Results tagged “ethnic diversity” from Reformation21 Blog

Ethnic Inclusion, Gender Roles and the Diaconate

|

In recent years, two ecclesiological issues have come to overshadow almost all others--namely, racial reconciliation and the role of women in the church. There is no shortage of Biblical and historical teaching on these issues, but a serious consideration of Acts 6 is in order if we are seeking to shed light on the way in which these two important matters are met by the formation of the Diaconate (diakonia). In short, Acts 6:1-7 is exceedingly instructive in helping to pave the way toward greater ethnic and gender inclusion in the church.

In Acts 6:1-7, we discover one of the God-instituted means of fostering unity in Christ among various groups in the church in which strong cultural and social differences existed. In the context of the early church, these difference were not limited to, yet included culture and language. At the inception of the New Covenant church, certain Christian Hellenistic Jews--who had not come from the mainstream Hebraic culture of the Apostles--began to complain about discrimination in the daily distributions. The Scriptures do not tell us whether the complaint was verifiable or whether it was a false accusation. Regardless, ignoring the complaint or dismissing it as a simple "misunderstanding" was not the solution proposed by the Apostles. Nor was the solution to follow the common temptation to separate minorities according to their language or cultural preference. Rather, the solution was to form the diakonia. The Apostles insisted that it was their duty to give themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word (diakonia tou logou), while the church was to elect and ordain certain men to the ministry of the tables (diakonein trapezais). This was the way in which the Apostles solved the problem of disunity.

This solution secured the inclusion and appreciation of the Hellenistic members of the church. Interestingly, the majority of the seven men whom the church appointed to the work themselves had Hellenistic names--names that would have sounded foreign to any of the Christians whose principle languages were Aramaic and Hebrew. It would have been similar to the way in which Spanish names sound foreign to most in churches in the English speaking world today. Despite their Hellenistic names and cultural background, they were empowered to fulfill the office and role of the Diaconate.

It is important for us to note that the institution of the Diaconate arose in the middle of a crisis, in which the unity of the church was in danger. The Apostles were firm in their insistence that Christ was the reason for and source of their unity. The reaffirmation of the role of the Apostles and the institution of Diaconate reflects the radical character of that unity.

The Gospel came to break down the walls of separation between God and man through the ministry of the Word and prayer. That was part of the ministry of the Apostles and they devoted themselves to it with the goal of spiritual reconciliation. However, the impact of that vertical reconciliation also has the horizontal aspect of bringing unity among different groups under the Crucified One who is the center of the apostolic preaching and prayer. When Christ was on Earth physically, He was commissioned His disciples with the preaching of the Word, and, with the secondary but important task of giving attention to the physical needs of the people. This is especially so in the quest for compassion and unity. In Acts 6, the Apostles relinquished an important aspect of their original apostolic duties, namely, the duty of taking care of the physical and material needs of the poor. in the context of unity and reconciliation, it may be more fitting to call these seven men "apostolic deacons"--precisely because they were the appointed servants to whom this apostolic duty was delegated.

Deacons have been given the glorious and spiritual call to lead the church toward service. Racial reconciliation, unity, and the inclusion of believing minorities in the church is one of the important aspects of this service today. While reconciliation and unity is the duty of all members of the church - both officers and lay people - the officers are the ones who have been called by God to exercise leadership in this area. Diaconal work is important in order to achieve the goals of reconciliation and inclusion of minorities.

The second matter to which we must turn our attention is that which concerns the impact of this situation on the role of women in the Church. It was women who set the background and the raison d'ĂȘtre of this institution. There was an impression that a portion of the church was neglecting certain women in the fellowship. In the book of Acts, women play an important role in the expansion of the Kingdom. Whether it was the women mentioned and included as an important part of the early church (among whom Mary, is named - Acts 1:14) or the women who were full partakers of the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1; 17-18; 21:8-9; and 1 Corinthians 12:2-11) or Peter's allusion to Joel's prophecy of the outpouring of the Spirit on both men and women of all classes or the fact that the sign of the covenant began to be opened not only to male members of the covenant (circumcision) but also to female members of the covenant (baptism), it is clear that women came to the forefront in a much more significant way in the New Covenant era. However, while women were significantly included and mentioned in the development of the New Testament church, only men [andras] full of Holy Spirit were appointed to be ordained for the diaconal institution. Just as Christ selected men to be Apostles (i.e. the Twelve), so God ordained only men to be Deacons. This means that treating our sisters in Christ with all the dignity and honor of Jesus does not include ordaining them to the offices of the church established by Christ Himself.

Furthermore, a deeper question remains. Who were the women who formed the background of Acts 6? They were widows and Greek-speaking Jewish-Christian women from the diaspora who had no family to care for them.

I do not, in any way whatsoever, doubt the good intentions of those who are desirous of seeing women flourish in the church. However, I do wonder whether our current social context has had too much influence on the debates in the church. The fact that many women in our society fill prominent roles in the secular business market may serve to put unnecessary pressure on ministers to only address one aspect of honoring women in our churches. For instance, the PCA's Report to the Cooperative Ministries Committee insists that in the PCA there are many godly women who "have had successful careers where they gained the skills of administration or strong economic knowledge, or understand legal or medical problems." Surely, pastors ought to have a firm desire to utilize the training and gifts of such women in the church in a plethora of ways. However, there is the very real danger of only fixating on the inclusion of a single category of women while neglecting to see how the Lord is working in the lives of other Christian women who are not "successful" in the eyes of the world. Self-examination may lead us to conclude that we are often tempted to neglect other categories of women in the church because we live in a time when "the virtues earning the highest return are ... conversational cleverness, skill in social navigation, excellence in bureaucracy, and keenness in finance."

The ordination of the deacons in Acts 6 comes in the context of (and has as its primary service-driven purpose) not simply women, but widowed women. Are these women the type of women we think of when we seek the promotion of women in the church today? Do our friends--who are calling for a greater inclusion of women in the church's ministry--have in mind women who are in the margins of society? To ask the question is to answer it.

The Apostles and Deacons in the early church followed the tradition of Christ's ministry (diakonein). In the Gospels, we find wealthy women partnering with and supporting our Lord Jesus' ministry (Luke 8:1-3). Our Lord was concerned to redeem, dignify, include, and promote women who were underprivileged and disenfranchised in society just as He was with the poor, the sick, the tax-collectors, the soldiers, the children, and the Samaritans. Jesus engaged the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30 and Matthew 15:21-28); healed a woman with hemorrhage (Mark 5:25-34); compassionately served the Widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-17); healed a woman who had a crippling spirit (Luke 13:10-17); and interacted with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4)--a sinner who was considered an ethnic outcast (in other terms, a product of miscegenation). These women were silent sufferers, seen by others as existing on the peripheries of society and religion. Hence, we need to think of the role of women in the church as going beyond the idea of women who are successful and gifted by worldly standards to include women who do not look successful or qualified by the standards of the world and our culture.

One way of honoring the disenfranchised women in our churches is by praying and acting towards a revival of the role of Diaconate. The members of the Westminster Assembly drew out the relation between the Diaconate and the poor when they suggested that it was the responsibility of Deacons to take "special care in distributing to the necessities of the poor." This was the way in which the Diaconate has been consistently portrayed in the New Testament (Acts 6), by the Reformers, and by the members of the Westminster Assembly.

As a minister of a multi-ethnic, bi-lingual congregation in the PCA, I am exceedingly grateful that our denomination is growing numerically and making progress in addressing and engaging these important issues. In addition to rejoicing in numeric growth, we should view much of the progress that we have made in understanding the role of women in the church as something for which we should be thankful. We should, however, not be surprised if we find that growth and progress often lacks biblical balance (we have the tendency to devolve into lines of racial and ethnic separation--as well as into separation by socio-economic background). And, we should be exceedingly cautious of defining progress in terms of the secular world's definition of success and usefulness.

In moving forward, practical and intentional actions should be considered. The PCA Book of Church Order encourages the elders of our churches to "select and appoint godly men and women" to assist the Deacons in "caring for the sick, the widows, the orphans, the prisoners, and others who may be in any distress or need" (BCO 9-7). Godly women in our congregations should be encouraged to reach out to the women and children of minority communities--intentionally welcoming and integrating them into the activities of our local churches. It seems to me that this is a tangible and positive step forward.

In order to achieve consistent progress on both racial reconciliation and the role of women in the church) we must emphasize the role of the diakonia in the life of the church. Real, God-honoring progress won't come by allowing the world to shape our thinking on these issues; rather, it will only come when we embrace the New Testament concept of the diakonia. We must encourage godly men and women to seek to assist the elders and deacons of the church in carrying out the important work of caring for the poor, needy and disenfranchised in church. This was an integral part of the mission of the early church and it must be so for the church today.


William Castro is a church planter of Emmanuel Upstate PCA, in Greenville SC, a multiethnic congregation of Mitchell Road Presbyterian Church and Calvary Presbytery. William has degrees from the University Seminary Evangelical of Lima (BA, MDiv) in Peru and from Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (ThM). William and his wife, Judy, have three daughters.

In parts 1-4, I briefly highlighted some of my thoughts regarding liturgy, music, and the inclusion of more minorities (or more specifically, African-Americans) in our churches. I am going to take a slight detour in this fifth segment, a detour that has nothing to do with liturgy or music. While living in southern California this was my experience. As I plant a church in Richmond, Virginia, this is also my experience.

One of the many reasons more African-Americans are not Presbyterian and Reformed (e.g., PCA, ARP, URC, etc.) is because of the lack of familiarity with its brand, or denomination/federation. On both coasts, when I invite African-Americans to church, probably 8 out of 10 cannot define what it means to be Presbyterian and Reformed, have never visited a Presbyterian or Reformed church, and do not know any Presbyterian or Reformed Christians. This has many implications. Here are two.

If an African-American family, for example, were to move to a new area and look for a church, they would not visit a Presbyterian or Reformed congregation. Even if they did not have a commitment to one particular denomination, it is more likely they would attend a Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, or non-denominational church. The same can be said for newly converted African-Americans. If, for instance, an African-American gets saved through means other than the preaching of the word on the Lord's Day (e.g., street preaching, gospel tract, etc.), it is unlikely, once he looks for a church, he will visit a Presbyterian or Reformed congregation. He, along with the minority family mentioned in the previous example, is unfamiliar with its beliefs, practices, and its brand. This newly converted man would also, more than likely, end up attending a Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, or non-denominational church. 

This is quite interesting in light of a report that was submitted to the 205th general assembly of the PCUSA, which suggests that African-Americans had a much greater affinity for Presbyterianism at one time. After reading this, provided it is true, I wonder how we can make our denomination, or more broadly those within NAPARC, more familiar to all minorities. What can we do to have better name recognition? I have ideas. You may as well.

