WHY THE CHURCH CAN’T BRING PEACE TO FERGUSON
by Bob Roberts Jr
But, 6 things it can do to prevent the next FERGUSON if it starts
Most of the people involved in the crisis in Ferguson would have some kind of “church” background and involvement. There are African American and Anglo American Christians, there are African American and Anglo American pastors – and still they have virtually no voice or influence. Why? Because there are African American & Anglo American churches! That’s the problem people. A person has a race, ethnicity, heritage, and culture. However, not the church – that is a direct denial and rejection of what the essence of the church – the bride of Christ, the community of saints is to be. Paul writes it several times, neither “Jew nor Greek” (race), “male nor female” (gender), “bond nor free” (class) are acceptable divisions in the body of Christ, the church today. What made the church unique was everyone was at the table. The same three dividers of humanity sociologically in Jesus are done away with. The biggest problem the 21st century church has is trying to keep the erected barriers from the 19thcentury in place instead of getting in line with a 1st century Jesus Church!
If Acts 6 (you can visit northwoodchurch.org October 6 and hear my sermon on race and an entire series we did that month) were happening today, where Jewish widows from a Palestinian heritage and Jewish widows from a Greek heritage were not being treated equally – you would have had “First Baptist Jewish Greek Widow Church” and “First Baptist Jewish Palestinian Widow Church”. It would be accepted as fine and normal by all. If it’s too hard to live in community with someone of a different race, ethnicity, or heritage, then let’s just pull away and hang out with our own kind. We have made church in our image – not God’s, that’s why people switch churches so quickly and easily. We know what we want, but we don’t care about who. Church is about the WHO. That’s even how most denominations try to reach ethnic people today – let’s start ethnic churches. Unless it’s first generation and language issues, I’ve come to have serious questions about it. Ethnic churches (which include majority culture churches such as Anglo) should not be keepers of ethnic cultures, but expanders of a kingdom culture that includes everyone! It violates what Jesus did on the cross in bringing people together and it violates the essence of what the church is. If a church is growing because people are the right color – what does that say about the legitimacy of the church? Much of what we do to grow the church really isn’t growing us at all, but making us small and weak – even though we have big numbers. This is just another reason why twenty years from now the church will look back and be embarrassed and have lost credibility.
Over the years, because of our work globally, people in our area from those parts of the world where we work have heard about the work and wind up coming to our church. Then, as we reached inner-city areas of different ethnicities we wound up with some of those folks coming to our church. We start churches with church planters of all races, but I constantly tell them “You’ve not been called to reach just your race, the kingdom involves all races – you are a gift to all races, not just your own.” God has one body. As our church gradually had different races come, we had Hispanic Americans on our staff, Asian Americans on our staff, and as of 18 months ago we have an African American worship pastor. NO, it’s not been easy. I thought it would be a piece of cake – I was wrong. The books of Mark DeYmaz, Brian Loritts, Efrem Smith, and others have been a life saver to me.
No one would claim to be racist. But I’ve learned some things I didn’t understand about how “racism” is present. People have become too wise to use “bad” language and also too culturally indoctrinated without realizing it.
Everybody wants reconciliation – you can forget that if there is no relationship. My recommendation is not a quick fix – rule of law is the only quick fix for today. But I’m tired of all of these shootings coming up and nothing is changing. The problem is if we don’t condemn them, then we are viewed as tolerating racism. So all these white people write blogs about how bad it is, but we stay white in our relationships, except for maybe one or two “others” – it simply isn’t enough and the responsibility lies first and foremost with the Anglo culture.
First, we have to risk getting to know others – even if we don’t know how to relate. For most people, it’s easier to stay separate from a race than to try to engage, say something wrong, and get in trouble. On both sides of the isle we need to be a lot less sensitive. My mom used to say, “Walk around with a chip on your shoulder and someone is going to knock it off.” Walking around as wounded adults that are overly sensitive will never heal the divide. When you say something wrong – apologize. Chances are, when you say something wrong, you’re not going to realize it was wrong. It’s so deep in your psyche you don’t see it, or it’s out of your context and your narrative to understand why it would be harmful. Most people will be forgiving, if, for no other reason, than the fact you are trying. Those who aren’t – don’t let them slow you down. I’ve made mistakes and I will make mistakes, but the bigger mistake is trying not to connect.
