Undestroyed Walls I

           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.

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16 Responses

  1. [Looking forward to continuing this discussion with you and all your readers, Smitty. Imagining my response will be changed and shaped by other perceptions and the growing conversation you will lay out in further posts!]

    We espouse the mantra “Every nation, tribe, and tongue” with passports clenched and missions set across an ocean, so quickly forgetting our needed representation in our own Jerusalem.

    Of course, never would I slam the desire and need to spread the Gospel abroad. I just wonder if we hear Jesus say, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” and forget that, here in America (in Lexington), we have many nations.

    Again, I will say, I think we quickly see the division in race, in worship style, in doctrine, in everything else but the division in Spirit.

    If we come to the table saying, “You are black and I am white and we need to come together” we are already missing the point.

    We can discern the problem, we can plan a solution, we can even start walking the path – but until we look to our Father and ask, “Abba, draw all of Your children into Your arms – in this world, in this town, in this meeting place we call church” we continue to, in every good intention, walk by flesh and not by Spirit.

    Our God is one, His eikons must be the same.

  2. You might look in the comments section of my previously mentioned post and see a pastor at Mosaic Church in southern California posting. They have seen real racial and ethnic diversity in their church, Keith Walters checked them out and sent them my way.

    The data says this:
    People congregate together primarily by income levels and ethnicity. Churches are planted primarily as an outflow of this. You plant a church in a higher-income neighborhood, you’ll get a higher-income congregation (that will be predominantly white). In most of America “white flight” has segregated city populations, and therefore churches in those areas look homogenous.

    In a few places (like NYC) much of the city itself is still diverse. Planting a church in a diverse neighborhood will lead to a diverse church. This may not really be a spiritual thing, just happens that the neighborhood is diverse. I’d be more interested if you asked Rev. Gaines if that church in NYC had a wide range of income levels in it.

    I’m be much more interested if he new of a church planted in a smaller town (like Lexington) that was also diverse.

    Remember when Jim McGee left Porter with the dream of working to create the first truly bi-racial church in Lexington, with a black and white pastorate? Whatever happened to that dream?

  3. I spent some time at Mosaic and witnessed the diversity first hand. There is no doubt…they are acheiving it. But after a couple of conversations with various staff at Mosaic, I came to find out that it was never strategic. It was organic. They acheived this dynamic primarily by their ministry philosophies (keep in mind their pastor is south american).

    I don’t know the whole “Jim McGee” story…to be honest, I didn’t realize that was his dream until I read your comment. I know that the Master’s Church he started is not realizing this kind of harmony. I believe Jim is currently the interim pastor at a church in Mt. Sterling or something like that. Don’t quote me.

  4. Trevor…

    You said, “I will say, I think we quickly see the division in race, in worship style, in doctrine, in everything else but the division in Spirit.”

    My question: Is not the only problem a division in Spirit…it is just manifested by a division in race, worship, doctrine, etc.

    By the way, I hope all is well in your neck of the woods.

  5. I hope this comment doesn’t backtrack too much: but to jump back to an old point of “witnessing to EVERYBODY” and reaching out to others –
    I was sitting yesterday in Haggin Hall (my dorm at UK) watching basketball with guys of very different personalities and ethnicities–and a solid thought kept entering my mind. > I thought about Sports and how watching sporting events and cheering for a team draws people together regardless of stereotypes. For some reason when a BIG game is on TV in the dorms like an MNF football game, or a big UK basketball game I immediately try and get as many people as I can together to watch it. I never consciously make an effort to invite “white” friends, neither to I try to mix things up and invite “black” freinds – rather, I simply shout out to everyone that walks in the residence hall and invite them to come into our lounge and watch the game. Inevitably every time this occurs a natural healthy mix of students end up sitting to watch the game. I tell this story for this reason: If only we could approach our Faith with this same mindset > of inviting any type of person to church with us without fear of rejection or what the congregation might think. I could honestly care less if some student yelled back at me “No, I don’t wanna watch the game.!” But somehow, I get so tense and scared if I think someone will reject me inviting them to church. . . . Something about that comparison just doesn’t add up.
    -sorry for that lil’ tangent , but I thought it might be relevant to the discussion in a pratical sense…
    with regard to other comments:
    Ultimately, despite demographics – we work daily with people who are vastly different than we are. If we could actively implore them to attend church with us, etc. I think we would immediately see a significant increase in the melting pot that should make up the local body of believers. I think it is only an excuse when we justify our church being “all-white” , etc. just because it is smack dab in the middle of a seemingly white demographic… That would be on the border of saying that people only attend the closest church to their house > and that certainly isn’t the case for most of us. I’d be willing to bet that the church that you/I attend now is farther away, or at least of equal distance as about 3 other churches from where you live….
    -I know I didn’t really articulate that point with the most clarity, but can you see at least some of the truth that I’m trying to say?