I hope you will take the time to read this. In a section of the report, titled, "Toward a Nonsegregated Church in a Nonsegregated Society," the authors wrote,

"The end of World War II brought a rising tide of expectations and an irrepressible demand for equity before the law. African Americans, who had once again shed their blood in defense of their country and the cause of democracy, returned home to find their own lot essentially unchanged.

While it might be expected that the churches would have provided ethical leadership for the nation in responding to African Americans' yearning and struggling for justice and equality, such was not the case. The Presbyterian church bodies as a whole did little beyond issuing platitudinous statements. Black clergy, laity, and churches, however, continued their historical role of providing to their communities educated and sophisticated leadership, often through close cooperation with secular organizations like the NAACP. Black Presbyterians were keenly aware that it was government, through the courts, and secular organizations that took the lead in calling the nation to social reform in race matters. In the South, the subject of race relations and racial justice was seldom raised from the pulpit. And as long as the problem was so much identified with southern mores, northern church people could pretend that it was a southern problem, not one with which they must grapple.

In the years between the two world wars, none of the three Presbyterian bodies that now are melded into the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) achieved vigorous growth among their African American constituencies. The southern Presbyterian church (the Presbyterian Church in the United States) hardly grew at all until Lawrence Bottoms was brought into the picture as the assistant secretary of the Board of Negro Work, which came into being in 1946.

The Committee on Colored Evangelization of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) was established in 1892 and went out of existence in 1910. At the time of its establishment, there were fifty-six Black congregations with a total of about sixteen hundred members. When the committee was discontinued, congregations numbered fifty-nine and the membership totaled 2,355. (150)

Evangelizing and teaching Black people was not a popular preoccupation. "Someone remarked facetiously and yet with much truth that when one went to Africa as a missionary to evangelize the Negro he was canonized; when he stayed home to teach the Negro he was ostracized." (151)

When the Committee on Colored Evangelization was discontinued in 1910, its work was transferred to the Executive Committee on Home Missions as a Department of Colored Work. Snedecor continued as superintendent of this work until he resigned due to failing health. This coincided with the failure of the independent Afro-American Presbyterian Synod. In that same year, the independent synod was restructured as a synod of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS). It was renamed the Snedecor Memorial Synod in honor of Snedecor, who had given so much of his life to work among African Americans.

After Snedecor's death, several persons were chosen to give leadership to the work among Blacks. Although this succession of men worked hard to move the church to shoulder its evangelistic responsibility, they could not overcome the apathy now grown to aversion. As the Snedecor Synod, and thus an integral part of the General Assembly, the Black constituency still experienced anemic growth. In 1918, there were 1,492 members; by 1933 that number had only increased to 1,847.

The place at which Black church growth did occur was the cities. In the period following World War II, successful PCUS mission centers were established in Louisville, Richmond, Atlanta, and New Orleans. A feature common to these locations was the development of strong Sunday schools and attention to the social, economic, and educational needs as a part of the evangelistic thrust.

Work for and among African Americans in the southern Presbyterian church continued under the Board of Home Missions until 1946 when the Board of Negro Work was formed. The creation of this board represented not only a change in structure, but a change in attitude. Lawrence Bottoms, who played a key role in this development, describes the changes this way:

"[The Home Mission Board] governed and functioned like a plantation system. The executive secretary of the Board of Home Missions worked through certain key ministers who carried out the instructions given by the Board and endeavored to develop the work within the synod and presbytery without the body knowing exactly what they were doing and where they were trying to go; and the body was governed by these key ministers who operated and functioned under the instruction of the Board of Home Missions. The members of the Synod (Snedecor) and the presbytery did not learn to use the tool of government, social organization, economic process and social process, or political process. ... Neither did they learn about Presbyterian belief. ... The work was carried on in a paternalistic fashion in the hope that the people being led by these ministers would become good people who would adjust to the systems of segregation and be comfortable in those systems without causing any difficulty." (152)

Substantial growth of Black membership in the PCUS began under the leadership of Alex R. Batchelor, who was appointed secretary of the Division of Negro Work in 1947. Lawrence W. Bottoms, serving first as part-time regional director of Christian Education, succeeded in getting Blacks and Whites to plan together for new urban churches, such as All Souls Church in Richmond, Virginia, rather than have Whites plan for Blacks as had been the practice before.

Bottoms later became full-time regional director of Christian Education, then associate in the Division of Negro Work and, at the death of Alex Batchelor, director of the Division of Negro Work. Bottoms' unusual background had prepared him well for an unenviable task. A deeply spiritual man, he had grown up in the Church of the Covenanters, earned his A.B. degree from Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, and completed his theological course at the Reformed Theological Seminary of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Before coming to the national staff, Bottoms had served PCUS pastorates in Selma, Alabama; Louisville, Kentucky; and Miami, Florida. In 1974, he was elected the first and only African American moderator of the PCUS General Assembly.

In 1949, this work among African Americans was placed under the Board of Church Extension as the Division of Negro Work, along with the Divisions of Home Missions, Christian Relations, Radio and Television, and Evangelism. This placement of the work in the church's structure overcame some of the sense of isolation that the Division of Negro Work had experienced and was strategic in achieving a more integrated relationship with other aspects of the church's work.

Batchelor writes of that period: "In 1946 something happened in our church. It seemed that God spoke and commanded us to go forward in Negro Work. This was a voice to the whole church." (153) It happened to coincide with the post-World War II period when many new nations in Asia and Africa were gaining independence. Change was in the air and African Americans were pressing the case for democracy in the United States with unprecedented vigor. Batchelor, appealing to the best instincts in the White constituency of his church, observed that the usual procedure in a Christian fellowship is not for the minority to have to make demands, but for the majority to take the initiative. In other words, the majority ought to care so much about the minority that it anticipates the latter's needs and addresses them. "If it fails to do so, it opens to question the extent to which it has appropriated the Spirit of Christ." (154)

A piece of hard evidence that a new day was on the horizon in the PCUS was the appointment of Black staff persons at the national level to guide and administer the work among African American churches. Batchelor seemed of a different spirit than most of his predecessors, and an important clue to his effectiveness was his employment of capable Black men and women to share responsibility for the work. In addition to the appointment of Lawrence Bottoms, Leon Anderson succeeded to the position of regional director of Christian Education and Mrs. A. L. DeVariest, staff member of the Board of Women's Work, conducted training workshops for church leaders and youth.

During the post-World War II era, the Black constituency of the PCUS experienced substantial growth under Bottoms' and Batchelor's leadership. Some forty new churches were started and, during a five-year period, the Black membership increased from three thou- sand to about seven thousand (155)" (pages 113-17).
Crown and Joy Presbyterian Church, in Richmond, VA, celebrated its ninth Sunday on December 21, 2014. Time seems to be moving quite quickly. Before you know it, if the Lord wills, we will have finished our series through the book of Exodus. We average about 50 persons in attendance each Sunday. That includes people from various ethnic, cultural, and socio-economic backgrounds. It is quite a blessing to see what the Lord is doing in our church.

Since the first service, our liturgy has remained the same. We have several scripture readings, a confession of sin while kneeling, preaching of the word, administration of the Lord's Supper weekly while sitting around a table and partaking of a common meal, benediction, etc. You can view our liturgy here (sample_liturgy.pdf).  We hope to add the sursum corda next year. Interestingly, our liturgy is not entirely different from the most recent all black Baptist church I visited. Consider also the latest partnership between some Pentecostal and Anglican churches. What is my point? As I shared in parts 1 and 2, the liturgy is not what is keeping minorities away from Presbyterian and reformed churches.

In part 3, I began to introduce music into the equation. Is a certain genre of music keeping minorities away from our churches? Is it the way its sung? Here are some of my thoughts regarding those questions.
I wonder if what may be keeping minorities away from our churches is less about the genre of music that is sung and more about the way in which we sing it. In many of our churches, especially if they consider themselves, "old school," generally we know what to expect musically--hymns and psalms utilizing traditional tunes with very few instruments. As an aside, we sing hymns from the Trinity Hymnal at Crown and Joy. There is nothing wrong with these musical preferences, but what I have noticed more recently among churches that are increasing in ethnic and cultural diversity is that they are singing many of the traditional hymns using more modern tunes. Minor chords, more upbeat tempos, and choruses are utilized. These churches have attempted to contextualize the music, particularly as it relates to the tunes, while maintaining the rich and biblical lyrics associated with traditional hymns.

Depending on the church's context, this seems to help. Minorities, especially if they have a church background (see part 1), may feel more comfortable during the singing aspect of the Lord's Day service because the tune is more fitting to their previous church experience. (Here is one example). Unfortunately, in my opinion, not all churches are willing to do this. They are unwilling to alter this segment of their church service to help minorities feel more comfortable in an already foreign situation (i.e., reformed and predominantly white). 

I think if we consider our local congregations more as missionary establishments it may help us. In other words, it seems that missionaries, when thinking soberly, note their cultural context. They pay attention to the dialect, cultural practices, musical tastes, food, clothing, living arrangements, etc. This helps them minister to the locals in that community. If we adopted that mindset versus catering almost primarily to those already in our churches, or even those with similar preferences whom we foresee joining us, we might be more willing to change certain aspects of our music. As I write this, I also confess that I believe the church is for Christians, yet it is also a place for non-Christians to attend and be saved. What might those elect saints, who have yet to embrace Christ by faith, be listening to musically? Will taking that into consideration as well as implementing it, within reason and biblical standards, help them feel more comfortable in our midst? Regarding those who have a church background, will taking into consideration what those saints are listening to musically, who may later become reformed, help them feel more comfortable when they visit us? One African-American comes to mind, one who has been in a Presbyterian church for over 10 years and has a Pentecostal background. This person does not like the music at that particular Presbyterian congregation. What can we do for someone like that?

What about churches that are unwilling to adapt? If one's church will not change the tunes associated with many traditional hymns, are they hopeless? If they reside in diverse contexts and are unwilling to change their current musical practices, should they toss in the towel, so-to-speak, regarding diversity? Or what about those churches that are willing to change their music for the sake of ministry contextualization but do not feel equipped to do so? I hope to address those questions in other posts. 
Various social media websites and the news outlets are still ablaze after the #FergusonDecision. While I am concerned about how the world is reacting, both positively and negatively, I am also concerned about how the Church is responding. As I shared here, what I am observing further confirms that we, as followers of Christ, are still divided on these issues. Unfortunately, while disagreement is one thing; we can disagree on issues related to ethnicity and culture, terminating friendships and assassinating someone's character are completely different. (Yes, I have seen these things occur). The latter must cease.

