Undestroyed Walls II

       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.        

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17 Responses

  1. The other problem with preference is that people are forgetting that scripture reading is also worship. Sound doctrine SHOULD be primary, but being the selfish sinful being we are, we want music we like, not worship we can participate in. This is where the segregation comes in because average white people don’t like a big Kirk Franklin style worship, and an average black congregation would not preference David Crowder or Chris Tomlin. People don’t understand worship yet use it as an excuse for their choice.

    On another note, as I thought about this idea of a diverse church, it stirred up a passion within my heart for missions. Think if you had a church of diverse culture, color, and tongues; you could literally take the gospel anywhere without using the cooperative program (aka paying people who are already there). If you wanted to go to an African tribe that hates white people, you can go sending your African American brethren so that they will be more receptive. This works in other cases as well.

    Do you think there is a way to break this code rather than us banning together a bunch of white guys and heading down to a church on south limestone?

  2. Nick, your point about true worship is a great one. I also see this type of narrow-minded thought with regards to the sprititual disciplines. For some odd reason, we don’t teach our people that fasting is essential to our faith journey. It’s always read, pray, read, pray, read, pray.

    Anyway, your question is a good one…no, no… a great one, and it is the climax our of discussion. And actually, I will address it specifically in the next post in a unique way. I hope you will tune in. Thanks for your input.

  3. I totally agree with Nick’s first point and was going to make the same comment in the last post — we have such a narrow view of what worship actually is that there is no wonder it has been marginalized to a ten-minute section of our assembling.

    Even with this, I cannot say that the problem is a lack of understanding (what worship is). We are incredible worshipers – we just spend our energy on idolatry.

    Which makes the point I wanted to raise here – using Reverend Gaines quote: “[We must] go all the way to Jerusalem.”

    If we do not go to Jerusalem, we will not be able to witness the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord (the grounds of our salvation). We will not participate in that death and raising (the impartation of the Spirit and our new life).

    These two things lead us to being people who can worship God in Spirit and Truth. By traveling to Jerusalem we are united with Christ – we are in Him, He is in us, we are in the Father.

    And, as Paul so wonderfully states, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

    In Christ, the beauty of unity and uniqueness find their totality.

  4. Good call about transportation… you correctly and directly refuted one of my previous points.

    “culture today is primarily defined by financial status.”
    -I still think this is at the heart of it.

    I had a sociology major friend who did a large survey in a neighborhood in Waco where our church was located. Our church was predominantly upper-middle-class and white, but located in an ethnically mixed and fairly low-income neighborhood.
    She found a direct correlation between income levels (determined by property value) and opinions of the church. The higher a person’s income, the more likely he was to attend the local predominantly white church, regardless of that person’s race.

    I think Nathan Cornett’s comment in the last post is right on– we need to be more intentional (book of James style). But, it’s about crossing income levels instead of racial barriers. How do we do that?

    I think we need to have more of a discussion on how we spend our financial resources. For far too long, finances and income are something that’s a “private matter” among believers, rather than something that’s openly discussed.

    My hypothesis: When Christians start limiting their lifestyles, choosing to not become consumers with big houses in nice neighborhoods, we’ll see more income (and racial) diversity in our churches. What do you think?

  5. Yeah, I think the materialism and disgusting consumerism of the modern evangelical exposes their lukewarm faith. I mean…is the letter to the church of Laodicea not written the American church, “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked…”

    I think you are on to something. If believers cared more for the advancement of the kingdom than they did their own kingdom, we would see more blended neighborhoods because of a mass “neglecting wealth” effort by the Christians. It scares me to read stories of Zacchaeus and the man who found the treasure in the field. Jesus explains that these types of individuals found salvation because they realized true wealth was in knowing the Savior.

    In my opinion, it starts from the pulpit/leadership of our pastors. When our leaders are driving nice cars, living in wealthy communities, and taking vacations to Hilton Head twice a year, how in God’s name can we expect the people of God to reject this lifestyle and embrace the notion of “selling all we have to buy the treasure in the field.”

    American evangelicals need to read, re-read, and memorize the letter to Laodicea. It’s us…I’m telling you!

  6. I would encourage you all to read the book “Breaking The Missional Code” By Ed Stetzer and David Putnam. It is very insightful on this topic. It speaks of entire communities of people having the same discouragements at church not matter their race or income. Think if we could start a church that had adapted to he most common interest of our community without compromising the Gospel.