Second, most white churches would want black people coming to “their” church – therein lies the problem. The ethnicities must be made a part, not just present. The same is true for African American churches – they’re just as divided as Anglo churches. Do I have witness, somebody? We have made the church into our own cultural image. We just want you to leave your culture at the door. I started seeing this really strongly. I was preaching about it and someone told me you sound like “Brian Loritts” – I got his book Right Color Wrong Culture and read it. It helped me a lot. I also learned that most people are ok with different races in the church, but when you have leadership on staff and boards that have different races that’s a game changer for some. Someone asked what new direction was I taking the church? Give me a break – it’s not a new direction – it’s the biblical direction and it’s really old. It’s just getting more in line with what the church is. Acts 6 made the church global, ignoring cultural lines. One guy got angry and left our church saying, “There’s nothing a middle-aged white guy can do at our church.” Give me a break – we have a few non-Anglo staff members and a growing non-Anglo population – but we’re still the overwhelming majority. You simply have to ignore junk like that – no matter how much of a Bible scholar someone claims to be. Bible believing doesn’t equal Bible practicing.
Third, understanding the African American race and challenge is different from any other race in America. We must be patient with each other and listen to each other. I used to say it as well, look at Asian Americans or Hispanics – they streamline a lot better. But the difference is, for the most part – those other races even though they had it hard were not part of four centuries of being enslaved by the majority Anglo culture. The resentment goes deep. The prejudice is seen in that 100 years after the civil war you had to have civil rights legislation. As someone who travels globally, most nations deal with this – as American Christians we have a chance to model a different path. The current challenge of fatherhood in African American context today has its roots in slavery.
Fourth, pastors have to lead and model. I’m in a pastor’s covering group and my pastor is African American. I am held accountable to him. He has the right to challenge my character, leadership, my family leadership, my finances – everything. Our children grew up with races in our home – one of closest friends is Hispanic, we had and currently have Vietnamese living with us. It’s no big deal once you start – it’s actually fun. I don’t know how to help you understand this if you haven’t experienced it – but once you become close to people you don’t see them as their race first, it becomes secondary. Most Christian leaders I know aren’t hateful to other races – we just kind of ignore them and put them in denominational spots on “ethnic” ministries – how sad when you think about it. I’ve had people say when we’ve hired staff “don’t hire someone just because they’re black” but I would also say “don’t hire them just because they’re white.” I would also say diversifying staff must be intentional and is the number one way you’ll grow your church ethnically. DON’T HIRE ANYONE UNTIL YOU READ BRIAN LORITSS – Right Race Wrong Culture.
Fifth, in Acts 6 – the majority culture were the ones the onus of responsibility was on to do something – not the minority culture. It’s fascinating that the majority wound up appointing seven deacons – all with Greek names – to oversee the distribution to the widows. Jefferson & Madison didn’t come up with minority rights – THE EARLY CHURCH DID! And everyone mattered so much that the majority culture went overboard, over the top, to make sure everyone was cared for. They didn’t even use a percentage of Greek vs. Palestinian Jews to determine how many Greek vs. Palestinian deacons. They said there would be no question, the result was all Greek.
Sixth, the church must claim her prophetic role and message and name racism as what it is – sin! The whole Pentecostal movement was born out of an African American preacher who everyone came to listen to – that was where the Spirit fell in power. What a message that is to us today. Sin is not just personal – it’s corporate. What does it say when we don’t equally welcome all people in our churches – and not just welcome, but go after them.
Sadly in America, church “growth” with “our kind” is more important than church “growth” to every kind. I studied at Fuller and I get the homogenous principle – but I’ve come to believe its corporate sin we’ve endorsed for the sake of a lot of people. We’ve learned how to grow mega-churches and giga-churches – may we learn how to “grow” THE church for all people – waiting to be seen . . . .
Bob is the founder, senior leader, and chief spokesman for Glocal.net . His primary focus is to connect leaders and estabish relationships to explore transformation. Follow Bob on Twitter at @bobrobertsjr.