The Danger of the Segregated Church

Take a quick walk through the neighborhood with me.  As I step out of my front door, I look over and see the well-manicured lawn of the Baptist church.  Steeped in tradition, they can boast of a pastor who has served them faithfully for decades.  On Sunday mornings the street is filled with shiny, clean cars and congregants walking in with smiles as bright as their clothes.

By the time I have reached my sidewalk I can see the brown bricks of the AME church that sits right next to the Baptist church.  Together they take up the block and have walls no more than eight feet apart.  Not quite as shiny as the Baptist church, this building is home to many church mothers and grandmothers.  As you walk past there on Sunday morning, you can hear the call-and-response preaching streaming through the windows.

As I make it out into the street, I can glance to the right and see the towering church that rests upon the face of a busy street.  Saturday mornings are filled with people of the community lining up to receive boxes of food to take home to their families.  On Sundays people drive in to the neighborhood to take their suits and dresses inside the stained-glass-windowed church before taking their out-of-place faces back home.

I live in mini-Jerusalem.

In fact, within one large city block that I can walk, I can come in contact with no fewer than 11 active churches.  As I do so, I can also say this: “Black, black, white, hispanic, white, black…”  I am sure you can do the same around you.  We all know the reasons: “I’m uncomfortable with their style of worship.” “I would not know anyone there.” “I don’t think my family would like it.”  What is the end result?  The same as it has always been.

There is an unspoken danger as we continue to flock together with like-colored sheep: as soon as there is a problem, we circle our own wagons even tighter.  You would have to have been on an intense media fast this week to not be aware of what took place in Ferguson, Missouri.  Just in case you missed it, a black male teenager named Michael Brown was shot and killed in the streets.  Reports indicate that he was unarmed and had his hands held up.  Protests have led to significant tensions, conflicts and even now to looting.


Because as soon as you heard that a police officer shot and killed a black male you never once questioned the race or gender of the officer.  You already knew.  Frankly, I had to go to a news report this morning to confirm that the police officer who killed Michael Brown was in fact a white male.

Does that matter? Absolutely it does.  Let’s imagine that you are sitting in a predominantly black church tomorrow morning and a white male walks in dressed in a suit.  How do you feel about him being there?  And what is your response when the pastor laments the violence against young black males and the white man just sits there listening while everyone else affirms with shouts of “Amen!” and “That’s right!”  What if he is just there to learn more?  What if he was raised that remaining quiet while someone is talking is respectful?

Or take another side of it.  Now you are sitting in a predominantly white congregation and a black male teenager walks in to the service wearing khakis and a polo.  He doesn’t know anyone but he sits down next to your elderly grandmother.  What if he just wanted to see if the people that come into his neighborhood really care about him?  And what if, before the service is over, he gets up and walks out the back door and into the basement where the nursery is.  Do you think someone gets up to follow him….just to check?  What if he is looking for a quiet place to call his mother and tell her that he will be home in fifteen minutes because he was taught that it is disrespectful to show up late?

Your segregated church is a problem.  If you don’t believe so, take a look at this picture: image

If you continue to operate as a segregated church, your community is never more than 15 minutes away from that being the scene where you live.  There is an us.  There is a them.  And all of your wishing for a more diverse church – if you even want that – has made no changes.  Why?  Because no one who does not look like the face of your church is going to feel comfortable just coming in!  You have to be the one who creates the change, and it should start by you going somewhere else, not your token “I invited a black or white friend” on Sunday morning.

Can you imagine if God, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus kept on having a good time in heaven and said, “Hey, any time you want to come check us out, feel free!”  You know how that would go.  NO! Jesus moved into the neighborhood, and thank God he did! Instead of being the them, Jesus became the us!

You have two choices, and they are the same whether you are black or white: do nothing or something.  Both choices have predictable results.  If you do nothing, your son, grandson, or nephew could be shot in the streets for running while braided.  If you do something, maybe he won’t.

