Sunday is the day of escape. It is the day of refuge. It is the day you lay your burdens down at the foot of the cross. It is the day of worship.
I was raised in black church, specifically the Church of Christ (American Restoration Movement). I never remember race being discussed at church, ever, but the racial divide in my faith group is obvious. Even national youth retreats were separated along racial lines, and our local congregations hardly met for any type of combined gatherings. While some in my faith group are fighting and championing reconciliation, there is a dark, ugly, and racist history that lingers. Like the majority of Christian churches, Sunday is the most segregated hour in America (in black church, it’s two and a-half hours).
I would love to tell you that I planned this, that I was smart enough to conduct a social experiment of epic proportions. But I didn’t plan anything about the last two years of my life. When I moved to suburban Atlanta, I was faced with a choice. Either my family would attend a neighborhood church or we would travel to one of the well-known, established, and predominantly black churches in Atlanta. Our decision was to place our membership in a congregation in our community. I wasn’t going to flee 45 minutes away from my neighborhood. I was going to place roots with the people of God in my community, even if they didn’t worship in the style of worship I was accustomed to, and even if they didn’t have my world views.
It’s been HARD. Not because the congregants are mean-spirited or unwelcoming, but because it was different. I was often the subject of, or subject to many awkward and racially insensitive conversations. Throw social media in the mix of trying to get to know people in this “post-racial” (read: sarcasm) Obama presidency, and you get some really interesting insights as to how people who aren’t like you think and feel about a whole range of political and social issues. When one well meaning sister engaged me–out of nowhere–in a “race talk,” I found myself attempting to explain the collective grief caused by social injustice and why I was vocal via social media. In attempting to use a well known case of injustice as an example, I was told– to my face – that Trayvon Martin played a role in his own death. The lack of empathy was so painful. That school of thought had never been personified by anyone other than an internet troll, and definitely not by a sister in Christ. I also was informed that:
- “There was wrong on both sides.” Regarding the murder of Trayvon Martin.
- “I don’t believe in celebrating diversity, because that’s not what heaven will be like.”? After sharing that I visited a black church for their Black History Month program.
- “It’s said that if the General wasn’t killed the South could have actually won.”? In a metaphor heralding the “brilliance” of Confederate generals in relationship to the omniscience of God.
The thing about fellowship is it is intimate. It is supposed to be, at its best, a way to be vulnerable and to develop a relationship with believers. What I found was that after two years I was unable to break through. No matter how many potlucks, Bible classes, or positive one-on-one encounters I had, I never felt accepted. So for months my husband and I prayed. We prayed for God to give us compassion, understanding, and patience to continue on in that church, because we knew no church is perfect. We are all imperfect. But eventually God revealed that we just didn’t belong there.
When my family finally made the decision to change congregations, my husband expressed his heart about our concerns and experiences to someone in leadership. He was then told that we should just beware when transitioning to another congregation, because wherever we went, people would find that my “views are off putting.” When my husband told me this, I was so overwhelmed. All I could think was that the effort I had put into building relationships those two years had not counted, simply because I was vocal about injustice with my Facebook account.
Yes, that’s right, it was me. But fellowship is not a refuge if you are asked to change who you are to be accepted. We knew we could not change the collective consciousness of the congregation, and ultimately the micro-aggressions and flat out dismissal of black pain became a distraction in fellowship and worship.
Fear was what kept us in a place that was ultimately not conducive to our spiritual growth. We were afraid that, indeed, it would be the same no matter where we went. That we would be “too black” no matter what, and our passion for social justice could not be reconciled in fellowship with people that didn’t look like us and share our experiences. But the devil is a liar. Our prayer was answered, and God showed us where our family needed to be. We are already planted at another church, one that has social justice in its mission statement. I know that social justice and racial reconciliation are uncomfortable and difficult missions, but I am thankful to God for revealing to me that there are Christians that are striving for them.
Our kids are transitioning well, and we are confident about our future with the church. We know that differences will still be challenging, but we now have a renewed spirit and a mission affirmed by Christ. Most importantly, we have continued on with our original plan to be planted in a congregation near our home, so that ultimately we can serve in our community.
Originally published on BlogHer