  6. I think your on to something…and with regards to discussions of proximity, you stole my coming thunder. But…I’m glad you did.

    My question to you Taylor is not one of arrogance or criticism, and I hope that you don’t see it that way. I only ask it to provoke thought (after all, I am in the same boat). So…if you bring a black man or latino woman to Porter, why in the world would the want to come back? After all, there is not an “ethnic other” on staff or in leadership, you have no programs or ministries that are relevant to any other culture but the middle-class/white/suburban culture, and your worship style dynamically tame. How could you expect anybody other than a European-American to attend…consistently?

  7. Smitty –

    You said “My question: Is not the only problem a division in Spirit…it is just manifested by a division in race, worship, doctrine, etc.”

    You worded perfectly what I was trying to get across in my comment. The things that we often see as problems are really only physical representations of a much worse, more dangerous spiritual reality. Our external division is incumbent upon an internal one.

    I think Taylor presented a good image of how we should reach out, but your response points back to a truth that reaching out – no matter how well done – does not combat the problem, it only adds a band-aid.

    I’ll make it personal – I’m more of a salesman than an evangelist – and that is why I have a niche market to what my product goes out to. Unfortunately, I think it is the same in most Western-Christian churches: we have the ability to be choosers, we are only trained a certain way, we are comfortable/afraid, and many other things.

    I think our job is to show people Jesus – to let the Spirit illumine our minds with the reality of His beauty and worth.

    The Spirit is who invites and keeps a people within the Church. We are merely oracles and ambassadors (hopefully) being spoken through.

    It is imperative that we change our own internal state of disunity (and racism, and fear, and whatever else) – but the Spirit gives life.

    Again – I’ll say – (as a response to your question to Taylor), it is not a lack of or a presence of any thing…it is a lack of or presence of a dynamic working of the Holy Spirit.

    We should shudder at the possibility of this in our own churches.

  8. Sorry that I didn’t follow your first comment, Trevor. Your rhetoric is too eloquent for me, brother. Thanks for clarifying.

    I love where your head it at. Your comment, especially the part about the “dynamic working of the Holy Spirit”, reminds me of something Reverend Gaines said to me while I was in his office. He said that, “pure hearts will do the right thing” (with regards to racial harmony). This is your exact point, no?

  9. The racial divide in American Christianity is absolutely a divide in the Kingdom. Christians are supposed to be the picture of unity in society. But what does the world see when they look at our churches? Paul explains in Ephesians 2 that Christ died so that people of all races (he uses the example of Jew and Gentile) could be reconciled to God and to eachother. He goes on in chapter 4 to explain that unity is so important to the body of Christ that maturity as a Christian cannot be attained without unity. Yet as Dr. King said “Eleven O’clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated time of the week.” The point is this: the racial divide is more than a break in the Kingdom, it is sin. We could go on in the comfort of the status quo but in actuality it is keeping us from being all that we can be in Christ. So what do we do? Taylor had a big part of the answer with a comment on the previous post. We(meaning Christians) must get intentional about building not relationships with those of other races but friendships. Intentional friendships. It quite possibly could take getting together with a church of a predominently different race and setting up friendships. Get people who are willing to actually work on developing interracial friendships. Let them come with the understanding that there will be times of tension and misunderstanding, but ultimately it is time to invest in eachothers lives. Allowing these friendships to develop organically just has not happened. If Christians are serious about racial reconciliation then it is time to get intentional. Over time the constructed friendship could grow to be a yokefellow type relationship ordained in the Bible. Once the intentional relationships start then it is time for some intentional relocation of residence.