In light of all the current dialogue about ethnic and cultural issues, specifically as they surround the #FergusonDecision or more broadly the conversations in general, allow me to provide 3 don'ts of ethnic/cultural conversation. These mistakes are being made all over the place, and it does not aid in this most important discussion.

I do not claim that these are standard across the board, specifically as it relates to blacks and whites, but from the vast majority of conversations with brothers and sisters in the faith, these observations seem quite consistent. 

3 Don'ts of Ethnic/Cultural Dialogue While Speaking to African-Americans:

1. Don't tell us we make everything about race. It is easy to avoid conversations about race, or ethnicity, when it is not a category you are accustomed to discussing. To the same degree and in the same manner we have had to be concerned about the color of our skin, you have not. Driving, shopping, and walking while black are things that will never concern you. Instead of telling us we make everything about race, it will be helpful for you to learn about our pain because there is truth to our story.

2. Don't be so quick to respond. #blacklivesmatter . At times, it seems like you have no desire to sympathize with us. While we do not expect you to feel our pain as we do, surely you can weep with us. The racial/ethnic tension in this country has existed for hundreds of years, and it is still present today. At times, however, it takes more subtle forms. When we mention this unfortunate reality, please refrain from pulling the trigger of your keyboard so quickly or providing a verbal rebuttal. Just listen. You may gain a new friend and/or develop a deeper relationship with us.

3. Don't quote other African-Americans in support of your position. We know there are African-Americans who disagree with us in certain areas. Quoting from one of our own, according to the flesh, may do more to hurt your position than help you. From an extreme perspective, it may appear like you are trying to turn us against our own. From a much narrower point-of-view, when you quote an African-American, it is akin to quoting "your one black friend." In other words, you only use him when it is to your advantage. 

3 Don'ts of Ethnic/Cultural Dialogue While Speaking to White Americans:

1. Don't make us feel guilty. There are many of us who desire to help and move forward in this highly charged area, but we sometimes feel as if you are pointing the finger at us without giving us an opportunity to say, "We are on your side." Furthermore, you sometimes make us feel as if everything is our fault when, in fact, many of us are immigrants, and our ancestors had nothing to do with much of this tragic history of this nation.

2. Don't disregard our position simply because we differ. Sometimes we feel as if you do not want to hear our position because we may have another perspective. Is it wrong to disagree? Perhaps in conversation you may convince us of your position, or quite possibly we may convince you of ours, whether in part or in total. But please listen to us. We feel like we have something valuable to add, too.

3. Don't act like we do not care. We know there are many issues at hand, issues that are far more numerous than we understand. Nevertheless, that does not mean we do not care. We want justice to be upheld. We want God to be honored. We do care. We will never be able to walk in your shoes, but we can walk along side you to hear your frustrations and pain. 
According to some sources, Officer Darren Wilson could have been indicted with one of several crimes (e.g., first degree murder, second degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, or others) for killing an unarmed African-American young man. Many around the world were quite disgusted at his actions. Others believed Officer Wilson acted rightly and was simply seeking to defend himself from the attacks of Mr. Michael Brown. 

Since the incident occurred months ago, the conversation about police brutality, the history of African-Americans in this nation, and ethnic, or race, discussions have more frequently occurred in a condensed manner. People have wondered whether this was an isolated incident. Others have thought that African-Americans, far too frequently, have their lives taken by white law enforcement? Still yet, some posed the question, "Was this even about race?" They further mused that some African-Americans make certain situations about race, or ethnicity, when they should not; it only makes matters worse.

With all the conversations that happened, whether on social media sites (e.g., Facebook, Twitter) and/or in the news, the world, and literally I mean the world, waited with baited breath as the verdict concerning Officer Darren Wilson was announced. At about 9PM Eastern Standard Time (EST) on Monday, November 24, 2014, St. Louis County Prosecutor, Bob McCulloch, announced that a grand jury comprised of nine whites and three blacks did not indict Officer Wilson. Many people were shocked. Others thought the appropriate decision was made.

How do you feel? I write to those who are frustrated. Does the verdict remind you of all the years of oppression our people (cf. Exod. 2:11) have faced? Do you feel rage? Do you want to express it somehow, but for fear of misunderstanding you do nothing? Do you write something on Facebook or Twitter secretly hoping people will validate your concerns by 'liking', commenting, or retweeting your post? Do you wonder about the Brown family and how they are feeling and healing? Mr. Michael Brown Sr. said

"We are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions. While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change. We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen. Join with us in our campaign to ensure that every police officer working the streets in this country wears a body camera."

Despite Brown, Sr.'s comment to "channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change," perhaps one of your chief concerns in moving forward is that some white people seem to stand in the way. "How can we make change positively if they seem to oppose us?", you may think. Or perhaps you continue to ponder why more whites do not understand your pain, and instead of seeking to better comprehend you and your position, they assume they know, then write things on social media (e.g., "Don't make this about race") that are extremely insensitive and only further frustrate and offend you. It may seem as if #blacklivesdontmatter. 

Do you wonder if some whites lack concern that another image-bearer has lost his life? Deep down, do you wish they would remain silent and simply "weep with those who weep" (Rom. 12:15) instead of telling you, "A decision has been made. Color does not matter. The facts are in"? As I have been taught in my marriage, sometimes it is best to remain silent and enter into another person's world insofar as one is able to better garner another person's position. 

I know you are hurting. I am, too, because the Ferguson, MO incident reminds me of so many other things, not to mention we have not progressed as far as we should have regarding ethnic, or race, relations in the church. Nevertheless, my plea to you, as brothers and sisters in Christ and according to the flesh, is that you realize whites, particularly white Christians, are not your enemies. The same flesh that was torn and blood that was shed for you was equally broken and poured out for them. We are called, therefore, "so far as it depends on you, [to] live peaceably with all" (Rom. 12:18). As difficult as that may be at times, are you willing to do that? More pointedly, are you willing to be at peace with your white brothers and sisters, and even reconcile with them if they have offended you, before the Sunday comes when you participate in the Lord's Supper? Do you realize what may be at stake if you do not?

"Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died" (1 Cor. 11:27-30). 

The context of the aforementioned passage includes, but is not limited to, reconciliation with each other (cf. 1 Cor. 11:17-22). If we have not attempted to mend the brokenness of our relationships in the local church, we drink judgment upon ourselves. In fact that is why some people were dying in the first century. It is frightening to consider how seriously we should take participating in Communion.

You see, just as God, the offended party, has reconciled us, the offending party, to himself through Christ by pursuing us and ultimately sending his Son to a cross, so, too, we must pursue those who have offended us in an attempt to fasten the loose areas in our relationships with them. Along with all the pain and confusion we may experience during this time (#FergusonDecision), we must maintain hearts full of forgiveness and love (Col. 3:12-17). We must grow together; we must live together; we must love together. We have enough problems in the world. Far too often those same problems exist in the Church, when in fact the Church should be a place of refuge and comfort.

To get to that place, however, it will take time and many more conversations, but God is able. In his providence, he has brought us thus far. He continues to create a people for himself, a people from every tribe, nation, and tongue, who should be willing, ready, and able to worship the Lord under the same roof, live together in neighborhoods, and have these kind of conversations. Our communion more broadly (i.e., relationships) and our Communion more specifically (i.e., the Lord's Supper) all point to our salvation, redemption, and reconciliation with God through Christ, as well as our reconciliation with each other.

Please pursue and reconcile with those who have offended you. Take the more difficult road. It will be that much sweeter as you participate in the Lord's Supper and look across the pews knowing you are truly one in Christ and that no temporal issue has caused separation. I really and truly hope it works out that smoothly. I also hope that, as you pursue those who have offended you, God will be glorified in the reconciliation of his people as you seek to learn from each other and grow together.
In parts 1 and 2, I suggested that liturgy does not necessarily keep minorities away from our Presbyterian and Reformed churches. Following our examination of the liturgy, I wanted to pose another question:

What about music?

The so-called worship wars, as I read them, normally center around the type of music we sing and how we sing it. Are older hymns (i.e., that which is in the Trinity hymnal) our best option for singing? Should we eradicate it all, whether traditional hymns or contemporary music, and simply sing psalms? I will leave it to Dr. Jones and Dr. Clark to argue whether or not exclusive psalmody is the biblical and/or historic reformed practice. In the context of this post, however, singing psalms or hymns may not be the issue. Perhaps it is the absence of a choir? After all, many African-American churches--and other churches for that matter--have choirs. Perhaps it is the lack of African-American gospel music in our churches that causes our pews to virtually be void of minorities? Or maybe we need more instruments in our musical ensemble? Will that help? 

There are a host of questions into which we must inquire, and depending on whom you ask, the answer varies as much as the waves in the ocean. What follows is my opinion. 

Let's attempt to tackle one of the questions that I often hear raised. Do we need a choir? According to a story I recently heard, the answer is yes. Since many, perhaps most, African-American churches have choirs, the conclusion is that we, likewise, must have a choir. This addition, some believe, due to familiarity, will help our brothers and sisters feel more comfortable in our churches. There may be some truth to that, but ultimately it depends on the African-American culture to whom you are catering. Yes, you may need to reread the previous sentence. I did say, "catering." 

If you have not discovered it by now, we are all catering to someone, whether intentionally or unintentionally. It is more evident, it seems, in those churches that have signs on their property that say, "Traditional service at 8:30am and Contemporary service at 11am." They are catering, which does not mean biblical compromise, to those who prefer traditional music (and liturgy) and to those who prefer contemporary music (and perchance less liturgy). 

Catering is less apparent, some think, in some of our reformed churches that sing, for example, all hymns and have a standard liturgy, however we define 'standard.' To whom are they catering? The answer is simple: those who prefer singing hymns within the context of a standard liturgy. Categorically, these image-bearers would arrive at the 8:30am traditional service. An example is in order.

Several years ago a certain presbytery was pursuing me as a church planter. One gentleman in that presbytery, who wanted me to plant this church, said that he desired a solid Presbyterian church that sings from the Trinity Hymnal. To be Presbyterian, or in his language, "to be conservative," meant to sing all hymns. He further elaborated that a service that pursues this direction will attract a certain type of people (e.g., other conservative Christians). He recognized the link between intentionally arranging certain aspects of Lord's Day worship and the ability to garner certain people.

While some African-Americans may prefer choirs, some may not. There is not homogeneity among blacks that can somehow help generate a standard music practice in our churches that will guarantee more minorities come and stay (yes, stay). This complicates the ability to cater, or perhaps put in language that may not scream of affirmative action, contextualize our ministry. 

