Recently, I read a query posed by Qideas on how the church can impact the culture. Qideas is a national organization birthed to remind Christians, particularly leaders, that we are responsible for renewing and redeeming the culture. The query left me wondering which church Qideas was referring to. The church remains one of the most segregated institutions in the United States. Within that segregation lies significant differences between the way that black and majority churches view impacting the culture.
This post is my response to that query. At the outset, I acknowledge that my post will anger more than a few white Christians. Some may even dismiss my response as wrong, shortsighted, or unfair. This post is none of those things. My comments most certainly do not apply to all majority churches. There are many majority churches committed to fighting systemic racism and injustice. Even more majority churches are actively confronting the institutionalized and individual racism existing within its own ranks. Do not take my concerns personally. That said, if I step on your toes, just holler ouch.
I am African American. I was raised in and am a proud member of the black church. It is the one place where I can go to freely and safely worship with people who understand the pain and oppression that comes with being African American in the United States. Our pain and oppression does not mean that we see ourselves as victims. Rather, it is a reality that is part of our history in this country. The safe harbor that is the black church is especially critical in the current climate of hostility towards African Americans that visibly erupted and has been ongoing since the 2008 election of President Obama. Out of necessity the black church is expert at forming the alliances critical to our individual and collective survival. That said the black church is hardly perfect or without blemish. Despite all of its imperfections, the black church has always been a refuge of comfort, protection, and strength for many regardless of race, socioeconomic status, citizenry, and even religious denomination.
Over the years, I have listened to Christian conservatives talk about impacting the culture. As an African American believer, I am struggling to understand how the majority conservative church will impact the culture if it will not disrupt the callousness and hostility heaped upon people of color, different religions, and immigrants by some within its membership. This behavior was on prominent display during the recent presidential election and has only intensified since November 8. While perusing Twitter, I have read hundreds of hate-filled, angry tweets expressing unbridled contempt for people of color, Muslims, and immigrants from countries like Mexico, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, and Syria by white people who identify themselves as conservative Christians. I have listened to vitriolic speeches and radio interviews and watched televised events where the same hateful behavior is displayed by those who call themselves children of God. This behavior seems antithetical to the character of Christ. Why is it difficult to show compassion, love, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? Isn’t this what God calls Christians to demonstrate?
Why has the majority church continued to be silent while a presidential candidate now president-elect traffics in hate and promotes violence against anyone who does not look like or agree with him. Trafficking in hate has emboldened hate groups and white nationalists to step out of the shadows. The Southern Poverty Law Center has documented nearly 900 incidents of hate and terror since the election. At least one black church has been burned to the ground. African Americans, Muslims, Hispanics, and immigrants have been beaten. African Americans are now openly called nigger, spat upon, and had nooses tied around their necks. Swastikas and other nationalist symbols are appearing on buildings. I have read news articles about Hispanic, Muslim, and other children of color who are regularly terrorized by their peers and told that the president-elect is going to deport them. Other articles talk about children who have told their teachers that they fear being deported. All of this despite the fact that the Southern Poverty Law Center found that ninety-five percent of Hispanic children are United States citizens. The Ku Klux Klan is planning to march in North Carolina and white nationalists held a rally during which attendees yelled “Heil Trump” while raising their arm in the Nazi salute. An African American man was recently beaten and shot to death by three white men simply because of his skin color. Perhaps I have missed it, but I have not seen majority leadership from within the Christian conservative or evangelical church denounce any of these horrible incidents. Consequently, it could be argued that the majority church’s failure to denounce or boldly confront racism, violence, and hatred is tacit approval of the acts perpetrated.
How will the majority church impact the larger culture when many within its ranks openly embrace a thrice married president-elect who has had countless extramarital affairs and is dripping in misogyny. He is unkind and lacks empathy for anyone who does not look like him. During my years as a stay at home mother, I was an avid listener to programs like Focus on the Family and practically raised my children on Adventures in Odyssey. These programs celebrate evangelical views regarding the sanctity of marriage and family while discouraging divorce. They also shaped my understanding of the Christian conservative or evangelical perspectives on these subjects. The seeming contradiction between supporting a president-elect whose marital history is opposite the values espoused by these and other similar programs has left me wondering whether the majority evangelical church has lost all credibility on marriage, family, and divorce.
God gave Jesus to the world because He loves us. God does not favor one race, denomination, country, or even political party over another. Conversely no one race, denomination or person has a monopoly on God. We may all worship God in our own unique way but our mission is the same: to love our neighbors as ourselves. We can love our neighbors by serving them without judgment or regard to race, religious denomination, citizenship, or ethnicity. Through this the church will most certainly impact the culture.
So, how can the majority church impact the culture?
Acknowledge: That racism, injustice, and inequality is ingrained within the fabric of America. African Americans and other communities of color did not ask for systemic racism and injustice but must negotiate these realities daily.
Heal: Healing is essential to addressing racism, systemic injustice, and inequality. You cannot heal what you will not acknowledge.
Confront: Honestly evaluate and confront the implicit biases, racism, and islamophobia within your congregation.
Partner: Visit and partner with churches that successfully work with people of color, immigrants, and vulnerable communities.
Preach: Openly and regularly address the racism, islamophobia, implicit bias, and injustice in weekly sermons.
Accept: Accept the fact that others do not worship or express their faith as you do. Stop expecting us to believe and express our faith like you do. Our differences do not make us less Christian or religious.
As Americans, we can no longer avoid the hard and uncomfortable conversations about racism, injustice, implicit bias, xenophobia, islamophobia, and religious differences. You may dismiss what I have written. But to quote Dr. Martin Luther King “[w]e must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
Photo by Vishal Charles