Archive for December, 2007

Undestroyed Walls III
December 13, 2007

       Reverend Gaines admitted that Lexington possesses ministers, both black and white, that he cannot “walk with” because of their lack of conviction regarding these issues. He said, “We are weak in the social aspect of the gospel…the key is to carry out the social gospel while remaining theologically anchored.” Many have failed in their attempt to achieve this balance; many are blind to its significance. Finding this balance is essential for an effective, relevant, God-honoring ministry. A congregational reflection of the Kingdom of God is only an aspect of carrying out the gospel, but an aspect that most churches have failed to realize. For the sake of the gospel, criticism and diagnosis cannot be our stopping point. We must push forward and formulate a remedy. With this in mind, I asked Reverend Gaines this question:

Is strategic integration necessary?

       “Necessary” proved to be too strong of a word for Reverend Gaines. He preferred “helpful” and believed that legislating diversity should not be the exclusive approach. “Pure hearts will do the right thing,” he said. He felt that a natural integration would occur out of love for the Savior if the hearts of men were pure. Though I do whole-heartedly agree with this notion, I also feel that the hearts of men need prompting – and teaching this truth may not be as effective as demonstration. If a congregation sees spoken convictions come to physical fruition in the form of diverse leadership, then prompting the hearts of men is an easier mountain to scale. One must realize that the monumental battle we fight is not with societal structure; rather, it is with the inner-most assumptions and beliefs of the individuals that make up our society. It is a battle of wills. Though we have moved beyond the devastation of a racism-laden America, we are still the distant offspring of racist thought. Sadly, there are microscopic pieces of the former-America deeply seeded in our spirits. Do not be mistaken, it is not disgustingly obvious like it once was. You must look deep to find the fragmented traces of racial intolerance, but the search for comfortable segregation is far less difficult, especiallly on Sunday mornings. The condition of the heart is the root of all problems because of man’s innate depravity. But…truth can triumph over depravity. Truth must triumph over depravity.

       The brief time I was blessed to experience with Reverend Richard Gaines of Consolidated Baptist Church proved to be a milestone in my young life. My soul’s yearnings were finally heard and justified by a voice much louder and wiser than mine. I pray that our paths will one day cross again in pursuit of the same goal. Alongside Reverend Gaines, I refuse to believe that we were made to celebrate Christ divided. Only our God can repair this historic mistrust, but we must be willing to see God accomplish it through us. I am moved by the name of Reverend Gaines’ assembly – Consolidated. To consolidate… is to bring together separate parts into a single or unified whole – to combine, to unite. Our calling as God’s people is no less.

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Undestroyed Walls II
December 10, 2007

       One must not dismiss the irrefutable presence of divergent cultures as they formulate their convictions regarding segregation in the church. Our cultures, black and white, are alive and well. Although “well” may  be a stretch at times, the cultures that permeate our existences play a major role in nearly every facet of the human experience; thus, they should not be ignored. Despite acknowledging the merit of cultural discussions, the problem surfaces when individuals use the truth of varying cultures to defend a position of separatism in the church. I, alongside Reverend Gaines, argue that this position is supported so that “cultural-comfortability” can be preserved. This disposition is similar to the Samaritan woman in Scripture who could not understand why Jesus would desire all people to travel to Jerusalem to worship. She knew the vast cultural distinctions between Jews and Gentiles and assumed that segregation of worship was the appropriate methodology. Jesus destroyed her preconceived notions by informing her that sociology was not relevant to when and where worship should take place (John 4). Reverend Gaines reinforced this truth by proclaiming that we need to “go all the way to Jerusalem” to worship together. If cultural differences are rubbish in the eyes of the man we so passionately follow, why have we let it define the gathering of believers across America? Pastor Gaines also agreed that comfort fuels our desire to be separate. Few will admit it, but there exists a subconscious belief that spirituality was meant to be manufactured and experienced with your own people. Because of cultural differences, integration is believed to be pollution…a detriment to purity. How can one fully express their spirituality if they are in the presence of those who do not understand that particular form of expression? This attitude lies at the heart of those who endorse separatism and is a tragedy in the eyes of the Creator of melanin. My question to that faction is this: What cause could be worthy of my time and energy that does not have the power to unite those of different cultures?                                     

       Spirituality is enhanced when individuals step out of the “cultural box” (by rejecting the subtle traces of ethnocentricity that we unknowingly carry) to watch and experience Christianity through a different cultural lens. Though it should be noted that compromising the historic force of culture for the sake of integration is not satisfactory, one could only imagine the spiritual possibilities of a body of believers experiencing God on their own cultural terms, yet together while doing so. If spiritual isolation and stagnation is the goal, then dying on the hill of separatism is a worthy pursuit. But my heart tells me that there is a divine reason that all nations will glorify our Father in heaven together for eternity. Reverend Gaines humbly concurred.

