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Genesis 50:20 (New Living Translation)

You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.

As a person for whom racial reconciliation is a huge priority, I make it a point to visit different churches to observe the church culture at large and to be fed. After all, the pastor is merely the vessel through whom God teaches, so there is no sense in getting hung up on a personality.

This weekend, however, truly put that belief to the test. There is a church I have been attending pretty regularly with my family. It is by all accounts, a white church – leadership, culturally, congregants. However, it is one of the few places I have attended where the spirit of Grace is so apparent that it attracts more non-believers than any other church in the surrounding areas. Curious about how this culture is maintained, and because we experience the presence of God in such a powerful way, we have become regular attenders.

This weekend, however, a visiting pastor broke my heart. He is a relatively young man with a family, who ministers in an inner city in the mid-west. He preached a really great sermon on how God expects amazing things from us all, but we must learn to expect them as well. I was too distracted to really be engaged, however, because I had been so offended by his opening remarks about the city in ministers in.

This young, gifted pastor began by stating that he would give us a greeting from his city, but it would involve so much profanity and too many gang signs to repeat in church. At this the congregation roared. He went on to make some other disparaging remarks about his city, which I found to be in equally poor taste, to which the congregation responded with laughter. I honestly can’t tell you what hurt more, witnessing the ease with which this young man spoke, or the hearty response from the crowd.

Not one time did he mention blacks or African Americans. But his city is known for its large African American population as well as for the large number of gangs, the majority of which are black. Without mentioning black folks by name, he managed to make sport of us. Now let me say that I don’t believe this young man is a racist. I don’t  believe that he intended to injure anyone. In fact, I am pretty sure that he found his comments to be just as humorous as his audience did. I suspect he has become so familiar with this city, of which he is a native, that he identifies strongly with the culture and the people. Personally I think that is a good thing. Any effective pastor can only shepherd those with whom he identifies and loves as his family. It was clear to me that this pastor felt this way. I suspect that he was mostly ignorant of the effect his words were having on (possibly) the only black person in his audience during that service. As I looked around at the interested, smiling faces, I wondered to myself would he tailor his delivery if he were addressing a black congregation? I could not see how he wouldn’t – unless he is just really foolish or woefully insensitive. At any rate, if his words wouldn’t be suitable for a black congregation, how could they be suitable for a Caucasian one? I doubt he ever gave it that much thought.

It was in this moment that I was painfully reminded of why so many black people chose to worship separately from Whites – lack of trust. Many of my friends have expressed a lack of trust in their Caucasian counterparts – particularly in the church. And I already know that sharing my experience with the people in my life will produce many “Unh, unh, unh’s” pregnant with knowing, or “See? That’s how they do!” and the question “What do you expect from White folks, Sheeri?”  It seems we are fine to work together, to attend school together. But for many African Americans, church is a refuge not only from the world system, but from White America, too. Dabbing at my tear-filled eyes, I fought the urge to get up and walk out (Remember, I had come to hear the Lord, whom I know can use any man). I also fought the barrage of lies the enemy bombarded me with through out the service. Thoughts that I won’t give place to in this article. But if you’re familiar with his tactics, I’m sure you can imagine.

I determined that I would say nothing at that moment. I was far too angry and unnerved to address this pastor without looking like an angry, hysterical black woman. So upon my return home, I wrote a respectful but honest letter to the lead pastor of the church, expressing my grief and humiliation over that morning’s events. I am convinced that the leadership of this church has a heart for the people of its city. I don’t know if the call on the house is to be multi-racial or multi-ethnic. What I do know is that this painful incident has provided an opportunity to open dialogue in a predominantly white church about race and faith. I am fairly certain that this is a good thing. I know that what the enemy would use for evil, God has the capacity and desire to use for our good and for his glory. I have no idea how he will do it, but I’m sure it was no accident that I was present at that particular service.  I welcome whatever the Lord has planned.

Be blessed Family!

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