Results tagged “ethnicity” from Reformation21 Blog

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.

Mike Brown: We're Still Divided

|
Are you watching the news? Are you reading blogs and news reports about the recent death of 18-year old Michael Brown? Have you watched the protests that have and will continue to occur? Are you, in any sense, moved to pray or talk to others about this?

I have scanned the internet for various stories on this unfortunate incident. It is unfortunate because someone is dead and families and those in his community are grieving. I wish I could say this is a unique occurrence; it is not. As one author said, "Michael Brown is not special. In all its specificity, the 18-year old's death remains just the most recent example of police officers killing unarmed black men."

To be quite honest, this angers me for many reasons. One reason is its frequency. In Los Angeles, where I was raised for part of my life, I was accustomed to seeing white spray paint on the ground that outlined the newly deceased young black man's body. I was submerged in stories about police brutality toward my people. Do not let the preacher's robe and Presbyterian polity fool you. I come from a place to which many of you cannot relate. 

Despite my current position as a PCA minister, these are still my people, and I completely understand the frustration and anger they feel. But you are my people, too. And thus I believe we must work together for the sake of the gospel to better understand each other in light of the now deceased 18-year old Michael Brown. 

Did you notice the distinction I made in the previous paragraph between "they" and "you"? Let's be transparent: the majority of both readership and authorship on this blog are white. Do not be ashamed that you are white. I am unashamed of this visible difference. You should be unashamed, too, and take great pride in God's creative genius to create us visually different. Yet, simply because we are in Christ does not flatten the beauty of ethnic and cultural distinctions that we maintain. Galatians 3:27-29 provides no grounds for such a conclusion.

With these ethnic and cultural distinctions, therefore, we may see the Mike Brown proceeding through a different lens. For some of us this simply highlights what we have always known, or at least believed, to be true: young black men are unsafe in this nation. For others, perhaps some of you, especially if you have been following this event, may wonder, "Why do they (i.e., African-Americans) have to make everything about race?" Based on your observations, you have concluded that blacks, and/or other minorities, unnecessarily pull the proverbial race card. Some African-Americans, or other sub-dominant cultures, might respond, "Why do whites always dismiss the possibility that race, or ethnicity, was a motivating factor in said event?" 

These are real questions with which people wrestle, and events like the death of Mike Brown only bring to the surface the questions that have lingered for years. I wonder, however, how this affects the church. I am particularly referring to the institutional Sunday morning (or afternoon) gathered church. Does Mike Brown, and those like him--even unarmed poor whites who have been harmed by law enforcement--affect the institutional church? I maintain it does. 

Consider the recent and ongoing immigration debate. How has it affected you? What do you think when you see a Spanish speaking image-bearer, one who knows, or at least it is assumed, very little English? What has caused your conclusions? Do you remain unaffected by the outcry of some in the media who thrust names on them, such as, "illegal," "unwanted immigrant," or "wetback"? The point of the news, while to inform, is also to sway opinion, and I think we may lack transparency if we claim we are not, at least in part, somehow affected by what some branches of the media portray about immigration.

The same can be stated about African-Americans. For years in this nation, African-Americans have been, and continue to be, portrayed in shrouds of untruth. "We are lazy, good-for-nothings," some have and do say. "We are animals," it has been said. Or in the words of PCUS minister, Benjamin Palmer (1818-1902), "The worst foes of the black race are those who have intermeddled on their behalf. We know better than others that every attribute of their character fits them for dependence and servitude. By nature the most affectionate and loyal of all races beneath the sun, they are also the most helpless."

Whether one-hundred years ago or now, our views about other ethnic, cultural, socio-economic, and mentally (in)capable groups are largely determined by our context, and the media helps form our views within our context. All of this makes it difficult to have important conversations about Mike Brown, situations like it, and the church.