I am white.  My sons are black.  And white.  And when I really get it right, I know that my family is black, white, Korean, Italian, South African, Australian, Russian, Iranian, Iraqi…

It’s simple.  And your solution is so remarkably easy that you’d almost miss it.  Again, Jesus comes to your aid with your answer: 

“And a multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, ‘Look, Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You.’  But He answered them, saying, ‘Who is My mother, or My brothers?’ And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, ‘Here are My mother and My brothers!  For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.'” (Mark 3:32-35, NKJV).

Go find your brother and your sister and your mother.  Don’t let the first time you meet them be when you finally realize that you have the same Father.

I’ll Race Ya: Unfortunate Scripts


*If you think that I’ve missed the mark, please note that Yahoo Sports has already posted an article labeled “Richard Sherman makes great play, then loses his mind in post game interview.” Notice also the picture that they chose to use on site.*

This is an off-the-cuff reaction, a response still in process. Normally I take time to process my thoughts and allow them to marinate for hours, days, or weeks before putting them here. But this one is a little raw, and maybe it should be.

At the conclusion of a dramatic and thrilling NFC Championship game, a game to determine the second team in the Super Bowl, the television feed was tossed to an on-field interview. If you missed the interview, you will hear about it. Someone will want to show it to you. Richard Sherman, a defensive player for the Seattle Seahawks, and one known for backing up his on-field talking with outstanding play, made an incredibly athletic play to essentially seal the game for his team. As soon as the reporter asked for his response to the play he made, he began to yell at the camera in a manner not typically seen in post-game interviews. He said, “Don’t talk about me!” and went on to call out the opposing player who, apparently, “talked” about Sherman, and Sherman described the opposing player as “sorry.”

There are any number of responses to the intense emotion that Sherman displayed. He was less than five minutes removed from the biggest play of the biggest game of his life. He is an incredible athlete playing at the top of his game. He would not be the player that he is without his intensity. But we have grown accustomed to calm and “professional” responses from our athletes. We expect more predictable responses on-air. Rarely do we see such raw and visceral responses, but we did tonight.

If you have ever been a part of an athletic team, you understand the emotions, even if not on the same level as a professional athlete. But…was the response warranted?

Here’s my concern. Here’s the unfortunate part. There will be people among the millions watching who will see that as all that Richard Sherman is. If you turned the tv off or have never heard him interview before, you’re missing pieces to the puzzle. Sherman was interviewed twice more on-air and will be interviewed many times leading up to the Super Bowl. He will smile. He will wear suits and bow ties. And he will continue to state that he is the best. But, for some, there was an image that went out that falls into an unfortunate script: Richard Sherman is an angry black man.


This is a script we do not like to talk about. It is a script we may not mention – ever – but we may feel it, regardless of our own ethnic background. When I use the word “script,” I’m talking about the unspoken narrative in your life. I refer to the series of experiences and beliefs that have helped shaped who you are and how you see the world. And, unfortunately, there is a place in that narrative for an angry black man.

The most unfortunate part about our internal script is that we only need one person to play it in order for us to justify it. I do not see Richard Sherman as an angry black man, but I cringed at the intensity he displayed on-air. Not so much because of his emotion, but because he was directing all of his visceral response at another person who just happens to be another black man.

I don’t know Richard Sherman. Chances are you don’t either. But you have to make a decision on what role his on-air emotion plays in your narrative. Growing up where I did allowed me to know that there are countless people who will never know a Richard Sherman – a black man. They may not even meet a black man depending on how they choose to live. So how do they fit people into their narrative? They will do so based on other people’s opinions, media portrayls, and their own experiences. And many, many people, whether they will ever say it, believe that they saw an angry black man tonight.

I have three sons who will be black men. Whether you see it in their skin tone or not, you can see it in their hair. You will know. And somewhere, some day, my sons might get angry. We respond to other people’s anger in very raw ways ourselves. We respond to the anger of black men in very, very tragic ways.

