by Edwin Crayton (ATT Contributor)
If you would like to identify a time when Christian churches lived out the lessons taught by Jesus, you could not find a better time than the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. During that explosive era, the Christian Church played a key and inspiring role in fighting to gain rights for African Americans and other minorities. Churches were meeting places where strategy was planned. Under tremendous pressure and in the face of real danger, pastors and members registered people to vote, marched, fought Jim Crow discrimination laws that restricted black life and went to jail over and over. The price of freedom was not cheap. Pastors and members willingly paid it by allowing themselves to be ostracized, fired, brutalized, maimed and killed for taking a stand against vicious, systemized racism. But a benevolent God blessed their efforts and their faithfulness and like the walls of Jericho in the Book of Joshua, the walls of legal segregation came tumbling down. Yet, ironically, there was one institution these church people did not integrate with equal success: I am referring to the church itself.
Although some of these churchmen and churchwomen did in fact integrate their churches, the truth is in 2020, for the most part, the American church is still segregated along racial lines. Whites generally worship with whites, blacks generally worship with blacks, Hispanics with Hispanics and so on and so forth. In fact a 2015 article on Christianity Today’s website cited a poll that said that 8 of 10 congregations in America are made up with people of the same race. What happened? It seems these Christian activists neglected to realize that the church itself had a speck in its eye. Thousands of years earlier, Jesus had warned that before a believer removed a speck out of someone else’s eyes (meaning fixing a fault), that believer should examine himself or herself and remove the speck from his or her own eye first (Matthew 7:3-5). Another way of putting it is: practice what you preach. Perhaps it did not occur to many of these church people that although the movement was very racially integrated, many of the churches they belonged to were stuck in racial quicksand. And today, sadly many still are. Another reason churches remain segregated is more disturbing: many churches want it to be that way. . Not just white churches, but also churches were blacks or other races predominate. People are more comfortable worshipping with people who are like them. It’s called prejudice. It is a fault of humans and we bring all of our humanity to church. So what’s the problem if they want it that way? The problem is, God makes it clear in Scripture that he does not want it that way. God loves all humankind.
The Bible teaches that God’s house will be a house of “ prayer for all nations”.(Isaiah 56:7). The great commission Jesus gave Christians was to spread the gospel to all nations (Matthew 28:19-20). Even the message of salvation (John 3:16) is offered to anyone and everyone who believes and submits to Jesus’ authority. The Bible makes it clear that God does not play favorites. Acts 10:34 made it clear that God does not respect persons—meaning he has no favorites among people. As for prejudice, 1 John 4:19-20 even says that we cannot love God whom we have never seen if we do not love our brother who we see every day.
Unlike us, the concept of loving one’s neighbor is crucial in God’s view. He wants to be reconciled with people and he starts by uniting his own in the church. Racial barriers in the church prevent that from happening. Practically speaking, it also makes sense for Christians to unite in a world that is becoming more and more hostile to Christians.
But prejudice dies hard. We learned in the Civil Rights Movement that prejudice is learned. Each generation then passes it on. A 2017 Harvard University paper by Nancy McArdle and Delores Garcia titled “Consequences of Segregation for Children’s Opportunity and Well Being” said: “Research has shown that most positive effects of integration occur when inter-racial experiences are earliest, and that cross-racial friendships are most common among younger children. Not only can these relationships and friendships help to counter prejudice, but even being exposed to diverse faces at young ages can reduce people’s implicit bias towards blacks when they become adults.”
In Natchitoches, the words black church and white church have real meaning. In general, whites go to so called white churches and blacks attend black ones. Although there are integrated churches here, most are solidly one color. In fact, it is rare to see white and black churches even partnering on an event. Since I moved here, I have only seen one black pastor head a white church. And he moved on. Although several “white” churches locally go on missions to Africa, it is rare to find one that has any evangelical presence in black neighborhoods right here in Natchitoches. So called “black churches don’t have missions on the white sides of town either.
What can we do? Stop being defensive about what is happening in the churches we attend. Look at your church with honest eyes. Ask: Is my church all white? Or all black? The Civil Rights Movement proved that all white or all black institutions don’t get that way by accident. They were and still are designed to be that way. The longer we are silent are about it, the more accepting we will become of it. But things can change if we will let God move us to open our hearts. Who we call as pastor plays a vital role. Make call committees diverse and prayerfully allow God to really call who he wants even if that person does not match the “color scheme” of the church. Hiring in general should be examined. Are there people of various races employed in management roles? Are deacons and deaconesses one color only? Simple things work really well. I have read studies that say that people respond most to personal invitations to church. Intentionally invite people who are not your color to your church. Remember heaven will be a multicultural experience and it lasts for eternity. We might as well practice inclusiveness now. There may be black churches and white churches. But there will not be a black heaven or white heaven. A friend also suggested, we stop calling churches “our church”. She pointed out that when it’s ours we treat it like our home. We decide the decorations and who can come in and who cannot. But when it is God’s church, he decides that. If he does not, you are not a member of a real Christian church. You are simply a member of an exclusive, restricted club.
Black History Month. The Natchitoches Parish Library will celebrate Black History with a fun Black History Bingo game on Thursday, February 13, 6pm in the downstairs area. Three top prizes will be rewarded.
The library will also host a Black History Mini-Golf game on Tuesday, 6:30pm, February 25, 2020 at the library.
The library will also host free screening of classic black films: All will be shown at 6pm. On Feb. 6: “The Color Purple”. Feb. 12: “Black Panther, Feb 18: “Coming to America”. February 27: “The Wiz”.
Support the Natchitoches Coalition on Homelessness. They are helping feed homeless people and helping them find housing and sharpen skills needed to improve their lives. There is a share a meal the last Thursday of each month. Call Helen at 313-296-3128.
Happy Black History Month!
(Editors Note: This article can also be read in the Feburary 15, 2020 paper issue of Around The Town)
Categories: Special Feature