  10. Smitty –

    You flatter me 🙂 I’ve been tremendously impressed with your writing as of late. You’ve got a good heart and a trained mind. The Lord works mightily through both.

    “Pure hearts will do the right thing.” I like it. Unfortunately, our (normal) hearts are deceitful above all things, desperately sick, and we are without understanding.

    Thankfully the Spirit gives us a new heart. But we must remember that we have been perfected for all time and are being made perfect. Work in progress.

    As I was reading the most recent comments I was reminded of something Foster said in Celebration of Discipline (about prayer). He recalled how glad he was that he did not wait until he knew everything, or could even do something perfectly, before beginning.

    I see now that we know the problem, and we know some really good steps to take in the “right direction.”

    Maybe we should start taking those steps? Walking in faith that, while our hearts might be – for the moment – seeking selfish reconciliation, that maybe the Spirit would soon make our hearts and our actions sympathetic to each other?

    I think I would, personally, rather walk towards someone of different ethnicity – knowing in my heart that my desire for pure relationship was there…even tainted by thoughts of selfishness and the like – than sit in my comfortable, non-moving piety…waiting on some righteous reconciliation being credited to me.

  11. So how diverse do you think churches were in New Testament times? Just trying to get a grasp on the whole true church thing.
    (By the way I’m back at nickcooper.wordpress.com)
    The thing that bothers me at Porter is that when we do get different ethnic groups coming into the doors, we give them another building. The Hatian people are in the ‘garage’ if you will and the Asian community is baptized and never mentioned again. Now this could be my lack of information or lack of involvement there but it seems that they shy away from involving them as part of the little c’s body.

  12. Nic — I empathize exactly with you brother… I know a few people in the Hatian church > they are phenomenal. I was thinking just about the same thought the other day when I went near the back parking lot and noticed the ‘garage’ with their service/worship times posted on the door. –Just think how amazing it would be to have a congregation full of diversity all in worship on a sunday morning. It is not that it can’t happen, but it is more along the lines of what you said: “we give them another building”. – I wonder what will happen on the “new church property” when building goes underway in a few years? Will we all be under one roof together?

  13. Nick –

    Taking a look at Acts 2, I would say the first church was pretty diverse. About 3,000 people – previously devout Jews from “every nation under heaven.” The specific tongues it mentions being spoken are to: “Parthians, Medes, Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians.”

    Because Pentecost coincided with Shavuot (and the culmination of other Jewish celebrations from that week) – I imagine it would not be a stretch to say that an even more diverse group (than what is mentioned in Scripture) of people were present in Jerusalem.

    Obviously all churches from and since this time have not been built through such anointed preaching – but our Biblical model for the Church shows God pouring out His Spirit on very diverse groups of people.

    In fact, as you look through Scripture, some of the religious elite are shocked by who God welcomes into the Kingdom.

  14. Nick –

    As an addendum, I agree wholly with your second point. There is no “building” of diversity when you send diversity to another building.

  15. Sorry I’m a bit late to this (I’m inside today so my fingers aren’t numb and I’m actually able to type a response).

    You’ve mentioned worship styles a little bit, but obviously that plays a huge role in where people choose to attend church regardless of race, but it isn’t ignorant to point out that there is a big difference in worship styles by race. Why would a black family want to attend a white church that doesn’t speak to their natural inclinations for worship? Why would a white family go to a white church that they find boring? Why does your family travel probably close to a half hour to go to Northeast as opposed to one closer to home? I’m coming to find out that people are needy freaks when it comes to church, and they don’t just want but borderline demand certain “services” from their church.

    Perhaps the problem starts there, with all people. People want to be catered to, and that includes in celebrating their own style of worship, preaching, and their ethnicity spiritually. Perhaps it’s not that whites don’t want blacks, or black don’t want whites at their church’s….but that each individual doesn’t go to church to serve the Lord, but for the church to serve them the Lord.

  16. What a segway to my next post, Ricky!

    This discussion is what I dreamed of when I started putting my thoughts of race and the church down on paper several months ago. Please continue to let this issue unfold in your mind as you read the next post. We have accomplished something in our conversations when people start to ask great questions….like Nick has done!

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