Tomorrow my sons will attempt to change the script. Their school will have an in-session celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They will learn more about the changes Dr. King fought to make. They will learn more about the unspeakable violence that was inflicted on people of all colors who sought peace. And I hope that they will learn that this battle continues.

I recently realized – way too late in life – that white people should stop waiting for everyone else to fight for racial equality. It’s the lie that comes with what we call “white privilege,” the idea that racial equality and justice is everyone else’s problem. It’s time to change the script.

If you want to change your script, do what I said many will not do: get to know someone. Learn that they are not their skin color. Learn that they are not their profession. Learn that their anger, no matter their race, is no different than yours. Learn that equality and racial equality is everyone’s torch to carry. If you won’t do it for me, do it for you. If you won’t do it for you, do it for my sons.

Years after peaceful demonstrations, violent responses, and legal battles, we’re still fighting unfortunate scripts. The next person interviewed after Richard Sherman was Paul Allen, the billionaire white man who owns the Seattle Seahawks. If you don’t think that something needs to change when we see a wealthy white man celebrating his ownership while an athlete, who happens to be black, calls out another black man as “sorry,” then please wake up.

Normally I would give this more pause. I would be careful with my words because I’m concerned with what you think. My script of the quiet, thoughtful white man does not often allow me to take risks of being misinterpreted. Maybe it’s time to change my script.

I’ll Race Ya! Part I

One week ago I completed a workshop. I, along with 40 others, gave up 2.5 days to dig into and discuss the topic of racism. I must be honest: I was not looking forward to it. First of all, it is hardly a topic to be excited about. Secondly, that much sitting and talking did not appeal to me. But truthfully, when I dig down, I was a white person thinking, “This again?”
Three times in my life (once in college and twice in the workplace) I have attended a course titled “The Institutes for Healing Racism.” I have worked in diverse workplaces and serve in a diverse church body. My children are biracial. It’s not that it’s not important to me, but I foolishly assumed that I would have nothing to gain. Again, as I expose my foolish thinking, I felt that I was a white person who “got it” already.
I’m so glad that I was wrong. The truth is that my white privilege affords me the opportunity to not give regular attention to this topic. I live in a diverse area and am hardly sheltered from the struggle, but let’s face it – I’m white. How often do I really have to think about it? One of the leaders of the workshop, on the third day, began a monologue by saying “I’m a racist child of God.” She did not say it to be flip nor was she indicating that is all of who she is. In fact, she is very active in the fight against racism. Yet she acknowledges what she has done and has been in her life because of her failure to look through that lens.
She made another comment that I needed to hear. She said, “You cannot be a non-racist. Either you are a racist or an anti-racist.” That struck home with me. Those are exactly the kind of divisive words that make us uncomfortable. We do not want to be “for” or “against;” others may not like that. Isn’t it easier to be tolerant? Can’t we just be accepting and, therefore, be accepted for our lukewarm approach?
I choose that word intentionally. If we look through Scripture, we quickly notice the language of “for” or “against.” In Luke 9:50, Jesus said, “Do not stop him…for whoever is not against you is for you.” Jesus was correcting his followers who had stopped someone from driving out demons. Their reason for doing so? “He is not one of us.” (Luke 9:49b) Interesting. Isn’t that the very mindset at the root of racism: us versus them?
It is. And we, as Christ-followers, would do well to be on the side that is against racism. That is, after all, the winning side. You cannot, as I had allowed myself to think, fall into the camp of being a “non-racist.” I don’t know what that looks like for you. I simply want to bring it to your attention. For me, I want to make this a weekly topic of conversation. I need to keep it at the forefront.
It’s not hard to find. Unfortunately it can also be easy to ignore. But let me remind you that it is also to spit out lukewarm water.
Be hot or be cold.
Here are some news stories from today that you can chew on in order to consider the way that racism still plays out today.