If the community in which your church resides is ethnically and culturally diverse, conduct some research. Intentionally seek the demographic that is absent in your church and see what their church experience is. That will help you better understand the musical tastes of the people. This is ministry contextualization.

To be clear, I am not simply building an argument so that you can arrange your worship service ultimately to take Christians from other churches. More can, and perhaps should, be said about that, but for now, I will leave it there.

One final word is in order about the choir. I would go so far as to say that it is less about the choir in African-American churches and more about the enthusiasm, excitement, joy, and life the choir brings to the congregation. Can such joy and enthusiasm be produced without a choir? 

As a brief aside, there is nothing wrong with joy, whether displayed inwardly or outwardly, and enthusiasm when singing to the God of the universe. It seems that many people downgrade these emotions as mere tactics to infuse energy into the church or polemics to engage the emotions. Can it be that? Yes. Does it have to be that way? No.

In closing, I wonder if what may be keeping minorities away from our Reformed and Presbyterians churches is the apparent lack of joy and enthusiasm while singing. Notice I said, apparent. We all express the aforementioned emotions differently. In many of the contexts in which I have been placed, it seems that those emotions are predominantly expressed inwardly. "I have joy in my heart," some say. The lack of visible demonstrative expression, however, may be a hinderance to minorities visiting our churches who prefer an outward expression of praise and thanksgiving. While no one has placed a sign above the door of our churches suggesting that you cannot outwardly express yourself during the singing aspect of worship, whether by swaying, lifting your hands, or kneeling, the atmosphere of the church may express something different. When no one is doing it, perhaps some may wonder if it is acceptable. Could this keep African-Americans away from our churches? It all depends on the context.

If this is, in fact, occurring (i.e., a lack of demonstrative expression is keeping blacks from our churches), how can we change this? Provided you are not insisting the Bible forbids such expression, maybe you can remind your church that they may express themselves in said manner. If they have never heard that from the pastor and/or session or consistory, how will they know those modes of expression are acceptable. Furthermore, if a minority, who prefers that mode of expression, hears that from the leadership, it may make her feel more comfortable. 

In the next post, I want to focus particularly on singing traditional hymns and what that may, or may not, do for increasing African-American diversity in Presbyterian and Reformed churches. With such a broad topic, I do not plan to cover every aspect of this discussion. Whatever it is I have said in this series, I hope it is helpful.

A Little Black Boy's Question

|
I recently heard a story that both grieves my heart and provides a glimmer of hope. The story was conveyed to me by a retired public school principal. For the sake of this post, let's call him, Jack. Jack is a Christian; Jack was the principle at an ethnically diverse school; Jack is white.

One day Jack was asked to teach the youth at a predominantly African-American church. He accepted the invitation. On Sunday, and at the completion of his lesson, a young black boy--I use the term boy because he was young--placed his hand politely in the air to signal he had a question. This was the question he asked Jack.

"When I go to school during the week, why am I surrounded by, and have interactions with, white children, but when I come to church there are no white children here?"

Jack was at a loss for words.

The question grieves my heart because we live in a world where, even in the church, we are segregated. (Before I am accused of being naive, yes I know there are reasons for our segregation, but I do not have to like it). Despite my heavy heart, this young boy's question provides a glimmer of hope because some people, even a young black boy, are asking the right questions. I take comfort that people are willing to question the obvious and in some cases, though this was not an element in the story, seek to do something about it.

Does segregation in Christ's Church grieve you? Does it provide a reason to mourn? If so, what can we do about it to see change?

"Our call to worship comes from...", "If you have confessed your sins, I declare to you...", and "The Lord bless you and keep you" are statements frequently found on Lord's Day worship at Reformed and Presbyterian churches. Are these things keeping African-Americans away from our churches?

In the previous post, I narrowly defined the terms "liturgy" and "minority." Liturgy, I suggested, "is the pattern or arrangement of one's Sunday service." Since every church has a liturgy, I more particularly narrowed the focus to "that pattern or arrangement of the elements of worship that is often employed in Presbyterian and Reformed churches" (see DPW, section II). Regarding the term "minority," I mentioned, "...I am specifically thinking of middle class, African-Americans with some church experience. The ecclesiastical affiliation subsumes under three categories: Pentecostal/Charismatic, Baptist, and Non-Denominational."

At the conclusion of part 1, I suggested, "Liturgy does not...ultimately keep African-Americans away from Reformed and Presbyterian churches." However, what can keep some African-Americans away from our churches, specifically regarding liturgy, is how the liturgy is conducted. Previously, I noted, 

"The second issue (i.e., there is a dullness to the liturgy) is also off-putting to some African-Americans. If they are accustomed to Baptist, Pentecostal/Charismatic (and yes, I recognize there are differences), or Non-Denominational churches, there is normally a liveliness to the minister's leading of the service. He does not normally stand behind the pulpit with his elbows locked, hands latched unto the pulpit as he slightly leans toward the congregation telling us what is next in the liturgy with a monotone voice. The dullness, therefore, does not come from the liturgy itself but from the liturgist. African-Americans, in many cases, are formed by enthusiasm that comes from the pulpit. It is obvious the minister believes, or at least we hope, what he teaches. When that is not present, the liturgy can seem unappealing."

Along with a somewhat stale presentation of an otherwise glorious event, something else that can keep African-Americans away from our churches is the pace of the liturgy. Further, I would suggest the culture of that church, which is expressed within the liturgy, may also reduce African-American presence in our churches.

The Pace of the Liturgy

Having visited many Reformed and Presbyterian churches across the United States, the pace of the liturgy is often the same. Once one aspect of the service is complete, the minister immediately proceeds to the next section. For example, after the declaration of pardon, the minister soon thereafter states some variation of, "Having heard the declaration of pardon, let's sing a song of response." The pianist then begins playing. In the majority of Reformed and Presbyterian churches, it seems, that is acceptable. The pace provides a certain flow to the service that has become normative. That pace, nevertheless, can become inhibiting to those who are a bit more demonstrative. 

Some of our Caucasian brothers and sisters are not extremely expressive in Reformed and Presbyterian churches. A head nod, perhaps an "amen" under her breath, or, according to one seminary president, a grunt is an adequate response to confirm what just transpired during Lord's Day corporate worship. For many African-Americans--I am included--the aforementioned verbal or bodily gestures of agreement are acceptable and within one's comfort zone. However, for others, they are not. Some African-Americans desire to more loudly or expressively declare their verbal or bodily assent to a certain declaration from the minister, but the pace in many of our churches prohibits it. In other words, there is very little time to express one's gratitude to the glorious truths found, for instance, in the declaration of pardon because the service quickly advances to the next segment. Unless someone desires to get into a shouting match with the minister, it is best to remain silent. 

For some African-Americans who have experience in Pentecostal/Charismatic, Baptist, and/or Non-Denominational churches, there is sometimes space, due to the pace, to offer verbal or bodily assent to a certain portion, or portions, of the service. That sometimes occurs because the minister solicits it. At other times, there is enough down time, or space between parts of the service, to allow verbal confirmation. In our churches, what may that look like?

After the declaration of pardon, instead of moving directly to the next area of service, the minister could say some variation of, "And all God's people said?" The response should be, "amen." That provides an outlet for those who are more expressive in worship. One might also ask rhetorical questions (e.g., "Isn't that good news?"), or other questions, that grant people the opportunity to express themselves, albeit decently and in order. Who knows? You may have some people in your congregation currently who would appreciate this, and they may not be African-American.

The Culture of the Church Expressed within the Liturgy

While the pace of the liturgy in many of our churches may not allow demonstrative worship, the culture of the church, which is depicted within the liturgy, also does not provide space for demonstrative worship.

Several of my African-American friends have expressed feeling somewhat alienated when they declare a passionate, "amen" to the minister's sermon or the declaration of pardon. In their opinion, the stares, after an "amen" is stated, confirm their feeling of alienation. They, therefore, feel prohibited from making further gestures of agreement. That is not something liturgy does. Liturgy does not inhibit nor prohibit verbal expression (e.g., "amen" or "preach, Pastor") nor a bodily response to certain parts within the liturgy (e.g., raising hands) -- people do. 

Outside of singing, confessing sin, and reciting a creed, many of our congregations are silent. Although there may be no bylaws suggesting one should be quiet, the culture, which provides those "unwritten rules," clearly announces that reality. Must those African-Americans who are more demonstrative in worship conform to the church's culture, or will there be enough room for them to maintain that aspect of their cultural identity and remain expressive in church?

Perhaps you are either thinking, "To what degree should a minister and/or congregation allow people to be expressive?," or "How do I inculcate a more expressive culture in my church?" Maybe you are not asking either question. To the extent that some of you may be interested, perchance I will attempt to articulate answers to those questions at another time. 

Until then, consider requesting a copy of the liturgy from Christ Central Church, City of Hope, or Grace Mosaic. Each of these churches are cross-cultural, multi-ethnic, intentional about reaching out to various ethnic groups and cultures, maintain a word and sacrament centrality, and uphold the liturgical elements found in DPW, section II. These churches, though this anecdotal, confirm that liturgy does not keep African-Americans away from our churches.
"Let's face it. It's music that keeps minorities out of our church," said a PCA layman during the question and answer section of my Sunday school class. I have heard many comments like this. Perhaps you have also. Is it true?

To your disappointment, I am only going to focus on the liturgical aspect of worship in this post. I am somewhat aware of the many worship war debates and how the emphasis is often music; I will return to that. For now, let us briefly consider liturgy and what that may be doing to provide (dis)interest to minorities in your community.

First, allow me to clarify some things, specifically in terms of what I mean by "liturgy" and "minority." I confess that every church has a liturgy, even those congregations that believe the Spirit should not be contained within a set structure every Sunday. Most often, at least in my experience, those churches still have a certain order, or flow, of worship that is fairly concrete. Liturgy, then, is the pattern or arrangement of one's Sunday service. In the context of this post, however, when I refer to liturgy I specifically mean that pattern or arrangement of the elements of worship that is often employed in Presbyterian and Reformed churches (i.e., what some wrongly title, "covenant renewal ceremony"; see also DPW, section II).  

As I use the term "minority," I am being extremely limiting as well. I am specifically thinking of middle class, African-Americans with some church experience. The ecclesiastical affiliation subsumes under three categories: Pentecostal/Charismatic, Baptist, and Non-Denominational. The reason for such constriction is because these are the classifications with which I have most familiarity. 

