Thursday, January 12, 2006

All I Needed to Know About My City I Learned in the Church Basketball League

Tonight my Grace Community Church basketball team fell to 0-5, despite my 9 points and 5 fouls. But that is not the point of this post. Rather, the point is that I am grieved again by the segregation of the Church here in Greensboro (and beyond). Each night I watch church teams play against each other, and thus far, ours is the only non-homogeneous team (we have one black college student on ours). It's the white church teams and black church teams, and as I sat on the couch and thought about this, I was sorrowful. My city is separated along clear racial lines, and even the Church has not overcome them yet. Where is the witness to the power of God in this area, when the Greensboro Police Department Chief resigned this week because he was keeping tabs on the black police officers on our squad (an internal racial profiling unit)?

Some would say that the Church shouldn't bother with pointedly seeking reconciliation in terms of it leading to integrated congregations (if it happens, that is fine, but if it doesn't that is OK). Their rationale is that it's most important to reach the Lost and it's easier for whites to reach Lost whites and Hispanics to reach Lost Hispanics, and so on. So we should have churches in which people feel more comfortable and safe, so that they can meet the Lord better (and that means monoculturally, usually). Also, honestly, it's hard learn to worship in new ways and to let other cultures come forth to join whatever we are used to. The vision of reconciliation in this model, then, is that we try to be friends with Christians of other races by attending events or concerts or pastors forums together. Yet this model does not lend itself to relationships that get "real" (and thus messy), and so we don't have to work through issues and love each other in hard places, which is part of reconciliation. Reconciliation is not just "getting along."

I cannot square the "separate but reconciled" model with Scripture, which tells us that Christ has reconciled the races by the Cross (Ephesians 2:14-22). It says that Christ has destroyed the dividing wall of hostility. That Christ's purpose was to make one new man out of two, thus making peace, and to reconcile both of them to God (which seems to say that the horizontal work of the cross was as important as the vertical aspect). When Christians live and worship separated by race, we are living in "unreality". We are living as though His work was not effective and finished, and that our sin and fear is more powerful than His life in us.

We need to grieve this together and ask God to do a new work in us.


miles said...

Marsh, I love you brother and I think your point is worthy, but I'm going to play the devil's advocate, just to stir debate.

Are you sure our first goal should be to break barriers in church attendence? I feel like some popular reasoning goes like this: "if we could have diverse congregations/church services then we could start living together and loving each other."

But, sometimes I wonder if this reasoning is backwards. It makes sunday morning service the primary and ultimate act of worship in our lives. But sunday service and my church activities average only like 2-8 hours out of an entire week (168 hrs). I feel like I need to expand and elevate worship into other days and other places. Maybe if we started living together in worshipful ways all the time, then our church services would be a reflection of these greater acts of worship throughout the week. Maybe if I invested in racially different co-workers, developed racially diverse friends that ate dinner at my house and felt welcome just dropping by, and if I lived in a neighborhood that was welcoming to people of all backgrounds, maybe then we would want to share our church services with eachother.

I think the church situation is a sad sign that needs to be addressed but it might always reflect the situation that still plagues our households and neighborhoods, and maybe the church is not the best place to start attacking the problem. I think we would be more likely to worship together and cross cultural boundries if we shared our lives with people of different races.

Marshall said...

Miles - I could not agree with you more and don't think you really devil's advocated, but rather expanded and clarified. Our/my "goal" is certainyly not breaking church attendance barriers, but instead to live out of the reconciled reality accomplished by Christ. The reason I would START with the Church is that we are the only ones who have a real shot at reconciliation. We are the only ones who have Christ, the Reconciler, living in us.

In my yet to be published book, Joy in the Margins, I write about the Three R's (thank you John Perkins):reconciliation, relocation, and redistribution. I think that all three need to happen for transformation to take place, and the Church should lead the way - Christians should be moving to live near people of other races, Christians should be engaging in deep relationships across cultures in their private and vocational lives, and Christians should be advocating that resources and wealth be better shared among all people. If I had more time, I would share how I think each R is necessary to complete the whole picture and lends itself to the other two.
Incidentally, an excellent book on this issues is Divides By Faith by Emerson and Smith, which is a sociological study of the Church's inablity to overcome the black-white divide in America.