Jesus calls us to join Him in HIS
|Racism Loses Out|
March/April 1997 Vol. 28, No. 2
- Editorial: Having to Have Our Way
- Rebuilding Our Lives -- Craig Watts
- Building Blocks to True Unity -- R. Vernon Boyd
- Ethnic Diversity in the Church: A Black American's Perspective Ed Washington
- Many Colors Make a Tapestry: Finding Unity in Diversity -- Julie Short
- Friends Speak -- Steven Sprague
- Readers' Response --
Integrity may be reproduced in whole or part without permission
provided that credit is given to Integrity and the respective author(s).
The articles can be read at Integrity's home page. Here I include only the editorial and the article by ED WASHINGTON which I especially hoped you would find of interest.
Editorial: Having to Have Our WayThere is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. Gal. 3:28 NRSV
Most of us would passionately defend Galatians 3:28 as a key, definitive statement in Scripture in regards to the church. However, when it comes to living out this non-discriminating reality in the church, I'm the first to confess that I'm rarely as passionate about yielding space inside my mind for the Holy Spirit to transform my thinking into such oneness terms. Often I prefer to "have it my way."
What is most familiar to me usually seems "best" or "the right way" of doing things or of thinking things. As a Michigander living in Texas many years ago while a student of Abilene Christian University, I soon discovered that no one could understand what the name of my street was--Almond Street--until I started pronouncing the first syllable like a man's name (Al) instead of "all." I submitted to Texese, but I grumbled. Homesick for American food while in Japan back in the early 70s, I got more and more frustrated at how Japanese bakeries "ruined" potato chips by seasoning them with fish flavoring or by stuffing delicious-looking yeast bread rolls with sweetened bean paste. "Why can't they' make them right?" I'd complain. I begrudged the differences between us. But prejudice is just as often built by petty peeves like these as well as by serious events of injustice. All lead, ultimately, to hate.
My lack of love confronts me with a dilemma, of course, because I call myself a Christian. Jesus directly addresses ANY barrier-building going on in my mind with these words: "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me" (Mark 8:34). Denying myself could mean accepting others' ways of doing and thinking. Richard Foster states in his book Celebration of Discipline that in choosing to deny ourselves and, instead, defer to another, we gain a new freedom in Christ: "the ability to lay down the terrible burden of always needing to get our own way" (p. 111). Every time we "look to the interest of others" (Phil. 2:4) rather than to our own best interests, the dividing walls in our minds are dissembled, incident by incident, brick by brick. The more my mind yields space for others' differing ways, the greater my capacity becomes to love them--unconditionally.
During those days in Texas a dear Christian family befriended my husband and me, inviting us to their ranch, feeding us on Sunday afternoons, teaching us to eat black-eyed peas on New Year's Day. And I let my mind open to their big-hearted, Texan hospitality, to the culture's slow, easy-going pace, even to the bare landscape which allowed an unrestricted view of immensely gorgeous sunsets. In Japan I noticed that the missionaries to whom the Japanese listened the most were those missionaries who completely embraced the Japanese--loved their food, loved their art, loved Mount Fuji, loved their quiet courtesy, loved their intelligent conversation and appreciated their sensitivity to others in a group. The Holy Spirit can draw opened minds into love, and beauty, and knowledge of the Truth.
If I keep having to have things done or said or thought my way, I'm clinging to the illusion that I am somehow in control. But the wall I've built in my mind against someone of a different race, a different gender, of a different economic level, or simply "different" is only that--a wall of illusion. The reality is this: we are all now one in Christ Jesus.
What will we look like if we let go and yield space in our minds to the Holy Spirit to create this new, transformed point of view? We'll be "subject to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Eph. 5:21); we will "in humility regard others better than" ourselves (Phil.2:3b); we'll "love one another" (John 13: 34); we will "do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with" our God (Micah 6:8). We will have the mind of Christ.
The articles in this issue of Integrity address ethnic barriers within the church and ways to dismantle them. The authors know about living with ethnic diversity firsthand. We pray that the Holy Spirit may use their penetrating wisdom to help us be better imitators of Christ.
