If I can be vulnerable, I feel very anxious in writing this piece. I fear that if I’m not eloquent enough, this will be for naught and no one will care. But, submitting all things to the Father, I pray that the Lord would use it for his glory.
The experience of being black in a predominantly white church has been a lot of things: challenging; uncomfortable; tiresome; frustrating; and yet sharpening at the same time. God moved me into a mainly white church about five years ago, but it was only three years ago that a woman asked about my experience. Immediately, it felt like she saw me. At that moment, I realized that the burden I thought I was cursed to carry alone could be shared. Such a simple question, but it was like I heard her say, “I want to help bear your burden.” She is now one of my closest friends.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. – 1 Corinthians 13:7
What’s a “normal” culture?
In the 20 years before moving to a white church, I attended predominantly black churches. When I made the transition, one of the earliest difficulties was adapting to a new way of worship. At first I kept silent; I thought I was dying to myself and my preferences in order to honor the Lord. But after a while, I realized I was lying to myself and others: suffocating the person God made me to please people. I was keeping silent because I wanted to fit in.
My brothers and sisters asked me to submit my preferences and comforts to the Lord; but they never seemed to realized that they needed to do the same.he Lord accepted me fully in my culture, was working to transform me into the image of Christ in my culture; but I still felt the pressure to conform, not to Christ, but to a white culture.
Their culture was “normal;” so what did that make mine? There were times when norms from my own culture were mentioned, but they were never taken seriously. I’d briefly feel proud and celebrated; but quickly I’d turn to feeling forgotten, because aspects of my culture were presented in a frivolous or joking light. It was like my culture was being held up to a microscope for scrutiny. As if I was accepted in the church, but my culture wasn’t. That felt like a contradiction, because my culture is a part of who I am.
Shallow relationships, deep relationships
Relationships within a mainly white church have been another area of difficulty and tension. My husband and I have many white “friends;” but not many are deep friendships. Not many people are willing to inquire about our experience. Race feels like a taboo topic, so we don’t address it; but that silence allows relational barriers to remain. I face the reality of race every time I look in the mirror and every time I’m the minority in a situation.
Maybe some people feel that Christians shouldn’t talk about race because of what we share in Christ. But the body of Christ should be exactly where we can be real and raw about our hopes, doubts and shortcomings. If I can’t talk to my white sister about feeling like an outcast (even in the church) or comments that offend me, then we don’t have a deep friendship. And if I have no one to speak truth into who I really am, it becomes easier to believe lies and despair of ever experiencing God’s desire for community within the body of Christ.
What is true reconciliation?
I say this only out of a conviction to be honest: the predominantly-white churches we’ve been part of in the past haven’t done much to support real reconciliation between races. We’ve been part of “conversations,” and even heard great people speak into race-related issues in the church.
But no change came of those things.
Most churches seem to overvalue their efforts towards racial reconciliation. When minorities say that problems still exist, the church acts as if they’re being ungrateful. By and large, “the church” in America has taken some steps toward reconciliation; but we can’t just stop to celebrate the first few steps.
The boldness with which we’ve seen Soma pastors speak about race on Sundays has been a huge deal. Our family is grateful to be a part of a church that’s aggressively making strides to build unity across cultures. We are excited to see what happens. We have to continue to strive for greater change and greater unity. There is no other area in the church or our lives that we have reached perfection, including this one.
Growing in Christ
This journey as a minority in my own church has at times been exhausting; but I’ve grown in awareness of things in and around me. I can now more clearly express why at times I feel uncomfortable, hurt and frustrated. More than abstract feelings, I can present more concrete realities. That’s helped me process and communicate my experience; but more, I now have the tools to help others who are hurting.
Learning that no denomination, church or culture has it all right or all wrong as been encouraging and yet challenging. It is encouraging, because I’ve been fed the lie that black culture is bad and needs to be fixed. But it’s also challenging, because I have to remain humble and willing to learn from everyone. The truth is, we all need one another. One could learn many God-honoring ways of being from white culture; but there are also Christ-glorifying practices to be learned from black culture, culture. It took me some time to learn that.
The Lord has taught me to love myself and my culture. Yet I still struggle to be true to who I am in Christ, from fear of being rejected. But because of Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and choosing me, I have been redeemed and not just assimilated into the family of Christ.
Someone once asked me, “If it’s so hard, why not just go to an all-black church?”
The simple response is: where there is brokenness, you will find Christ healing and reconciling. We are simply following Jesus.
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” – Luke 9:23