  7. The great mover and shaker behind wealth is fear. We are unable to let go of the fear that without accumulated wealth, we won’t be OK and our kids won’t be OK. Security is what people want more than anything in the world. XBoxes, iPods, BMWs, Yachts, and 8,000 ft. sq. homes are the Americanized byproduct of this need for security, because though none of these things are necessary for financial security, advertisers tell us they are, tell us that if you are doing things right your kids need a Razr and a macbook. You needn’t hear it from me that what advertisers say goes in the United States. It stares (seemingly innocuously) with the desire to just be OK. If your house floods or you get rear-ended in traffic, you want to know that your life won’t be thrown into upheaval because of money (or lack thereof).

    I say all of that to say this: Desiring financial security seems so ingrained in we Americans that I’m not sure if many people actually realize that it isn’t normal. Christ’s continual challenge to us is to understand security in the context of his death and resurrection, that is, money has nothing to do with security in Christ’s definition. Money will only secure us in an earthly sense. Grace is the only security we are commanded to cling to, but trying to fight the compulsive urge toward wealth in America has proven incredibly difficult. Members of the Church Body (I include myself unconditionally) fail on this front perhaps as severely as any other.

    From a sociological perspective, this desire has been warped even further, as often seen in urban culture through the phenomenon of conspicuous consumption. Role models of young urbanites spew the doctrine of “Get more, get it now, and get it faster,” leaving them with the indelible twin images of Ben Franklin and Tony Montana burned onto their brain. Getting wealth becomes for so many of them not simply a desire, but THE desire: the only thing that matters. The wholesale dropping of this compulsion toward wealth for every cultural denomination breaks down so very many walls between cultures. Without the fear of losing financial security, specifically at the hands of another person, or the desire to gain it in the first place, how different would this country and the majority of the Western World look?

  8. Good to hear from you, old friend. I hope you and your beautiful wife are well.

    You are exactly right…our security tends to be in everything other than the eternal grace of our Creator. I have a feeling that if Christ himself walked in my church, he would take one look around and say, “You guys don’t have a clue.” And then he would walk out.

    Corman, the “urbanites”…which is primarily what who I deal with (with our student ministry drawing primarily from the Byran Station district), are a nearly impossible demographic to reach now days. The funny thing is…if we removed the media from their lives, they would be as innocent as doves. I am, now more than ever, convinced that the media is a tool of Satan in our every falling world.

    But like every great empire in history…American will one day fall.

  9. Great discussion!

    One day it will be an awesome thing to stand with people from “every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev 5:9) singing to King Jesus.

    I pray that we preach and teach and live in such a way tht we affirm the words of God through the apostle Paul. That in Christ “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians) to the glory of God.

  10. sorry for the lack of comments/participation….
    My mind has been tied up in a knot thinking about my finals. However, after looking in on the posts and comments – This discussion has been great (at least for me) b/c I have learned a lot!

    May it continue…

    Smitty, not to throw you up on a pedestal or anything but, I can see your passion in this issue and your thoughtful intellect in developing solid posts > have you ever considered making a book, etc. about all these thoughts. I’d say go for it. Talk to Rev. Gaines and keep runnin’ with it bro. If other peeps are learnin’ like I am – then I think it would be a valuable resource to other Christians who are not as knowledgeable (or much less aware) of the issue…

    may the Spirit continue to lead…

  11. I agree smitty, writing (as you know) lets you let out frustrations as well as share your thoughts with others who without the book would never think about such a problem.

    Upon thinking on this issue further, I am reminded of the many mission trips I have been on at Porter. I can honestly say that every trip I went on, we were sent to places that were low income, non-Caucasian, public school kids. I sat and wondered why a church, who’s demographic is the exact opposite, would go there rather than to a place where they could possibly better communicate the gospel to the community.

    Two conclusions sparked, one good, one bad. Either our leaders are trying to train our students not to be racist in their sharing and become more diverse in their cultural understanding, or we are stuck in a demographic battle. The rich, white, and home/private school goers are seen as good (because they are most alike) and the other is seen as lost and dying. We must start teaching this at an early age and become diverse from the start. I think sometimes though we get too focused on making our youth group diverse and we focus only on the culture we don’t have while neglecting the one that is present.

  12. Well, I’m glad we’re talking about income and lifestyles now. “If believers cared more for the advancement of the kingdom than they did their own kingdom, we would see more blended neighborhoods because of a mass “neglecting wealth” effort by the Christians.”
    –I agree. Think of how hard it is to talk about personal income at a church-wide level, and then think about what a revolutionary change it would be if people purposely took up “neglecting wealth.”