Diane G. H. Kilmer
Ethnic Diversity in the Church:
A Black American's Perspective
With Introduction by Dr. Curtis D. McClane:
During the late sixties, when Detroit was experiencing the "race riots," something phenomenal was taking place simultaneously in Lansing. The previous Butler Avenue Church of Christ, an all African-American congregation, merged with the Holmes Road Church of Christ. In 1968 a white minister and a black minister were on staff here.This merger was not an easy one. The elders of the church at that time took seriously the "one new person" in Christ. They were not going to allow race and ethnic issues to come between brothers and sisters in Christ.
The elders had to approach some cantankerous white members and ask them to repent of their attitudes or be withdrawn from. This was truly a remarkable and courageous stand to take at the time. The Holmes Road Church of Christ now stands as a tribute to the spiritual vision that those elders had. Now Hispanics, blacks, whites, Filipinos, Koreans, and other orientals all worship under the same roof in the name of God and Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Next year will mark 30 years of integration for this congregation. Those years have been turbulent and we have had to learn that tolerance with suspicion had to be replaced with something more biblical and positive. We have moved from tolerance with suspicion to tolerance with acceptance. Now we are in the process of moving toward acceptance with celebration. We are asking our brothers and sisters of different ethnic backgrounds to help us celebrate our diversity. Only God and the Holy Spirit can create such a body of believers!
We believe that God sent Ed Washington our way. Ed has opened our eyes to the subtle issues of ethnic sensitivities that we have been overlooking. For those of you readers who grew up in an all-white church, and still worship in that setting, I ask you to give Ed a careful hearing. In order for the church to really make a difference in the new millennium, we have to reach out and accept with joy those who see and do things differently from what we are used to.
In May of 1989 the mayor of Lansing spoke at our annual Senior Citizens' Banquet. He made several references in his presentation about being surprised at the diversity of our congregation and he praised it. I spoke to him following his speech and expressed my opinion that I thought all of the churches in Lansing were integrated as we were. He assured me that they most certainly were not and he praised us for what he saw.
We are still in the process of learning from one another. God has given us a great opportunity to practice diversity. How we do that demonstrates the seriousness with which we take our stewardship of the gospel. Keep us in your prayers as our godly elders make wise and prayerful choices to keep the Spirit alive in our hearts. Our diversity has taught us the price of unity. Believe me, the cost is worth it!
-- Dr. Curtis D. McClane is in his tenth year of service as Minister of the Word at the Holmes Road Church of Christ, Lansing, Michigan, and is also a Board member of Integrity.
From Ed Washington:
I grew up worshiping at an all-black Church of Christ in Detroit, Michigan, during the 1970's. I went to school with other blacks, my neighborhood was black and until I joined the Army, I don't recall having much contact at all with anyone who wasn't black. I remember watching shows like the Brady Bunch and Andy Griffith and thinking, "Who really lives like that?" "Are there really neighborhoods that have big houses built on clean, white concrete with large, green lawns and attached garages?" "No way were there towns that had only two police officers to handle all the crime." Unless you grew up in the country, you lived in a city where the real surroundings were street lights, concrete, two-story brick houses, with garages in the back connected to a narrow driveway barely wide enough to park the car in-between houses, plus small lawns, and a few thousand police officers.
Preparation for Sunday morning worship began Saturday night. We had to take our baths, lay out our clothes, and prepare for the Lord's Day. I remember always being told that when you go to worship God, you were supposed to be your very best in everything that you did: in your thoughts, your behavior during worship, and the way you dressed. You just didn't wear any old thing to church; that was considered disrespectful.
My Aunt was a Sunday School teacher and the church secretary, so she made sure we got there by nine o'clock. Worship service usually began about 11:00 a.m. One of the brothers would begin the service by welcoming everyone, making a few announcements, and then giving members the opportunity to ask for prayers, give testimonials, or rededicate their lives. He would then offer an opening prayer that would acknowledge the testimonials and specific prayer requests.
