Saturday, December 17, 2016
Jesus Loves Racists, Two
Writing a blog series can be tricky. I think of it like a Marvel movie. Marvel is building a universe through their movies and television shows, yet they still have to appeal to all audiences, so each of their movies has to stand alone (unless it’s a direct sequel). The same is true for this blog series. While I hope that everyone will read every part, I recognize that may not happen for all, so I have to try to make each part stand alone. I do encourage you, however, to read part 1 if you have not done so, as the following will make more sense. Although Marvel’s Civil War was an enjoyable movie on its own, it was more appreciated by those fans who had seen the previous 12 movies. Such will be this series. I hope you read the first post as well as those to follow. But enough about movies. In this post, I will share a bit more about my experiences that have led to my interest in studying race and churches.
I grew up in a predominantly Black context. I went to a predominantly Black school. I lived in a predominantly Black neighborhood. I attended a predominantly Black church. Then my family moved. We moved from a predominantly Black neighborhood to a predominantly White one. I began attending a predominantly White school (from 6th to 8th grade). We continued, however, to attend the same church. I grew up in the middle of two cultures. I remember having to explain basic things about my existence (such as how Black people use shower caps because we don’t wash our hair daily) to White children who had never encountered a Black person before. I recall learning about the cultural icons of a culture that did not belong to me (such as Avril Levine and the Backstreet Boys- it was the early 2000s). My high school was regional, so it was more racially diverse than my elementary experience (I attended a K-8 school), but because I had spent so much time around White people, when I later began attending a predominantly White institution (PWI) for my undergraduate years, I did not experience much of a culture shock…until I went to church.
Distance and doctrine were more important to me then the racial composition in choosing a church when I went to college. As a result, I found myself in a predominantly White church (PWC). It became a new learning experience. Just as I had in 6th grade, I began learning about another new culture: the culture of White evangelicalism. I had some exposure to this prior to attending college through television and the radio, but I had never been immersed. I once again was introduced to new cultural icons of a culture that did not belong to me (Hillsong and Chris Tomlin) while experiencing the phenomenon of 2 part harmonies or only unison when singing songs in church services. This is also where I experienced more micro-aggressions. In 6th grade, I did not have a term to describe the time I was called dirty because the assumption was made that I didn’t bathe regularly when people found out I didn’t wash my hair daily. Now I did. Being asked if I could wear a sari and pretend to be an Indian for a play was slightly disturbing. Seeing a video played for Veteran’s day (or Independence day) where the only Black person in it was one in handcuffs was insulting. I know none of these things were done with malintent, but they are examples of the results of living in a racist society.
Meanwhile during college, I was also involved in a campus ministry group. Through this group, I encountered two women in particular who had a vision for these groups to be culturally and ethnically diverse. They believed this is how God intended churches to be, and they both worked (and continue to work) to make this vision a reality. As a member of this group, I was able to experience what it was like to be a part of an ethnically and racially diverse congregation where multiple cultures, including mine, were represented. Although this campus ministry is a parachurch organization, I was inspired to want to expand these efforts to local congregations, which is how I became interested in researching race and churches. I also agree with their assessment that God did not intend for churches to be racially segregated, which provides me with further motivation for my work.