    Smitty, send me an email please because I have lost your address (again). I’m going to send out that invitation to join in that book discussion to you and a bunch of others tomorrow. I think I’ve found the key to unlock the discussion that might change all of our lives in these very areas.
    Thanks.

  13. Taylor and Nick – I am humbled by your encouragement. I have thought briefly about doing something like that…I might try to pursue this in the future.

    Nick, my friend, you are correct about the mission trips. Every mission trip I was ever a part of was to a “less fortunate” area. If we were to base our efforts on spiritual need rather than physical need…then we would find ourselves in the rich, affluent areas more often. I think that we as Christians find it much easier to meet physical needs than to meet the spiritual needs of the world. Although I would much rather give a hungry man a sandwich than a track (because he can’t eat the track)… we must realize that the sandwich will mean nothing when he stands in the presence of God Almighty.

    It’s all about “response”, as well. When we minister to the less fortunate areas of our nation and beyond, we know that for the most part, we will be received well. After all, the rich is providing for the poor. And don’t get me wrong…this is our call as believers…we must never forsake that. But – how would we be received if we went into Hartland Estates and attempted to minister to those individuals. The “response” would be worlds apart.

    When we help the poor, it makes us feel good. And for many, this is all they seek…self-gratification. And then we develop what I called “psuedo-humilty” about our work.

    I am as guilty as the next man.

  14. Wow this post has been good. Good thoughts from the post that just leaked into a tributary of thoughts in the comments.

    Perhaps the problem in the church is as simple as the church in this country is a reflection of just that…this country, and not a reflection of God. Not loyalty in a patriotic sense, but “one nation under God”….culture before God. And you’re right in calling your own church out on this fact. Your church could only happen in America.

    If you look at the church from the standpoint that a lot of people do, as a pulpit that serves them….more like a divine service industry than a place to worship the Lord you can use Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The church of America pushes the bottom two levels (basic psysiological, and safety) in doctrine (have faith and the Lord will provide for you….even though you drive a beamer?) …..while focusing a large chunk of it’s resources inwards on the middle two levels (self esteem, and belonging). The problem comes at the top of the pyramid, – “Self Actualization” which includes morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, lack of prejudice, etc. …..Lack of Prejudcie…..

    To me it seems like the church takes these needs, but applies them to the lower two levels (esteem and belonging) instead of addressing them directly. Well if the Self-Actualization needs of all people are not being addressed because the church is choosing to marginalize those needs towards focusing on a more basic need….the church will remain segregated by race, class, and religion because people will go else where until all their needs are met.

    Now in the perfect church of God, all of these needs would be met through the gospel, as someone else noted above, through the treasure in the field….not through what can be bought with the treasure in the collection plate.

  15. Smitty, I’ll go ahead and agree with what those other two fellows said about your writing. You ARE a very very good writer, and not just because you are well-informed/passionate about the topic. You have a focus and command that is uncommon when writing about a topic so close to one’s heart. The more you care, the more rambling becomes a problem. There is no trace of that issue in your stuff. Put a detailed prospectus together, apply for a grant, enlist the help of your church, approach it like a mission, get to work. I’ll help in any way I can.

    As for the discussion, it pleases me greatly to see a dialogue on this subject. Defining the Church differently is a major need of the American Church and it starts with the destruction of needless division not just among denominational groups (which is a huge problem) but division among social groups. Do yourself a favor and call or e-mail Daniel Leffel’s dad, Greg. He runs a church called Communality in Lexington that serves primarily marginalized people and operates differently than any church I’m familiar with. Also, he just published his thesis, titled “Faith Seeking Action.” It is really challenging and addresses the idea of looking at the church in a new light, primarily a light of service and growth stretching across community and social divisions. I have a copy and I’m sure he could get you one. His e-mail is gleffel@ohusa.com. He would love to talk with you, believe me.

  16. Josh…thank you so much for your words. That is one of the nicest complements I have ever received. And coming from you (a highly talented writer with a bright future in the field, for those who don’t know), it means all the more. Two questions though….what is a prospectus? And, they give grants for that kind of thing?

    take care

  17. A prospectus is basically a really detailed outline. What the focus of the book will be, who will want to read it, who will be the audience, what issues will it explore, how will it benefit the community of believers, etc. all need to be in there. It’s partly a content outline and partly a business proposal. And yes, they give grants for that sort of thing. There are all sorts of agencies and foundations to which you could propose something like this. I’ll do some research.

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