The song leader would begin the morning's song service with a few selections to get the service started. The song service seemed to be a part of the worship service where a transformation occurred for many of the members. You would hear the voices of some of the members rise in joy, and sometimes in sorrow. It seemed normal that when the song leader could hear and feel the emotion of a particular selection, he would continue the song. We would repeat the course, or sing the verses a few more times to allow those that were emotionally caught up to gather themselves. Very few song leaders could actually read music, and I would say the majority of the members didn't read music either. We just learned the melody and did our best not to sing off key. When I think back, that's probably why we sang the same songs so often. But singing the same songs didn't seem to bother us at all. That sort of freedom to sing seemed to really make a difference in our mind-set. After a few hymns--I say "a few" because you never really knew how many there would be--we had another prayer and then communion.
The second prayer of the worship service seemed to be the longest. The brother leading would take time to describe the blessings that we were thankful for. Rather than saying "thank you, Lord, for our health," he would "paint the picture" giving thanks, describing in detail, item by item, the things we were asking and for which we were thankful. Although as a kid I wished the prayers didn't take so long, I remember how the older and more spiritual members seemed to really get involved with this style of prayer. You would hear several "amens" and "thank Jesus." It really seemed as though God were present.
During the communion we would either sing a song or have a brother read one of the apostles' accounts of the crucifixion. This also seemed to place members in a more spiritual frame of mind.
After communion and the collection we would stand for one more song before the sermon. This was a welcomed opportunity to stand because we knew it would be a while before we stood again. We would always sing an up tempo selection, repeating a verse or two and the chorus a few more times. Sometimes the song leader would initiate the song continuing and sometimes a few members in the audience might continue the selection. Even the minister would continue to lead the same song or start another as he made his way to the pulpit.
The sermons consisted of several quotes from scripture--men reading scriptures aloud from the front pews--humor, and analogies that I could relate to growing up in an inner city. The sermons were long and sometimes repetitive. The invitation alone sometimes lasted 15 to 20 minutes. We were constantly reminded that it wasn't the Lord's hour, but rather the Lord's Day. Therefore, it didn't matter what time we got out.
We were usually dismissed by 1:00 p.m. and, if there was nothing else going on, we would fellowship awhile and get home between one thirty and two o'clock. We would take off our good clothes before we did anything else, then have dinner, relax a little while, and get ready to go again that evening..."The Lord's Day, not the Lord's Morning."
That describes how worship service in the Church of Christ was the majority of my life. It didn't matter which congregation we visited; if it was a "black congregation," that was pretty much how it was done.
As I got older I began to hear about how the "white congregations" did things a little differently. I hadn't yet experienced it first hand, but I recall watching a few services that were televised. When I finally did experience it first hand, I couldn't believe how different the atmosphere was--everything from how quiet the service was (the audience not yelling out any amen's or "thank Jesus") to how casually the members dressed for worship. Even more unbelievable was that they would get the entire worship service in within an hour. Just when I would normally be settling in for the message at my home congregation, here I was standing listening to the closing prayer. I remember leaving the worship service feeling like I had not really worshiped God at all. After that experience, whenever I wanted to visit a Church of Christ, I wanted to make sure ahead of time that it was a "black congregation." I wanted to worship in an atmosphere that I was familiar with and worship with people that I was comfortable being around.
Culture Shock -- Finding a congregation like that had never been a problem until roughly three years ago, when my family and I relocated to a city where there were no "black congregations" within 50 miles. As a result, we began to attend a predominantly white Church of Christ. I met with the minister on several occasions and doctrinally things were consistent with what I knew to be the truth. I enjoyed attending his Sunday morning and Wednesday evening Bible classes. The Sunday school classes for my three-year-old daughter were excellent and a few brethren, including the minister, seemed like they were very sincere men of God. A few sisters would call and check on my wife shortly after she had our son, and offer to bring food.
Although I enjoyed several aspects of these new surroundings, the actual worship service at this particular Church of Christ was like completely changing religions; somewhat like going from a traditionally spirited Baptist style worship to a more solemn Catholic style service. I never imagined that I would ever experience such a tremendous contrast in style of worship.
It was quite a struggle waking up on Sunday morning. I didn't look forward to going to worship service. I wouldn't know any of the songs, and even if I did, they would be led differently, at an accelerated pace, and without the emotion that I was used to. It felt like we were singing through the song service just to get it over with, rather than worshiping God through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.