       It should be noted that culture does not carry the same weight that it onced did. We are all victims of “Americanization”, and culture today is primarily defined by financial status. Wealthy white families in Lexington have few differences between wealthy black families. So, if our church congregations were determined by culture as we know it in 2007’s America, individuals would find themselves worshiping alongside people with similar socioeconomic status more often than race.

       Demographic arguments also arise in this debate. Some would say that congregations are mere reflections of the surrounding demographics, basically arguing for proximity. This position holds little water because of the salience of transportation. In a day where personal vehicles were rare, one could argue that demographics heavily influenced the content of a church – you went to the closet assembly. Transportation has made options a reality. Subsequently, readily available transportation has promoted preference. Now in the 21st century, the most overwhelming factor that determines the coordinates of an individual’s church is personal preference. It is so second nature to the existing generations that most do not find this sad truth to be problematic in the Kingdom of God. We now have the opportunity to custom-make our church experience with any bells and whistles that we desire. You can search for any make, model, or color that you please, justifying your decision by claiming you will be able to “worship” more fervently at that particular assembly. But do not let “preference” fool you. This wreckless, decision-making process becomes arbitrary only after one automatically – without a trace of deliberation – weeds out the congregations that do not reflect their personal make, model, and color. This is self-inflicted, religious apartheid. I, alongside Reverend Richard Gaines, feel that this reality is a division in the Kingdom of God.        

Undestroyed Walls I
December 4, 2007

           Do not be mistaken…segregation was not entirely uncomfortable. The indisputable knowledge of truth, that all men were created in the image of God (therefore equal), made segregation uncomfortable in the minds and hearts of the oppressed. But despite it being a colossal injustice, the societal manifestations of segregation were never truly uncomfortable. Blacks and whites were free from the responsibility of interracial interaction. The framework of society endorsed one’s unwillingness to understand and respect another man’s culture, consequently promoting prejudice and isolation. After all, what could be more commodious than enduring life in a racial and cultural vacuum? Integration was uncomfortable; segregation was not. Now in 2007, though there will always be individuals who can not shake the historic grip of mistrust, our country has evolved into a tolerant, cohabitating community. For the most part, we all work, learn, and play together. But…there still remains an integral feature of the human experience that the rewritten rules of society have failed to influence. There seems to be one community where comfort has been preserved and justified. Enter Reverend Richard Gaines.

            The highly anticipated email response from Reverend Gaines was nearly a week overdue when a divine intervention left me speechless. By the grace of God, two men with similar heartbeats sat mere feet apart watching pads crash and bodies fly, unaware that their paths were destined to cross. I recognized his voice before I saw his face. Justifying my ears with sight, I smiled at God and moved in his direction before anxiety had a chance to seize control. The light faces of my middle school ministry foreshadowed the issues I would discuss with this man; as did the dark faces that surrounded him.

            Days later, I furiously scribbled notes in preparation for our meeting, attempting to cover every single angle that Reverend Gaines might take in defense of America’s segregated congregations. I could have saved myself hours if I had accurately anticipated his response. Nevertheless, I covered all bases. To be honest, I was quite nervous approaching a successful

black minister of the Gospel with questions that could be interpreted as accusations. Before these thoughts could swell, I reminded myself that every church I had been a part of was guilty of this social crime and that my spirit’s justification was at stake. I must proceed.

            Before I presented the issues that have plagued my thoughts for years, Reverend Gaines and I connected through talks of seminary education, theology, and family. As we conversationally shifted to the reason for our conclave, my heart began to pump harder and faster. I explained to Reverend Gaines that I have formulated my concern into a simple question, and that with his permission; I would like to present it. He cordially nodded.

Is the segregation of America’s churches a division in the kingdom of…

            Before I could finish the question, he passionately repeated “YES” half a dozen times. Completely shocked, I stumbled and stammered looking for something to say in response. I had expected an explanation of culture or even demographics, but I was not prepared for such an enthusiastic confirmation. Reverend Gaines went on to articulate things that my heart has screamed for years. He had recently encountered a well-known church in New York that had achieved true diversity, and explained to me that this was his dream for Consolidated Baptist Church. According to Reverend Gaines, new church plants are relatively successful in executing congregational integration because of fresh, innovative thinking, but older church bodies are stuck in the philosophies of pre-Dr. King America. By proclaiming to a young, green college senior that “all color gives way to the blood of Christ”, Reverend Gaines shared that his heart beats for a similar mission. I was created to ask this question, and for the first time in my life, I found a man who truly empathized with the song of my heart. He told me that anything less than a pure reflection of the Kingdom of God (all nations, all colors) is a failure in the church. This is a bold statement to make, especially since the vast majority of Protestant congregations in the United States are monolithic with regard to racial composition. Even so, Reverend Gaines and I both agree that this subtle form of segregation can not be biblically or socially justified. Nevertheless, many attempt to dismiss this contemporary, religious separatism on the grounds of differing cultures, societal demographics, and individual preference.