This is why we need a movement of the Holy Spirit. Amid the horrific realities of Mike Browns all over the United States, and even the incidents that occur which are not broadcast (e.g., unjust acts taken against poor whites), we must demonstrate that the church is different. We are unlike the world, which can segregate, almost immediately, based on the color of one's skin and other factors. Have you noticed that is what has occurred in the death of Mike Brown? Why do you think the pictures and quotations from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. have newly surfaced on the internet, largely from ethnic minorities? Why do you believe pictures from the 1950's and 1960's have been newly awakened? For many, history continues to repeat itself, and that angers African-Americans and other minorities. Perhaps we, specifically Christians, are also angry at the lack of representation in the 'Christian' blogosphere from others in the majority culture. Robin Williams is okay, but apparently Mike Brown is not.

There are potentially many answers to the lingering question, "What can we do?" The Transformatlists, Theonomists, and Two Kingdoms advocates 'can have a go at it,' as they say, discussing the church's role in this situation, particularly as it relates to the notion of justice. As a response to this situation, one of my concluding desires is to remind you of the Abrahamic (Gen. 17:4ff) and New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34) promises.

You know, I believe it is extremely easy to notice the ethnic and cultural divide that has ensued due to the death of young Mike Brown, yet we might fail to see the same division in the church. It is there. You cannot miss it. If you are in a Presbyterian and/or Reformed/Reforming congregation, look around this Sunday. What do you see? Some are blessed to see diversity on numerous levels in their churches. Most are not. In large measure, we gather with those who are culturally, ethnically, mentally, and financially similar. The segregation that we see in the world, therefore, is, in much the same way, the segregation we see in the church. In other words, the same factors that contribute to segregation in the world are the same factors that create segregation in the church. Perhaps we are more worldly than we think?

Consider the Mike Brown matter in relation to the divisions we see in the church. What caused the uproar surrounding Mike Brown? Death and ethnicity--white cop, black man, one is dead. Is the church divided based on death? Yes. How many tens of thousands of Africans/African-Americans died either crossing the Atlantic during the slave trade or years after slavery was apparently abolished, were lynched in the south? Would you want to worship with someone who may kill you? The answer: be forced or voluntarily attend a different church. Furthermore, even when death became less of a threat, many African-Americans and other minorities were not permitted to worship with whites, and if they were, blacks were placed in the back of the church in what we now call, 'the choir loft.' 

Are we separated based on ethnicity? Of course. Why do we use terms like, 'the black church' and 'the white church'? Are we divided because of class and education? How many poor whites and blacks do we have in our midst? Are we frequenting the trailer parks and projects to announce the good news and invite them into our church family? By the way, poor whites and blacks, as well as those who do not have a degree, are also in the suburbs. 

Are we separated based on mentality capabilities? How many mentally disabled members do we have in our churches? Is our church a place where they, as well as their families, can feel safe, or have we made them feel unwanted because of the happenings mentality disabilities provide during Lord's Day worship (e.g., audible outbreaks). Are we divided based on culture? While many people have written about the Mark Driscoll situation, or perhaps better stated, situations, I have always been amazed at the type of people he attracted. I do not typically see those same people in Presbyterian and/or Reformed churches. Where are those who are tattooed from the neck down? Where are those who wear skinny jeans and have enlarged holes in their ears? Where are the punk rockers and the hip-hoppers? It seems, based on my observation, they/we gather with those who are like them/us.

Mike Brown: We're still divided.

Yes, what occurred to Mr. Brown is tragic and it grieves my heart. Was he even a Christian? I would hate for him to go from one tragedy to another. Yet, I wonder if this event is revealing a larger issue--the death, divide, and destruction that we have in our own churches. Both the Abrahamic and New Covenant promises reveal that God never intended his church to be divided as it is on Sunday mornings (Gen. 17:4ff; Jer. 31:31-34; Matt. 28:16-20; Gal. 2:11-14; Eph. 2:11-22). His promises are for all peoples (Rev. 5:9-10). Everyone, regardless of the distinctions they maintain, needs the good news of God, in Christ, come to save sinners. That must be our foundation; it must be heard; it must be believed; and the results must be manifest in our midst (i.e., a worshiping community that displays the demographics of the community). Only then will we be able to have conversations about the Mike Browns in our midst and better understand one's perspective(s) on such horrible situations. 
"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.

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.
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.