The sermons are also very different. Our minister stands in the pulpit; gets right to the opening statement of his lesson, sticks with whatever is on paper and sits down. The presentation has very little emotion, and offers few if any analogies or humor. Although the messages were extremely beneficial to my overall spiritual development, I would leave the assembly that morning feeling somewhat cheated. I was so used to the minister illustrating points, telling stories that were funny, serious, or thought-provoking, using analogies and metaphors that the congregation could culturally relate to. Although these illustrations and examples took a little extra time, to me they were well worth it, in order for the lesson to have application in our lives. I missed that.
The communion and offering is taken between the song service and the sermon. The announcements are made, the names of the visitors are read (without them standing) and we have a dismissal prayer. It's as if someone is holding this gigantic stop watch. The start button is pressed to begin worship, we worship, have a closing prayer, and there is this big click, the timer stops, and we go home. This is not a criticism of the service, but rather a personal observation of a style of worship that is much different from what I am used to. I never considered it wrong; just different. It was at this point that I really began to evaluate the issue of diversity in the church. Although the congregation was diverse in many aspects with members of different ethnic, educational, and geographic backgrounds, the worship service was very homogenized.
Asked to Lead Singing -- After worshiping at this congregation for awhile, I was asked to lead singing, and one Sunday evening I did. As expected, the reviews were mixed. A short time later I was asked by one of the elders if I would be willing to attend a song leader school that was being hosted by a predominantly white Christian school. Right away I felt that I was being asked to attend this school so that I could learn the "right" way to lead singing. I was a little offended. I remember thinking, "I've been leading singing in the Church of Christ since I was 14 years old and all of a sudden someone thinks I should go to a song leader school." Although I later learned that my perceptions were wrong, that was how I felt at the time. I let the elder know that I would consider going to the school, but that he should know up front that the way in which I lead songs would not change. I could definitely use the technical skills, but the emotion and overall style of leading a congregational song was part of my culture, and unless that conflicted with something scriptural, I felt no reason to change.
One the one hand I was angry, considering that as much as I had been uncomfortable with the established style of worship (especially the singing) over the past two years, I was still respectful, and refused to criticize how the worship was conducted. I respected their way of doing things. Then as soon as a song is sung a little differently or the song service lasts a little longer, certain members seemed to speak and act as though some crime had been committed during the worship service. They seemed to want diversity, but what we had was racial and ethnic representation. There was no diversity in the worship. There just seemed to be an overall lack of respect and/or tolerance for anything outside of what some members were comfortable with. Even though I was angry, I understood first hand how difficult an adjustment it must have been, especially after two years of having to make the adjustment myself.
I began to understand the distinction between being a part of a racially diverse congregation, and a culturally diverse one. I struggled over whether I could continue to worship where I felt culturally out of place. I wanted to get more involved with the worship service by leading songs, saying "amen" or "praise the Lord" during the sermon. But I was really concerned about how other members would view that. As much as I tried over the last two years to adjust to that way of worship, I began to feel that I would never adjust.
I never thought that wearing a suit and tie could feel so awkward. After all, I have dressed the same way my whole life when attending worship service. I have always sang songs the same way as well. Yet when I sing a song a particular way it is viewed as not only different but wrong by some. Yet what is new or different for some is a way of life for others. Equating doing something different as being wrong, unscriptural or inappropriate, only perpetuates the underlying problem of cross-cultural intolerance.
After meeting with the elders to discuss how I felt, I learned for the first time that there were several members, black and white, that would appreciate a more spirited worship service. The elders welcomed a less methodical, robotic-style worship service and asked if I would agree to lead singing on Sunday mornings. I did, and again the reviews were mixed. Although many of the members complimented me on the singing, I learned later that others had a hard time accepting the song service. In fact, I recall one person stood up, walked up the center isle toward the pulpit, made a sort of hand motion and walked out. That really hurt me. The only thing I could think to do was pray for that person; and I did, several times.
