Anyone who's been around here for a while has probably seen that I'm not one to take on serious topics with the blog. That's mostly because I think serious topics are best tackled in actual conversation, not virtual, and also because this blog serves as my brain's pressure release valve more often than not, and there is a lot more zany than serious rumbling around in there. But since I decided to start posting "Sunday thoughts" on Sundays, the goof meter has taken a dip. All that to say, this is a serious subject.
Our Sunday morning Bible class is currently studying James, and last week we spent pretty much the entire hour on this passage: "If a man enters your church wearing an expensive suit, and a street person wearing rags comes in right after him, and you say to the man in the suit, 'Sit here, sir; this is the best seat in the house!' and either ignore the street person or say, 'Better sit here on the back row,' haven't you segregated God's children and proved that you are judges who can't be trusted?" (James 2:2-4, The Message)
We spent some time talking about rich v poor, and whether we are really likely to show favoritism to the rich, and someone rightly pointed out that we in the US are the rich when compared to most of the world, and so on. But there was a huge elephant in the room that we were quietly dancing around until someone finally said it out loud: The issue American churches must learn to get past isn't wealth, it's race.
It's ridiculous that by 2011 we haven't yet put this behind us. It's bad enough that our society hasn't been able to move past race divisions yet; it's even worse that our churches are still largely segregated. Christendom has an unfortunate history when it comes to race relations, and I honestly feel that churches have done more harm than good. We should have been setting the example, we should have raced to reach across lines of ethnicity and class to embrace fellowship long ago-- but instead we built more buildings so that people who don't look the same don't have to approach God together. It's disgusting.
Part of the blame here does belong to societal trends as a whole, of course. Neighbourhoods are usually defined on income lines, and unfortunately the income lines still keep nonwhites poorer across the board than whites, so we end up with neighbourhood churches that have been traditionally attended by one race or another. But I'm unwilling to excuse American Christians for reasons of convenience-- when we decided to follow Jesus, we were deciding to accept inconvenience. We were willingly taking on a lifestyle that would lead to discomfort and go against the grain of "everybody's doing it". And so I say that we should be in the front, mending racial divisions, not reluctantly trailing behind.
I'm happy to say that the church we attend is diverse. In our class last Sunday morning, there were African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, and European-Americans all there to talk about why this is still an issue, and what we can do to help solve it. I don't know what the answer is, but to ignore it makes me as culpable as my ancestors. I want to be among the ones reaching out, not standing back.
What do you think? What should churches do to help repair the damage we've caused?