One final point. As I write this, I am assuming there are African-Americans in your community and/or the community in which the church building is located. From a previous post, which highlighted ethnic diversity and the lack thereof in many of our reformed churches, one gentleman asked, "How do you know that these monochromatic churches don't already "reflect the communities in which they are"?" In many cases, they might; regardless, I am writing from the perspective that your community is ethnically diverse, particularly as it relates to African-Americans. If the community in which you live and in which the church is located is primarily one ethnic group, we should expect the church to reflect that demographic. However, with the changing trends in many parts of the USA, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find communities that are primarily one ethnic group.

Is liturgy keeping African-Americans out of our church?

It may and it may not. One ought not to assume that African-Americans are allergic to liturgy. Unfortunately, I have had many conversations with people who have suggested that, in order to attract African-Americans to one's congregation, there should be as little liturgy as possible. "African-Americans need to be free to express themselves," I was told, "and if you are liturgical, they will feel inhibited." Interestingly enough, my dear Anglo brothers were the ones making the aforementioned comments. How ironic?

In many traditional predominantly African-American Baptist churches, they have liturgy. In fact, I recently visited a church that was extremely dialogical and liturgical in their approach. They confessed their faith, had numerous scripture readings, call-and-response segments, and a host of other things that we would find in a Presbyterian and Reformed church. As an aside, though this is outside the boundaries of the three ecclesiastical categories previously mentioned, also consider looking at the liturgy at some African Methodist Episcopal (AME) churches. They, too, are accustomed to utilizing liturgy that is present in our reformed churches.

It is not merely traditional black Baptist churches that employ liturgy but also a recent wave of Pentecostal churches. "Bishop Gregory Bowers is pastor of Penuel Missionary Baptist Church and also leads the Jubilee network of churches," which has partnered with the ACNA with the expressed intent to see God's church unified and employ common liturgy. 

While I have many testimonies of African-Americans enjoying, and even becoming fond of, liturgy, there are times when it is not quite grasped or liked. In my experience there are two main reasons why liturgy is not received well. First, there is a lack of understanding and familiarity with liturgy. Second, there is a dullness to the liturgy or more particularly, the liturgist. Allow me to explain the former by personal experience.

When I was first introduced to Reformed and Presbyterian churches, I knew very little about them other than the ministers preached the doctrines of grace. Singing from a hymnal, liturgy, and weekly Lord's Supper were foreign. Simply because I was unaware of such practices, however, did not make me skeptical nor hostile toward the practice. I believe I was eager to learn.

The first church my family visited was a bit off-putting, though. While the liturgy was, generally, outlined in the bulletin, the congregation said and did things that were not listed in the bulletin. For example, there were certain songs that were sang throughout the service that were not in the bulletin (e.g., the doxology). When people either stood up or sat down, that was not outlined in the bulletin either. For a newcomer, it seemed like there was a hidden code that I needed to know in order to properly fit in. That was a turn-off. Since I was already ignorant to many liturgical practices, the unfamiliarity with that particular church's liturgy did not help in my understanding and enjoyment of it.

The second issue (i.e., there is a dullness to the liturgy) is also off-putting to some African-Americans. If they are accustomed to Baptist, Pentecostal/Charismatic (and yes, I recognize there are differences), or Non-Denominational churches, there is normally a liveliness to the minister's leading of the service. He does not normally stand behind the pulpit with his elbows locked, hands latched unto the pulpit as he slightly leans toward the congregation telling us what is next in the liturgy with a monotone voice. The dullness, therefore, does not come from the liturgy itself but from the liturgist. African-Americans, in many cases, are formed by enthusiasm that comes from the pulpit. It is obvious the minister believes, or at least we hope, what he teaches. When that is not present, the liturgy can seem unappealing. 

Liturgy does not, therefore, ultimately keep African-Americans away from Reformed and Presbyterian churches. While there are some African-Americans who will not enjoy liturgy no matter how enthusiastic the minister is nor how much education is provided regarding the flow of service, in many cases, African-Americans do not mind liturgy. Although, again, this is anecdotal, I believe our church plant is a testimony to this truth (View image). God is drawing a people together, who will worship on the Lord's Day, using many of the liturgical elements found in the DPW.

White Faces: It's What I See

|
I plead with you to help. In my opinion it is a matter for which we must fight. If we do not, things will remain the same. Do not get me wrong, consistency is good, but not in this case.

White faces: it's what I see.

We are upon that time of year when reformed denominations meet for general assembly (or synod). It is a time of prayer, preaching, pondering, ruling, shared memories, and fellowship. While there are many blessings that result from these gatherings, there is something that largely goes unnoticed, and it grieves my heart.

White faces: it's what I see.

Word travels quickly. What happens at G.A. (or synod) spreads across the internet. Check Facebook or Twitter and you will be sure to find links to recent decisions. What you will also discover, as you keep up with current rulings, is selfies and group photos. It is the latter on which I desire to briefly focus.

White faces: it's what I see.

Some might accuse me of being the resident Reformation 21 black guy who always writes about issues related to ethnicity/race. Statistically that is untrue. Of the 42 (now 43) blog posts, only 9, though perhaps 11, are about ethnic and/or cultural issues. I could choose to write about sanctification, the role of good works in the life of a Christian, or justification, but those extremely important topics are already being discussed on this blog. Yes, there are many other topics about which I can write, and I do, but among many, I choose this one. How can I not? It bothers me because...

White faces: it's what I see.

Please do not tell me to go elsewhere. (I have seen that on blogs). Please do not tell me to join another denomination. (People have told me that, too). Please do note tell me I am writing to burden you with white guilt. I am not, nor am I writing to somehow explicitly or implicitly suggest that I have a problem with white people. If the roles of Jerry Maguire were reversed, I could easily and happily exclaim, "I love white people!" However, despite my love for my white brothers and sisters in Christ, what I do desire is change. When I look at the group photos from G.A. or synod, the majority of the faces are white. Despite some people suggesting, as it relates to ethnicity, they are colorblind, I am not. I see you. You see me.

White faces: it's what I see.

There is more to the Church than the color of one's skin. I am not naive. But when I see group photos from these gatherings along with the customary caption, "A Taste of Heaven," I cannot help but exclaim, "That is a lie!" What will heaven be like visually?

"And they sang a new song, saying, 'Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth'" (Rev. 5:9-10).

In heaven white faces will not be all I see, but I do not want to wait until then. Reformed churches have the best orthodoxy and orthopraxy. We have what both believers and unbelievers need. I am not Pentecostal. I am not General Baptist nor am I Methodist. While I believe people from these denominations (or categories) are brothers and sisters in the Lord, I am Presbyterian for a reason. I believe we have what most accurately reflects the truths embedded within scripture. Therefore, I want to see all peoples embrace what I have come to believe is accurate according to the scriptures. I believe this is possible, and I hope it will more greatly occur in my lifetime. 

What can we do about this? Put differently, what can we do about this for God's glory? How can we "make" our churches more accurately reflect the communities in which they are? 

I have one simple request.

Pray! Pray that God would burden our hearts to see this change take place. Pray that God would also begin to equip us to want to do something about it. Is that simple enough? I hope you will pray to that end, and if after a season of prayer, you want to talk to me about how to implement your desires toward this end, I would love to hear your ideas. I am not the expert on all things "ethnic," but if I cannot provide a biblical and reasonable way to help you, I can direct you to someone who can.

Donald Sterling's Racist Remarks?

|
Much is being said about Donald Sterling's alleged racist remarks. From the landslide of articles written, Facebook and Twitter posts, the verdict seems clear. He made racist comments. While I would love to weigh in on the controversy, I cannot. I did not listen fully to his remarks, whether the shortened or extended versions. I must say, however, this is something we can expect from the world. Unbelievers divide themselves based on the color of one's skin. I would further suggest that they also intentionally segregate based on one's socio-economic status and cultural preferences.

Do Christians, however, do the same?

We are in the world but not of the world. We should not be identified as maintaining the same unfortunate patterns of segregation that the world harbors. In most churches, though, it seems that we have succumbed to the world's principles. Put differently, many of our churches are segregated for the same reasons the world divides themselves: ethnicity, cultural, and socio-economic status. To say otherwise would be foolish! Yes, the 11th hour is still the most segregated hour in America. I wish Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s statement was a lie!

Although I believe this is a sad commentary on the church today, there are reformed and Presbyterian churches that desire to do something about it. Without compromising scripture to garner diversity in the various aforementioned areas, these churches desire to accurately reflect the ethnic, cultural, and socio-economic reality in their communities. To name some:

New City Fellowship (Chattanooga, Fredericksburg, and St. Louis)
City of Hope
Soaring Oaks
Grace Mosaic
Living Faith Bible Fellowship
Christ Central
Redeemer (Jackson)

How did they get there? Whether an established congregation or a church plant, they had to ask, "How do we attract the people in our community that are underrepresented in our church?" It is an extremely simple question but one that requires self-examination, research about those in the community, prayer, uncomfortable conversations, and Bible reading.

When confronted with the previous question, some churches have had to realize they are unfriendly. It was their lack of warmth to visitors that caused those in the community to retreat no sooner than they entered the church building. When considering the aforementioned question, others have had to recognize their lack of evangelistic zeal in the community. Since many churches are largely commuter churches, there is no need to reach out to those in the community immediately surrounding the church building because the church building, many times, is nothing more than a place where people meet on Sunday or the pastor meets to conduct counseling and study the scriptures.

Many, I am sure, reading this post thus far would suggest that if those things are present in a congregation, it should be something the session or consistory and congregation immediately need to change. Who would claim that, according to the scriptures, local churches should be unfriendly? Who would suggest, according to the scriptures, the church should not be interested in seeing those in the community surrounding its meeting location come to saving faith? It is a third suggestion, however, with which local congregations have had to deal where many begin to push back--intentionality

With whom do you have close relationships? Since, in my experience, this saying is true: birds of a feather flock together, it is likely that most of your close relationships are with people who look like you (ethnicity) and act like you (culture) . Yes, you may interact with those unlike you in the work place, especially if you work outside the home, but I wonder if those same people are the ones who frequent your dinner table and take trips to the park with you.

You see, it is those close relationships with others where we sometimes feel most comfortable sharing the gospel and inviting people to church. And since those close relationships are often with people who look and act like us it is no wonder most of our reformed and Presbyterian churches are homogenous (whatever ethnicity, culture, or socio-economic status present). By the way, let me go on the record as saying this applies just as much to all black churches as it does any other ethnicity. I am an equal opportunity, "Let's look like the community in which we are planted" pastor. (I probably should add some caveats to those last two statements [e.g., historical realities to segregated churches], but you can make of it what you desire. I hope it is what I intended).

