direction to many people, and believed in the encompassing and openness of God’s love for all people with all the conviction I could possibly muster. Yet when it came to the biggest societal divide I was completely oblivious. Well, maybe oblivious isn’t the right word, I think it just didn’t even factor into my thinking when it came to God’s love. I always saw God on an intrinsically personal level, I did not see the big picture. I was to focused on hanging out with fingers of Christ’s body, getting to know them, how they understand their relation to the body; that I wasn’t able to see that the rest of the body was starving, trying to get a hand up. It can be easy to simply say then “Holy Shit, I was so blind, I shouldn’t have been hanging out with the fingers this whole time while you were starving. I regret what I did.” Saying this I believe devalues the love I have known in my overwhelmingly “white” church experience. I don’t think I was lost or misguided because the Church I have known, preached about, and lived is still a genuine expression of God’s love. What I have known is true, it is just limited, lacking full perception and depth of God’s people.
Like I said before I wasn’t oblivious to the issues of race, I just simply was looking at God through a different lens and chalked up the issues of church’s being divided as simply an issue of preference. I hold as one of my central beliefs that all people know God differently and that no two people can possibly understand God in the same way. What this means is that the way I experience, feel, interact, listen, speak, and love God is inherently unique because no two people are the same. While no two people are the same, there are certainly similarities based on shared experiences, and it was these shared experiences which I believed lead to the creation of socially divided churches. This is a convenient and not well thought out answer for this particular question. When approached with this issue of race this was the argument I would revert to, people of the same race have, to some extent a shared experience, and therefore there is a shared understanding of God. However, an individual relationship with God does not justify divisions between God’s people ESPECIALLY when both groups declare their love for Christ as their expression of the greater concept of God. In fact it is through the intersection of different experiences and the understanding, acceptance, and embrace of experience that are not your own, that God is known. Personal preference should not stand in the way of understanding the Kingdom of God.
These questions that have come to my mind and the problems they create for truly knowing the kingdom of God are not unique ones. I am certainly not the first one to understand or articulate this, so why is racial reconciliation a quite subject. Sure we here out about social injustice and how it is wrong and how we need to strive to accept all people and sure we believe it, but in compartmentalized superficial ways. In my 22 year experience with the church I have only had worship with a culture that wasn’t my ow n once. I can count on one hand, out of the dozens of preachers I have heard, the number of sermons delivered by individuals who were not of my race. I am in a program to become a priest and am participating in a church service corp, HOW CAN THIS BE! I fully buy into God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit and my spiritual life is far more homogeneous the most other aspects of my life HOW CAN THIS BE! I already discussed how the gospel is all about big picture inclusion and reconciliation between different groups but my entire experience has been defined by one narrative. It is hypocrisy! The church should be tearing down societal divisions like this http://youtu.be/iZxNbAwY_rk?t=4m18s . Why is the church not on the cutting edge of embracing and engaging social change? Why do Christians compartmentalize their lives so as to contain social action and thoughts of the ills of society to about two hours each Sunday (if that)? Part of being a Christian is to embrace Christ in all aspects of your life. Sunday morning is a time to reflect, gather, and focus. Sundays are the 30 minute meeting at the end of a work day between employees. The problem is that as Christians we are showing up to recap and talk about the work day without having done the work the boss had asked them to do. This is why the quote from MLK is so powerful to me, the church should be working towards integration and radical social ideas of love, not operating as conservative societal bastion. (THIS LAST REMARK WAS IN NO WAY INTENDED TO BE POLITICAL)
So then the question is raised, are we cowards, lazy, or both? I do not know the answer and I do not know if that is even the right question. What do you think the question should be? How do we go about the work of reconciling scattered body of Christ? An idea I have been toying with are congregation visits. White congregations would go visit black, hispanic, asian, etc. congregations and vice versa. The first step to reconciliation is recognition of the divide, the second is to say hello over a cup of coffee.
I leave with some music, like I promised to last time. The song is called “White Privilege” by Professor Macklemore (yes, that guy, leave your presumptions at the link). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=INNCxVpGpyU. This song has to do with white privilege in hip-hop, different subjects, but I can really echo some of the sentiments.