I began to wonder if it was fair to those that were a part of an established tradition to start something different. I began to feel guilty about the way I led songs. I wondered how I would feel if an individual came from a background with traditions that were more charismatic and emotional than what I was. How accepting would I be? So I made up my mind that I probably would not lead singing again. Even though several members enjoyed it, it wasn't worth offending the few.
After some prayer and a few lessons from the minister, I reevaluated my position. Being concerned about who I might offend by the way I lead a song or say a prayer or having my own personal preference of a particular style of worship began to take a back seat to what I really should be concerned about: What is offensive to God? What type of worship service does God not only prefer, but command?!
Opening the Door to Change -- A great deal of spiritual maturity is going to have to occur if the church wants to successfully deal with the issue of diversity. Some assumptions, attitudes, and behaviors directed toward each other may need to be challenged by church leaders and church members. As communities change and become more diverse, the church needs to decide if we are here to try and please or satisfy individual church members and their families or our Heavenly Father.
There is more being done in corporate America, governmental agencies, and private industry to cope with this issue of diversity than there is among members of the Churches of Christ. Not only do we ignore the issue, but in many instances it seems as though we promote separatism. I remember how the whites would move out of my old neighborhood as blacks moved in. They would stop worshiping at congregations where blacks began to attend. We believed in the same doctrine, studied from the same Bible and, most importantly, worshiped the same God. Yet it seemed that Christians from both races welcomed the separation.
Too many people are caught up in what is important to themselves, rather than what is good or best for others. Rarely do we really ever take the time to evaluate or honestly critique ourselves--our likes and dislikes, strengths, weaknesses, pet peeves, etc. We simply rely on how we were raised, and on our experiences in school and in the work place. A critical examination needs to be done by each individual Christian with God and his Word as the standard. People who are racially, gender, or culturally intolerant feel their flawed opinions, habits, and other character traits should be the standard for everyone to live by. Instead, Christ should be our example and to worship God our first priority.
Poor race relations and cultural differences are two of the primary reasons churches are racially divided. We see one another's race first before we see each other as Christians. Those who have never had the opportunity to worship with other Christians outside of their home congregation, for example, fail to realize that tradition is a relative term. I may lead a song that is traditional to me, but new to someone else. A person's race should have no bearing on how he or she is viewed. We need to gain an appreciation or even celebrate cultural differences rather than continue to criticize or condemn them.
We Need to Cultivate Love -- Although a partial reason churches are not racially or culturally diverse may be due to traditional disagreements in doctrine, I think it has more to do with the fact that members of the church do not love each other the way we should. In fact, it's been my experience that there are Christians who would rather not even associate with those from other races, in or outside of the church.
When I love my brother or sister in Christ, I mean really love them, I don't care what color they are or to which ethnic group they belong. It doesn't matter that culturally we may not have a lot in common. That's okay. Because if I truly love them I will learn to accept or even appreciate the differences. If we disagree on an issue, that's all it is, a disagreement; not a condemnation. Church members need to: (1) pray for the spirit of humility and acknowledge that their opinions are just that, theirs, and that there was only One who is perfect; (2) understand that we are commanded to love and care for others, not judge them or be intolerant; (3) follow the biblical principles of going to a brother that may have offended you in love, not in judgment. When we can do this, our churches will have only begun to address the issue of diversity in the church.
Not everyone grew up in a brick house in the city surrounded by concrete, street lights, and a few thousand police officers. People really did live in houses like the Brady Bunch and out in the country like the Andy Griffith show. People sing songs I don't know, enjoy sermons that are not very long, and worship God without saying "amen" or "praise the Lord" out loud. I accept that. Some like to clap after a baptism, or have it quiet during the communion; I accept that also. Why? Because I believe these differences pass the test of the real question: Does God accept them? The Christian race and Christian culture allows for this kind of diversity, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
-- Ed Washington, who holds an Associates Degree in Criminal Justice, is the Cultural Awareness/Interpersonal Relations Training Coordinator for a 2,000 member law enforcement agency, providing awareness training at the basic and advanced levels for enlisted officers and civilian employees. He is a member of the Holmes Road Church of Christ in Lansing, Michigan.