Intentionally building relationships with those who are unlike you will help the church, and you personally, in many ways. If, after building those relationships, you invite someone to your church who is either looking for a church or an unbeliever you desire to see saved, and they visit but do not return, you have a close enough relationship with the person to ask, "Why?" The answer to the question might surprise you.

It might not be the liturgy as some suppose. At our church plant, which is primarily composed of minorities presently, we will have a standard, perhaps some might even suggest, hyper-standard, reformed liturgy. We will have a call to worship, reading of the law, confession of sins while kneeling, various other prayers, singing, an Old and New Testament scripture reading, sermon, confession of faith, Lord's Prayer, Lord's Supper, covenant baptism (when necessary) and benediction weekly. No one, at least to my knowledge, who is committed to our church plant is allergic to this liturgy.

Contrary to popular belief, the reason many people of color or those who differ culturally and socio-economically do not remain at your church may not even have much to do with the music. Yes music helps, and if visitors hear their heart language in the music, it may make them feel more comfortable, but to place all of one's emphasis on the music regarding why visitors are not staying in your congregation is a bit shallow and speaks unfortunate realities about how you, personally, view other ethnic groups. 

At one time my family was a member at an Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The music they employed was a complete shock to me. I was accustomed to either so-called black praise music or contemporary music. To enter a church where people were singing mostly hymns and psalms was unearthing to my previous experiences. Nevertheless, people intentionally befriended my family even from the first day we visited. Although it took some getting used to, we remained at that church for some years.

This is not to say we should not consider altering our musical preferences, which are not biblical standards, to help those in the community feel more comfortable at our place of worship. Rather I am suggesting that it was the intentional relationship building that made it easier for my family to remain at that particular OPC.

I recognize the intentionality that occurred in our visit to that church and the intentionality I am espousing in this post are different. My family visited that church before anyone in that congregation had a relationship with us, but that was a fairly unique situation. Our gateway to that church was seminary. If you take that factor out of the equation, visiting an OPC was not on our radar. In fact, we did not know what an OPC was. This is all the more reason to be intentional in our relationship building.

Please do not misunderstand me. I am not claiming that we need to establish relationships with those who are unlike us for relationship's sake. No! I confess and believe that the gospel transcends all ethnic, cultural, and socio-economic boundaries. The book of Acts proves that (cf. Acts 1:8; 13:1-3). The church at Philippi proves that! What I am saying is that we should build these relationships, as uncomfortable as it may be initially, for Christ's sake! Just as intentional as he was to claim a people who were unlike him, so, too, we should seek to do the same. No, we cannot save people. That is Jesus' service to humanity, but we can walk through our personal Samaria (John 4) and be intentional about building relationships with those who are culturally, ethnically, and financially unlike us. 

I believe the promises God gave to Abraham! "Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations" (Genesis 17:4). In our diverse community in Richmond, Virginia, I desire to see that reality manifested every Sunday! Do you?
My last post caused no little disturbance. It seems to me that anytime ethnicity and culture are mentioned in reformed circles, there is a mixture of responses ranging from anger to gratitude. Amid the responses, a brother in the Lord encouraged me to write a follow-up.

Before proceeding to some additional thoughts on this topic, I must confess that the atmosphere surrounding ethnic and cultural issues are much larger than the color of one's skin. After meeting with over thirty African-American (or perhaps more aptly stated, "black") pastors, professors, authors, and artists earlier this week, I am reminded of that truth. Class, language, political convictions, and education are intricate parts in this conversation as well. That will not be my focus, however. In this brief post, I would like to make some suggestions that might help us from walking on eggshells around each other. Especially after my last post, we can walk away thinking, "I do not want to say anything at all to my friends of color for fear of offending them." I hope this post provides another perspective on the issue that may help you from walking on eggshells around your minority friends. 

Below are 5 things you can do to cultivate healthier and more ethnically and culturally sensitive relationships with African-Americans and other minorities.

1. Transparency: In your current relationships with African-Americans or other minorities, develop a healthy degree of transparency. Grant them permission to tell you when you have offended them because you said something ethnically or culturally insensitive. In many relationships we sometimes feel inhibited from telling our friends when we think they have done something wrong. If you tell your minority friends, thereby making it explicit, that they have the freedom to help you understand where you have fallen off the ethnic/cultural ladder, that level of transparency should allow you to be you because you know when you fall short, they will help you. Transparency will also provide freedom to ask questions. For example, some of my white friends have asked me if I prefer to be called African-American or black. The transparency in our relationship gave them the freedom to ask that question. So it not only provides your friends a path to help you where you fail but it also grants you access to ask questions that you desire to have answered. For example (and I mention this jokingly), "Do all black people know each other?" Click here to find out.
 
2. More Friendships: Acquire additional black or minority friends. Since our reformed churches are predominantly white, our friendships are likely that way, too. Sure, we know people of color in the workplace, but those relationships sometimes do not transfer to intimate conversations and friendships in our homes. Cultivating deep and transparent relationships with blacks or other minorities are valuable for a myriad of reasons. One reason is that this will help you to better understand that there is no standard of blackness. Although it ought not to be limited to this, black is both Will Smith and Carlton Banks. Granted, we may have some idea what we mean when we say or think, "She acts black," but that understanding of blackness is too limited. Developing more relationships with blacks and other minorities will widen your view of us and help you in understanding our culture.

One silly example is in order. When I served in the US Navy overseas, I encountered a British young lady with whom I developed a cordial relationship. As our friendship developed, she apparently felt comfortable enough to tell me, "You're not like all those black people on Jerry Springer." This young lady maintained a narrow view of blackness.

3. Displacement: Make yourself the minority. It will help you more fully understand other ethnic and cultural groups. As the majority or dominant culture, you do not have to see things through the minority or subdominant culture's lens. The difference in the way we view the world is often the source of tension. Harris and Schaupp develop this thought in their book, Being White: Finding Our Place in a Multi-Ethnic World

Harris and Schaupp write, "...the white person chooses to put herself in a context where people of color are dominant in number and culture and whites are the minority. We call this displacement. Maybe she joins an Asian-led campus fellowship; maybe he goes to live and work on a reservation. Maybe a family moves into a neighborhood and school district that are mostly nonwhite. In this stage, the white person can learn to see whites and people of color in groups. He starts to see our respective racial and cultural systems and how they truly function. The key work in displacement is learning to submit and becoming a student of nonwhite cultures. The white person learns the other culture--celebrations, conflict-resolution styles and so on--and begins having productive, healthy conflict. He learns history through books and people's stories. It is a profoundly stretching stage of the white journey.... The active cross-cultural growth process a white person experiences in displacement causes her to reconsider her white identity in foundational ways... The white person begins to form a new white identity, strong enough to face the truth about white history and current reality... (19-20).  

4. Humility: Sometimes we think we have it all together. With that mentality, when someone attempts to correct us, the immediate response is defensiveness. When it comes to engaging the conversation revolving around ethnic and culture issues, we cannot respond in that manner. Instead of taking the posture of defensiveness, which is often announced in the declaration, "What! How could he say that?", prayerfully and thoughtfully consider what is being said.There may be some nuggets of truth available. Besides, there is no reason to get defensive, you are actually worse than you think.  

5. Clothe yourself in the gospel: Attempting to learn about others is a risk. I can only imagine the ethnic and cultural conflict that took place at the church in Antioch (Acts 13:1) and Philippi. Without embracing the glorious truths of the gospel, we will continue to behave as if the wall of hostility separating Jews and Gentiles (read: minorities and whites), still exist. It does not! That wall was demolished in the person and work of Christ. Further embracing the amazing truths of the gospel will bring us closer together not simply in our personal relationships but also in our churches, a place where the majority and minority peoples should be able to worship together.

I hope this is helpful. As I shared in the previous post, my desire in highlighting these issues is not to reopen a wound. The wound is already present. We have to work on healing. The gospel is foundational to such healing. Secondly, we must have open and honest conversations.

Lastly, I know blacks are not the only ones who are recipients of emotional pain from other brothers and sisters. Blacks have hurt whites, as well as others, also. We, too, say and do things that are offensive. In other words, regardless of the color of your skin or tax bracket, you are not immune to pain and emotional strife (i.e., ethnic and cultural insensitivity leading to that). We all need help in this area. Therefore, let us move toward reconciliation where reconciliation is needed. 
Reformation 21 exists for the purposes of, "Encouraging biblical thinking, living, worship, ministry, and constructive cultural engagement." I desire to engage the latter in this post. To be clear, I am not playing the race card nor am I claiming to be a victim. I am simply highlighting some things that the majority of our readers may not have considered as they interact with people in the sub-dominant culture. Although some of these things may seem trivial, they matter to many of us. I hope this will provide a different lens through which to see your words and actions that may benefit our time together as we seek to glorify God and enjoy him forever. In a word, I am hoping this will help you become more culturally sensitive. 

In 1974, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) produced a committee report titled, "Problems of Race." It is well-worth getting acquainted with this document. In addition to this committee report, someone posed this question on the OPC website. "How can we find out more about the OPC's race relations perspective?" A member of the OPC replied, "I think it's important to note that, while all those mentioned in Galatians 3:28 are equal before God, being Christians didn't obliterate gender, racial or cultural distinctions. It simply means that all are equally valuable in Christ and before God."

Correct! Gender, ethnic/race, and cultural distinctions are still present. Galatians 3:28 does not eliminate those differences. Therefore, since these differences still exist, there are certain things that can be done or said that are offensive in light of our distinctions. While I do not and cannot speak for all people of color (i.e., those in the sub-dominant culture), here are a few things you might want to reconsider saying and doing as you speak with and interact with some of us.

1. "You are very articulate" - When I am invited to preach at a Presbyterian/Reformed congregation, this is normally one of the first responses I receive once the service is complete. My first thought is, "What did you expect?" My second thought is, "Were you expecting me to communicate in a fashion that is unrecognizable?" I understand you are trying to be courteous and encouraging in much the same way as others respond, "Good sermon, Pastor," but this is derogatory to me. Look at number 21 on this list. I am not alone. 

Wanting to explore this more, I began asking my white friends what type of comments they hear after preaching at sister churches. These friends, I believe, are good preachers and extremely intelligent. Of the tens I asked, only one heard a similar comment. Why then is it said to me?

2. "We're colorblind in our family" - I think I understand what you are attempting to say. Essentially you are saying that you are not racist nor prejudice; you desire to love and serve all God's people (Matt. 22:39). However, in our day and age the truth is color still matters, and I believe it should in the most positive respects. People of different ethnicities bring perspectives to the table that are extremely beneficial. West Africans have a different perspective than Western Europeans on certain issues. Cubans may see things differently than African-Americans in some cases. Why? One potential reason is because our perspectives are attached to the color of our skin and our ethnicity. In many cases, you cannot detach the two. Therefore, it could be perceived that to raise our families colorblind is to obliterate these valuable distinctions (i.e., issues revolving around color and perspective). It is okay to see color. I see you; you see me.

