(This Part 4 of a series of posts this week on how I’ve lived out my own intersections within the church.)
“Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America.”
Yea, but I mean…I’m seeking to find my place as a Black American within this multi-ethnic church ideal and I just don’t see myself represented. I hear a lot of contemporary churches preach the more progressive ideologies that I mentioned in Part 1 of this blog series;
“…the ones that preach a theology of becoming all things to all people so that by all means we may save some. They are the ones who have more of a responsibility to ensure that women are intentionally included and affirmed within their congregations.”
Dare I say that they too, have a responsibility to ensure that people of color are intentionally included and affirmed in their spaces as well? Everyone wants to talk about how we are all one, yet the visual messages that are sent usually look dominated by one ethnic group. They love to preach about the beauty in people of all backgrounds, races and creeds coming together as one to worship God. But a lot of times it comes off to me that the beauty of all those people are limited to the conference attendees or the congregation. The priority of those same diverse groups of people being in leadership or on the conference speaker agenda? Not so much.
I have a tendency to make feisty comments when I see church staff or attend a Christian conference of some sort and I look at the staff and the leadership or the board or the elders or the speakers and I see no Black faces or people of color. I even wince a bit when I see just one (mainly because it looks like they just needed one and got her or him out of the way. Not always the case, but I digress). But I also understand that many times it could be quite difficult to diversify staff etc. If you live in an area or your faith circles have little to no diversity, sure it would be hard. To them I say, unfortunately you have to live in that tension and pray to God and try a little bit harder. But the ones like the church I visited in a city as diverse as DC and an area as diverse as the Northeast, with a multi-ethnic congregation and an all white male pastoral staff….as a progressive church? Come on. Try harder.
When I was at APU, it was a majority White space. But here’s why I never felt uncomfortable: Because at the very least, diversity was on the prioritized agenda of the university. It was on the prioritized agenda of my office. I watched leadership for 4 years make some really great efforts, have some great successes and some really great ouches. And for the most part, they owned them all. I was a witness as to how a predominantly White institution makes an effort. I watched Tim Peck think through all of the speakers he would invite for the year, ethnically, gender, denomination etc. Too many White males speaking in one week? He would move some things around. I watched Woody, think through his chapel slides for his sermon and make sure Jesus didn’t look too pale and make sure there were adequate brown faces on the screen. I witnessed search processes for qualified candidates with a real sense of significance on and yearning for those with a different ethnic background. It wasn’t always perfect but, man, the effort and intentionality made me as a Black person feel prioritized and considered.
Shout out to all of spaces like Fellowship Monrovia led by a Black pastor who prioritizes having their congregation live out a multiethnic and gender diverse community, but who also puts his money where his mouth is by having a diverse staff that reflects that. Thank you, Albert Tate for your effort. Shout out to all the other spaces who at least try. Who have a meeting a year before the conference and brainstorms, “how can we include the most diverse speakers on our agenda?” “How can we investigate and research who those voices might be?” Who do the nationwide job search for a leader in their church and go to those spaces where they wouldn’t otherwise look, in order to recruit the diverse voices that can bring that distinguishable mark to their space. That’s what Woody did for me. He searched far and wide to track down this Black girl from New Jersey to get her to fly out to APU. I said yes, because he made the effort…and ya know cause God said go.
I understand the importance of seeing oneself represented in varied spaces, therefore I’m going to say what I said at the end of my first piece to this series on women in the church:
I think that at the very least, people of color should be able to seek refuge and solace within the church. I think that at the very least, people of color should be able to seek refuge and solace within the family of God.
The beauty of seeing themselves represented.
I’d even go as far as to say the beauty of seeing themselves advocated and fought for (another post for another day).
The joy of discovering who God has called them to be within our family.
The peace in seeing their faces among the faces of their diverse community of God.
If you want to see a less segregated Sunday morning hour in America, try harder.