One thing I really appreciate about our Wesleyan colleges and universities is that each institution has its own unique value proposition while remaining under and aligning with the values of The Wesleyan Church. A student truly has choices among the Wesleyan institutions, while remaining assured of academic excellence and Christian values. Details on what I’m talking about can be found in the Summer 2015 edition of Wesleyan Life.
Late last year I had the opportunity to contribute to the Wesleyan Multi-Ethic Task Force. We learned, dreamed, studied, discussed, had fellowship, and prayed. I do not feel at liberty to share all the details of that meeting, as much of the work remains in the seedbed, but I will share about a time of prayer.
A traditional New Year meal for African-Americans includes greens and black-eyed peas. It’s a “good luck” meal of soul food. I’m not superstitious, but I recall having this meal “all the time” growing up, not realizing until I was in college that we actually only ate black-eyed peas once a year. We had no ceremony around it, perhaps other than my dad jokingly shouting into the kitchen, “Where’s my black-eyed peas?” It was just something that happened. Continue reading My Black Seder→
A Wesley Seminary student requested to interview me for her paper on on bridging the segregation gap between the white and the black church. While I could quickly think of several people more qualified to answer than me, I consented to the interview and have posted the transcript here.
Why are our churches still segregated?
That is a huge question. I wondered if by “our churches” you mean local Christian churches, churches in the United States, or The Wesleyan Church. I’ll try and address all of these, but begin with the more general question.
Sociologically/anthropologically, it seems human beings are comfortable grouping together with others that are “like” themselves in some way: familial ties, ethnic, economic level, this list could go on and on. It’s the homogeneous unit principle (you can look that up yourself) at work. Grouping is not itself a bad thing. It is how the human race survived and grew, not just numerically but also technologically and culturally. It has worked for thousands of years. Local churches, since they are made up of humanity, reflect this.
Historically we are separated. This is related to the sociological answer, but unique. Sometimes some people choose to group together, while other times some people choose to exclude others. When those instances of segregation occur we live with them for generations.
Example 1: Officials at St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia pulled praying Blacks off their knees while praying (http://www.ame-church.com/our-church/our-history/). That act led to the founding of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which remains with us today. This type of ethnic denominational divide did not only happen with the Methodists.
Example 2: I believe at least in part due to the rise of nationalism, the Eastern Orthodox Church is divided along ethnic and national lines: Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Czech and Slovak Orthodox, Polish Orthodox, etc.
Related to history is time and culture. Once groups have been apart for a length of time, it is difficult to get back together. Let’s imagine a revised history for The Beatles breakup. John and George form a new band, and Paul and Ringo form their own band. Then, years later The Beatles want to get back together. We now have 4 guitarists, 2 bass players, 2 drummers, and several lead singers, and they have been playing and singing different music for the past decade. How do they make this reunion work? So also, it is just difficult logistically and culturally for any two churches or denominations to join, regardless of ethnicity. Also, an exceedingly difficult cultural barrier to cross is language. Even with individuals there can be a cultural stigma for crossing ethnic lines, even if crossing that line is to attend church. An African-American might be called a “sell out” or “Oreo.” I’ve heard Whites called “wannabe niggas.”
Integration of the local church has just not been a priority. Taking the good news of Jesus Christ to all nations (ethnicities) I think has been a consistent priority of the Church, after all, that is The Great Commission, but integration at the local church level, not so much, perhaps not since the Apostle Paul. The Church could have also been a leader in race reconciliation both after the U.S. Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement, but I think we dropped the ball.
Ignorance and sin keeps us apart. Some do not know that the Church should be, and has to work toward, unity in this realm. Some do not know how to go about it. Some do not want to do it. Which leads to your next questions.
Why does this matter? and What does God think?
The answer to those questions really go together.
Jesus’ command is to go and make disciples of all ethnicities. (Matthew 28:18-20)
Unity is a consistent command of Scripture to God’s people. (Ps. 133:1; John 17:23; Eph. 1:10, 4:3. 13; Col. 3:14)
In Christ the ethnic divide is gone. (Rom 1:16, 2:9-10, 3:22, 10:12; Gal. 2:14, 3:28; Col. 3:11)
The Church has the ministry of reconciliation, and I believe that extends beyond just people being reconciled to God, but also to each other. (Rom. 5:11, 11:15; 2 Cor. 5:18-19)
The multi-ethic church/people of God is what is promised to Abraham, demonstrated at Pentecost, and fulfilled in heaven. God’s Kingdom is to come and His will done on earth as in heaven. (Gen. 18:18, 22:18, 26:4; Gal. 3:8; Acts 2; Rev. 7:9; Matt. 6:10)
Especially related to “why this matters” is that we are living in a changing world. Multi-ethnic marriages and families are on the rise, and not only increasingly accepted, but preferred by some. If the church is going to reach this changing portion of society as well as be a place these people feel comfortable worshiping, we cannot continue to be segregated.
I have mostly limited my responses to ethic divisions, the focus of your thesis, but in multi-ethnic ministry we also consider generations, gender, and socio-economics.
As with the previous post, I want to make sure people know I believe SoulShift is excellent material, and these posts are not criticisms, but my notes as I seek to adapt it for use in my community and context.
College Wesleyan Church, the birthplace of SoulShift, has a unique congregation. From my limited, and probably biased, outsiders view, I would call it a place where people are really living out an American dream life. Marion, IN, is a nice college town, away from the urban centers, but not so far away that one couldn’t drive to a major city to enjoy special activities or reach an airport. The church is on the Indiana Wesleyan University campus, and many of the professors attend College Wesleyan Church; this really raises the mean educational level of the congregation, along with the socio-economic advantages of having higher education. Ethnically, Marion is 78% White, but I also imagine that much of the city’s diversity is contained within the university.
Biblical holiness and maturity is not bounded by demographics, yet we should take into account that Oakdale differs from Marion as we present the material. Here are a few of the shifts that may have to be approached or presented differently: Continue reading Adapting SoulShift part 2→
In Divided by Faith, Emerson and Smith (2000) make a case, supported by U.S. history, that Evangelicals generally work within culture to spread the gospel, and, for some (perhaps many), taking action that is counter-cultural would expend energy and resources that could better be used spreading the good news of Jesus. Evangelicals, according to Emerson and Smith, take this stand because evangelism and discipleship are the first priority of the Church, a position that is difficult to argue against when one considers the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). Continue reading When Evangelism Is Not Enough→
I am becoming convinced that there is a systemic dichotomy in African-American family culture. First, let me state that when I refer to “African-Americans” I am specifically referring to those of us who are descendants of the North American slave population, not all dark-skinned North-Americans nor modern immigrants from African countries. Here is the dichotomy: African-Americans highly value family relationships, yet we have adapted to a culture that systemically breaks our families apart. Continue reading The Broken American Family→
Spoilers in this paragraph. The meditations of the second week (the illumination of Christ and his call to participate in the Kingdom with meditations on the life of Christ) continued with contemplation on the ministry of Jesus, from his baptism through Palm Sunday. Continue reading The Spiritual Exercises: Week 2 part 2→
And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last! – from “I Have a Dream” by Martin Luther King, Jr. Aug. 28, 1963