3. "Ask Leon, he's black" - I am not the spokesman for all African-Americans. In fact, some African-Americans may disagree with some of the information on this post. If you are asking me a question because I am your only black friend, perhaps you should arrange a way to garner more African-American friendships in your life. I promise we do not bite. We may give you a hard time and push your buttons, but the feeling is mutual. Let's learn from each other and seek to cultivate as many friendships across ethnic and cultural lines as possible. It will enlarge our view of the world.

4. "Are you related to...?" - I remember flying across the country to preach in a Presbyterian church. Once the service was over, a lady turned to my friend, who was seated behind her and happened to be the only other black person in the room, and asked, "Are you two related?" 

5. "Meet the Jones Family" - I understand your desire to make me feel comfortable when I visit your church, but I do not need to meet the only other black family in your congregation. I know you are seeking to make me feel welcome, but you take a risk in doing this. For one, what makes you think we will get along? Secondly, just because our skin is a certain shade of brown does not mean we are the same ethnicity. I am reminded of something a Puerto Rican family from my congregation said. "Just because we speak Spanish does not necessarily mean we can make all other visiting families of Hispanic or Latino descent feel comfortable."

Discussing ethnic and cultural issues can be difficult. I know some of you may be thinking, "Let's move on already," or "Leon is simply chained to the past." I can assure you that I am not raising these issues for the purposes of reopening a wound, attempting to be purposefully offensive, nor suggesting that all white people think/behave this way (despite the title not being qualified by the word, "some"); nevertheless, I do think these things need to be said if we are going to gain a better understanding of each other. Besides, it is tough to move on when we keep repeating the same issues from the past.
Pastor Randy Nabors, in a blog dated January 3, 2014, provided a list of possible reasons why churches do not pursue being cross-cultural. Some of the reasons may shock you. Others may be obvious. Some you may have never considered.

Number 2 on his list of 7 is, "Cultural affinity or ethnocentrism." Pastor Nabors writes, 

"[T]here is a reason people don't jump ethnic lines to go some other ethnic church. They feel comfortable with what they know, there family and friends are still in their home church, they understand the language, if not linguistics they get the cultural language.  The music is usually in their "heart language." This is true for most every ethnic group when it comes to religion.
      
I often tell white pastors that black folks in this country were forced to create a unique cultural kind of worship service since they were shut out of white churches.  Without going into a commentary on ethnomusicality  let me just say that most black folks who come from the traditional or even contemporary black church find most white churches to be utterly boring.  Most black folks don't like stilted or even Celtic music styles, they don't get into lectures that pose as sermons, they don't appreciate a worship that seems to stifle emotions and is almost martial in approach.  While many black believers have been blessed by coming into a deeper ministry of the Word when they come from congregations that neglected Biblical teaching and pursued simple emotionalism or prosperity preaching, there is no doubt that black religious experience in America has been rich with depth and feeling, and often relevant to their social condition.
    
So why should any minority come to a majority race worship where their concerns are either neglected or even despised?  Why should they make the effort, and why should anyone do that which is uncomfortable in crossing cultures?  I think there are several sound and good reasons, but they are not always apparent.
    
It is difficult for any ethnic or cultural group that feels oppressed or marginalized by the majority to be confronted with an invitation to join the majority religious culture with the requirement to give up all of their own cultural identity."

The remainder of the post can be read here.
Dr. Dan Wallace writes, "...we can see that it is crucial -- because it is an essential part of the gospel -- that race should never be a roadblock to the fullest fellowship that Christians can have. In 1963, Martin Luther King complained, "It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o'clock on Sunday morning." Over fifty years later, and that observation is sadly still true in much of the United States. I have long believed that one of the key marks of authentic Christianity is the heterogeneous nature of the body of Christ. When a black man sits next to a white woman who is next to a rich man sitting beside a poor man; when an educated white woman fellowships with a poor, uneducated immigrant; when a clean-shaven, well-dressed man sits beside a facial-pierced, tattooed girl in grunge clothes; when the fellowship of the saints cannot be attributed in any way to natural inclinations--only then will the world see that we truly love each other--and that ours is a supernatural love.

But how can we accomplish this? First, we must repent of our corporate sins. Especially those in power, those who control the church, must do this. Sin is not just individual. Americans tend to think only in individual terms, and it's time we grow out of this myopic, narcissistic view and embrace the more biblical view of individuals in community. Second, we must reach out to those who are not like us. We must seek out folks of different ethnicity to be on the pastoral staff, on the elder board, in the classroom as instructors. Today's take-away application of the Great Commission is surely that true evangelism means getting outside our comfort zone. But we must not stop there. We must go the extra mile and truly fellowship with those unlike us. May God help us to embrace the transracial implications of the gospel and to, once and for all, end the apartheid of Sunday mornings."

Read the entire blog post here.

Is This Possible?

|
Here, signs above the water fountains said, "For Colored Only." Certain parks, restaurants, and swimming pools prohibited all but its white guests. Distant past? No. As recently as 1960, ethnic integration on public transportation was still questionable. 

Home to the Manchester Slave Trail and Lumpkin's Slave Jail, Richmond, Virginia - the capital of the Confederacy - still suffers from its terrifying and unfortunate history. Conversations of white supremacy and suppression among blacks occur in one neighborhood - the black neighborhood - while the stained image of black victimization, slothfulness, and criminalization occur in another neighborhood - the white neighborhood. Like many cities, Richmond is largely segregated. In fact, Christianity Today writes Richmond is the "site of urban-suburban divisions as stark as any in America."

Perhaps some of its ethnic segregation is opportunistically planned (e.g., Little Italy, China Town, etc.). Perhaps some of it is worse than that (e.g., exclusively wealthy neighborhoods as opposed to purposefully planned areas populated by government housing). Regardless of the reasons for ethnic and socio-economic segregation - and there are many - what is most unfortunate about the segregation that exists in Richmond is that it even exists in the vast majority of churches

But I thought the gospel transcends ethnic barriers? I thought the good news of Christianity was for Jew and Gentile, rich and poor? It is! The Directory of Public Worship states,

"The unity and catholicity of the covenant people are to be manifest in public worship. Accordingly, the service is to be conducted in a manner that enables and expects all the members of the covenant community - male and female, old and young, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, healthy and infirm, people from every race and nation - to worship together." (1.B.4.C)

Regrettably, most churches in Richmond do not reflect that. We hope to see that change.

So why go into an area with such division to start a Bible study and hopefully plant a church? The answer is simple: people from all ethnic, cultural, and socio-economic categories need the gospel. 

"How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him whom they have never heard?" (Romans 10:14, my translation). 

Will you pray for this work? Will you tell others? Our hope is that God will build a Revelation 5:9-10 church in South Richmond. We believe this is possible.

Here is a brief video that talks about our desires. Contact information may be found there. 

Thank you for your prayers; thank you for spreading the word. May God be glorified!

I can assure you that ethnic/race issues will not be the only, perhaps even primary, area about which I write. (Take a deep breath). I am passionate about many other things (e.g., the gospel, my family, the church I pastor, working on my upcoming PhD dissertation). Nevertheless, I believe this is an area that requires discussion. I am aware that feelings will be hurt, additional questions raised, and positive progress in this area made, but I hope in all this God will be glorified.

I am convinced we need each other. God did not save us to be spiritual nomads. Besides saving us for his glory, for love and good deeds, he also saved us to be together. Addressing ethnic/race issues is my small way to highlight the pink elephant in the room, which very few people discuss, but needs to be addressed in order to draw us all closer together. Our intimacy will not result simply by pointing out the issues, however, but by emphasizing the one thing that changes hearts and brings us together - the gospel. I can assure you, contrary to a recent comment, I am not "a bitter black man with a victim mentality demonizing white people for their supposed racism." I am simply seeking to see us all grow together in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, which affects our relationship vertically (with God) and horizontally (with each other).

Recently I had the privilege to interview Jason, a pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am a 34 year old white male. I was born in Charlotte, NC and have lived in the south most of my life. I grew up in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. I was on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ at Clemson University for 5 years after college. I joined a PCA church while on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ. Realizing my own need for further training and instruction and having regained a biblical understanding of the priority of the local church, I went to Covenant Seminary in order to move towards ordination and ministry in the context of the local church. I moved to Virginia after seminary for an internship that resulted in a call to be an Associate Pastor of that PCA church.

What is the ethnic and socio-economic make-up of your congregation? What is the ethnic and socio-economic make-up of the community in which your church is located? 

The ethnic and socio-economic make-up of our congregation is 95+ white and 99% middle-upper middle class. We have one inter-racial (white-asian) family that accounts for our racial diversity. This Asian man is also one of our elders, so our session is 75% white. Our community is 77% white and mostly middle class. The median household income is $82,000 with 5.6% of community living below poverty.

With the ethnic homogeneity of your congregation and your background, what caused you to begin looking into ethnic/racial issues in Reformed and Presbyterian circles?

During and following my college years the Lord began to convict me of my racism. I began to reflect more on my experience in church growing up and of racism and race issues in the church. I was writing a paper for ordination on the Image of God and was required to use some Presbyterian and Southern Presbyterian theologians. I was shocked to see some of the things that Dabney and others had written with respect to their views on slavery and the status of blacks compared to whites in the church. This seemed very inconsistent with their teaching on the Image of God in other places. I also was reading Anthony Bradley's blog which from time to time talked about his experience as a black man in the PCA and began to read more about Dabney, Thornwell, and others. I knew he wasn't making up his experiences because I knew quite personally that racism existed in Reformed Presbyterian circles. It was through this initially that I began to look more into ethnic/racial issues. 

How are you pursuing learning more in this area? Why would you encourage others to do the same?

I am pursuing learning in this area by listening to non-white brothers in Presbyterian and Reformed circles. Anthony Bradley was one of my professors in seminary. Any time he recommends a book on race and Presbyterian and reformed experiences I buy it. By now I have a lot of reading to do. I've done a lot of "virtual listening" by following lots of Facebook conversations that Anthony and others have had, and have just listened to their struggles and pain and sharing of their story. Through one of those conversations I read an article by Leon Brown (you) about his experience as a black man in Presbyterian and reformed circles. I hadn't met Leon, due to infrequent Presbytery attendance on my part, but sent him a quick note of encouragement. That later resulted in a meeting for brunch where we were able to talk. I really wanted Leon to help me listen, help me hear. I want to know more about what you have experienced, and how I and we and the church as a whole can grow. I had learned enough from reading his article and other writings to know that there are some things that white people have a hard time understanding and getting about the black (and non-white) experience. In the article Leon invited readers to walk in his shoes. My friendship with Leon began by me seeking his help to walk in his shoes. I don't know what it is like to be a minority in really any sense. I remember thinking one presbytery meeting as I looked around, especially after reading some of the articles and facebook posts..."Wow, Leon is the only black guy here. That has to be incredibly difficult. Why is it like this?" The church can't grow and change without conversations of understanding, listening by the majority white culture, and growing racially diverse friendships and communities and churches. Change needs to happen. Non-whites need to be heard and white people need to listen. 

Comparatively, do you have many non-white friends? If not, how does this affect your interaction and understanding of non-white ethnic groups?

Comparatively I don't have many non-white friends. Obviously this affects my interaction and understanding negatively. How can one grow in understanding those with whom you don't interact? 

This is kind of interesting. As I think about it I had more non-white friends growing up. My closest friends in elementary and middle school where non-white. I guess I was the minority in my neighborhood, I was the only white kid. I was friends with a lot of black kids in my neighborhood and in school, but we had no non-whites in my church. As I went into high school and some in middle school I said lot of racist things when with the majority culture (church, white friends) but I didn't have any racists attitudes towards my black friends. Sometimes I was ridiculed by my extended family for having black friends. I think maybe I used racial slurs to gain acceptance in the majority culture. But I did see my attitude and heart change in my racist thoughts towards those non-whites that I didn't know. The more I moved from being in the minority (my neighborhood) to being in the majority high school college etc... the less black friends I had. There seemed to be a lot more (voluntary?) segregation (cafeteria, clubs, parties) happening. Our high school was over 50% black. But my college was at least 75% white. I hung out with who was around me and those were mostly white people. In my experience, past childhood, inter racial relationships take effort, they just don't happen. In high school and in college most of the black students hung out together (black Christian groups, black frats and sororities, black engineering clubs etc...). I never bothered to ask why. I just accepted that was just the way it was. Now I'm understanding why more. The majority/minority culture experience is shedding some light on that.  I'm processing some as I'm writing....all that to say as one in the majority culture it will take effort on my part to move out of that experience and to engage and interact with non-whites. 

Have you had any uncomfortable situations in your church, or any other, where racism was overt against a non-white? If so, tell us about that situation.

Not in my present church, but growing up I was taught in Sunday school (not regularly but I remember it being taught) that slavery was a result of the curse that God placed on Ham. The decedents of Japheth were white people, Europeans. The descendants of Shem were Semites, Jews etc... and those who came from Ham were black. That is why they were in slavery. Also we were told that interracial marriages were a sin. The church I grew up in was adjacent to my neighborhood, (I could walk there). 

The church was over a hundred years old. The area changed from rural to neighborhoods. First it was an all white neighborhood, then slowly that began to change. The church never did. It was always awkward when a black family visited. Everyone's head turned to watch them walk down the aisle to their seat. This never would have happened if it was a white family. That had to be really uncomfortable for those families....they never came back. 

We used a lot of racial slurs in our youth group and told racist jokes sometimes....we were never corrected or rebuked. It makes me sick to my stomach to think I participated in that.

How does the gospel help us regarding ethnic/cultural/socio-economic issues in Reformed and Presbyterian churches?

It reminds me that I am a white-Gentile. I was an alien, a stranger, an outsider. Historically and as far as my heritage goes I was not part of the people of God. But Jesus has come and he tore down that wall and I have access as a full member, not second class, not provisional, not JV, but full status as an adopted son. What was once distinct Christ has made one in himself tearing down the dividing wall of hostility. The extent to which fellowship happens across ethnic/cultural/socio-economic lines communicates and demonstrates a glorious gospel truth. When this doesn't happen truths and implications of the gospel can be hidden or compromised. Christ is restoring the Image of God in man. All races and cultures reflect different and beautiful aspects of the image of God. Without each other we are missing out on experiencing and communicating to the world the beauties of our creator and redeemer. The gospel should remind me that I have no place whatsoever to view myself as superior to anyone else. It should also provide the context in which we can confess and repent of failures in the past to live out the gospel in light of racism and elitism. Jesus wasn't white, God isn't white. If the new heavens and earth only had white people or middle class people it would be imperfect. The gospel is bigger than white people. We are the minority as far as Christianity goes currently I believe, as far as the majority Christian world is in the southern and eastern hemisphere. The gospel is world wide and ethnic wide and cultural wide and socio-economic wide in its scope. That should help us see that these issues need to be addressed in the Reformed and Presbyterian churches. 

Do you have any other thoughts you would like to share?

I have a lot of growing to do. Thanks for walking with me in this.
What is yellow on the outside but white on the inside? If you guessed a "banana," though the inside appears more cream than white, you would be close. The answer is, a twinkie. Have you eaten one? They are fairly inexpensive and only about 135 calories. If you eat too many you might get a stomachache. There is definitely not enough sugar in these bite-size snacks to give you a significant energy boost like Red Bull or Starbucks coffee. Nevertheless, they are fairly tasty. Eat them. Yes! Use that term to describe people. No! 

In the coming months I hope to write a 6-part series on some of the issues surrounding ethnicity in (broadly speaking) Reformed and Presbyterian circles. On the one hand, I am fully aware that many people do not believe there are any problems. I normally receive this response from those in the majority. Though I overstate my case for the purposes of this illustration, to say there are no problems is like the slave owner telling the slave, "Everything is okay." The slave owner is not aware, or perhaps suppresses, the myriad of issues surrounding the establishment because he is the superior; he is the majority. From the slave's perspective, however, issues abound. I do not categorize whites in Reformed and Presbyterian Churches today as slave owners nor do I classify African-Americans (or non-whites) in the aforementioned circles as slaves. However, based on personal study, numerous conversations, and personal experience, I think it is clear that we look through a different lens much like the slave and slave owner.

Blacks/African-Americans/people of color, albeit, are not the only ones who are concerned in the broader Reformed and Presbyterian world (in the United States). While the content of the articles I hope to write will primarily focus on issues between blacks and whites (I will provide details in the initial article briefly stating why I am approaching it from that angle), other non-whites wrestle with similar matters.

In response to my brief blog post titled, "Listen Up White America," a dear friend responded to me by email. He described some of his experiences as a Korean Presbyterian pastor. He said that the black experience in Reformed and Presbyterian "churches are very similar to what I have experienced. The most interesting part of it is that those racial experiences didn't happen to me until I arrived at [said seminary] and entered the larger (i.e., outside of the Reformed Korean-American community) Reformed circles. [M]any people at [said seminary] assumed I didn't speak English. It was ridiculous."

He went on to say that he believes Asians, though he can intimately speak as a Korean, are seen either as twinkies (i.e., yellow on the outside, white on the inside) or non-English speaking asians," what he called, "F.O.B.," which means "fresh off the boat." He said, "Most would initially identify us as the latter. It's sad, but it's the truth."
 
Is there any merit to his claims? Is there any truth seeping through his frustration?

I asked this pastor to further explain his thoughts.

"I'm not sure how to really explain it, so I will explain by showing the evolution of my ministry philosophy as a Korean-American pastor. When I first began ministry I had the big dream of pastoring a multi-cultural church. I thought it was great to have different cultures, races, and generations present together to worship God (I still do). However, at some point I realized such dream would be impossible."

He later wrote,

"If white folks want me as their pastor, I'd happily pastor them. If they can't see me as their pastor because of the color of my skin, then I'd be happy to point them to a pastor [with whom] they can identify. (Do I sound annoyed? I probably am still annoyed and bitter)." 

"...one last thought. The church can't escape the race social class system of [the] USA. That is: white men on top, then black/hispanic men, then Asians along with the female of [the] aforementioned races, then handicaps. I know this to be true in Hollywood (I was heavily in the music scene... ran into many record labels that wouldn't work with our band because we were Asian), and I'm finding that this is true even within the church. But I see changes... [Asians are] slowly shedding the image of kung-fu kicking Bruce Lee out of people's heads..."

I feel the pain and frustration of my friend's words. Do you? Is there hope for change? I believe so. 

Listen Up White America

|
TMZ online (I did not post the link because some images may be inappropriate) recently published an article titled, "Chuck D: Listen Up White America...We Ain't Ni**as.'" Chuck D, if you are unfamiliar, is a rap artist who had his heyday in the 1980's. He was a part of a group called, Public Enemy. For some time, his music was extremely popular in certain communities. Now, however, depending on which online websites you visit, you hear his name every so often.

In TMZ's article, Chuck D was responding to Suge Knight's recent claims that we should banish the phrase, "African-American." Knight, a record label CEO (also once popularized for working with Tupac Shakur), believes that the term "African-American" is inaccurate. "I'm not from Africa," Knight expressed. While Chuck D agrees that the phrase "African-American" is not an ideal term, "ni**a" surely is not a good replacement, whether the word ends with "er" or "a."

As Christians, these types of conversations may appear foolish, but for many of us this type of dialogue is a reality. What should we call ourselves? Many employment applications call us "African-American." When you scroll down the list of choices, not many other ethnic groups are identified by a hyphen. 

As if that were not enough, some of us wonder what you call us? Let's not fool ourselves. The "you" in the aforementioned sentence is "whites." Although I have not conducted any statistical analysis, I do not believe it is a leap of faith to suggest that the majority of persons frequenting this blog are white. I do not mention that to be offensive but to state a potential reality.

I have been called a "ni**er." The unfortunate reality is that it was not by a man holding on to his confederate roots in Virginia but by a (white) peer who attends a reformed church. You might wonder if he was joking when he used the term. My response: does it matter? You can read more about what has been said to me and how I have been treated here.

This is not a guilt trip but an introduction to a 6-part series that I hope to write beginning in either January 2014 or February 2014. If the Lord tarries and grants me life, I want to open a conversation--one-way initially--that highlights some of the difficulties that I, as a...black?--face in Presbyterian and Reformed circles. I am not alone regarding my concerns. I have had numerous conversations with "black" Presbyterian pastors about the current state (or lack thereof) of ethnic and cultural diversity in Presbyterian and Reformed churches. These conversations normally expand to a host of other issues.

I hope that the coming series will be understood in the manner I think I am providing it, not one laden with guilt but one that exposes certain realities; one that will also provide some suggestions for change. I hope the response is not, "Oh, not again," but, "Yes, we need to hear about this and change things for the glory of God." 

May the Triune God receive all the glory as we delicately talk about these issues.