Monday, March 28, 2011

Race in the US: Can't we all get along?

I've mentioned before that I've begun CHATS (Connecting Hearts Across The Seas), a Facebook Reading Group with my girlfriend Ondrea Harrison. We're two months and two books into our journey together, and I think it has surprised us all how much we've been personally challenged. Our first book, Cane River by Lalita Tademy had us in tears as we traveled back in time to the days of U.S. slavery and the Civil War. Our hearts broke over the oppression our ancestors endured: African Americans oppressed by their Caucasian slave owners, Caucasian women oppressed by their men and society, the poor oppressed by the wealthy. Together we praised God that even though racism, sexism and economic disparity still exist in our country, none of these exists at the same magnitude of those times.

But that's not the end of the story. Cane River incited some intense dialogue amongst us ladies, and I realized that the discussion of race and culture in the United States is still a necessary one. And increasingly so: the 2010 U.S. Census revealed some interesting trends in our country.

Hispanics account for more than 1/2 of the U.S. population increase in the last decade; a count of 50 million Hispanics, which equals 1 in 6 Americans
  • The Asian population grew by 43% over the last decade
  • More than 9 million Americans checked 2 or more race categories, up 32% from 2000
  • Racial and ethnic minorities made up about 90% of the total U.S. growth since 2000
The conclusion of these statistics? By mid-century minorities are expected to become the majority in the United States. My opinion? It's high time to retire the term "minority" in our country. My other conclusion? We better start practicing the mantra of Rodney King, victim of the highly-publicized 1991 Los Angeles police brutality case, "Can't we all get along?" And in the family of God, we need to raise the bar even on that. We should be practicing for eternity in heaven where there will be people "out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation." (Revelation 5:9b)

At Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas, where my husband Anthony currently pastors and at our former church of Strong Tower Bible Church in Franklin, Tennessee, church members are practicing for heaven on a regular basis. We do church and life with one another, regardless of race, cultural background or economic standing. It's been an amazing ride during this past decade that I have belonged to a multiracial church, and at this point I wouldn't want to do church any differently.

Am I stating that every Christian should belong to a multiracial church? Or that every church should be multiracial? Of course not. I have friends and family members that belong to and lead churches where the entire congregation comes from the same ethnic group. These churches represent the communities that surround them, and most of them look exactly the way they should. But I do believe that every pastor and church leader must have an open heart to those of other races and backgrounds. After all, you never know when those folks might pay a visit on a Sunday morning, and even desire membership. Are you ready?

Also, our lives extend far beyond the church pews -- or padded seats, for more contemporary church decors. Our lives should regularly touch people of different ethnicities and cultures. A short check list to evaluate this in your own life:

  • Have you invited anyone to your home from another ethnic group in the last six months?
  • When you scroll down your cell phone contacts, are there people of other races represented?
  • At work, school or social events, do you tend to hang out with people that look and live like you?
Self-imposed segregation is common, because we tend to be most comfortable with people like us. The funny thing is, when we make a heart connection with people of other races and cultural backgrounds, we're often pleasantly surprised at how much we have in common. For instance, I have a sister (from another mother) who amazes me with how much we think alike. Ondrea and I share a love of Jesus, a passion for orphans around the world, a heart for those less fortunate and a ravenous appetite for great books. But on the outside, we look nothing alike. What if that had kept us from making a heart connection?



Recently, Ondrea and I have had some deep heart to hearts over Cane River. With her permission, here's just a sampling of one of her emails to me. (By the way, "we" refers to her and another Caucasian CHATS member.) "We were talking about racial reconciliation and how we are really SO far from that in our country. We wished it would be possible to have a very bare and honest discussion about what it feels like to be a white person today. The shame and guilt we carry into any interaction with a person of color (someone unknown to us, not those truly known to us.) We GRIEVE with you over the pain our ancestry has inflicted on your ancestry and what our SHARED ancestry has done to mess us ALL up."

We also discussed our different experiences living in the same city of Franklin, Tennessee. She had witnessed very little overt racism, yet I certainly had my share. At my son's elementary and middle school, a major controversy broke out over some vandalism in one of the boy's bathrooms. Someone had written racial slurs on the walls and created a miniature make-shift noose. Also, in our neighborhood someone had written "KKK" and the n-word on some utility boxes in our block. Anthony was even interviewed for the evening news regarding the incident.

And just last week here in my new home of Arkansas (deeper south than Tennessee), my son Christian said his friend had overheard another boy at an area park say, "I'll be glad when all the black people go home." This boy was obviously young, so my guess is he had to have heard an adult make the comment first.

On the other hand, I've also been privileged to witness how Christ can transform a racist man or woman's heart into a heart of compassion and love. When Anthony was ordained as a pastor at Strong Tower, one of the men on his ordination board was Al Jaynes, a Caucasian man in his seventies from the South. Al's first words at the ordination were an apology for the sins that his forefathers had committed against Anthony's forefathers through the horrible system of slavery in our country. With several family members and friends from our hometown of Baltimore present, the majority of the audience was African American. I can assure you, after Al's proclamation, there wasn't a dry eye in the room. My father, who has endured discrimination and prejudice like I'll probably never know, still talks about the impact that Al had on him, and from that day he and Al began a wonderful relationship.

I also think of the late Pastor R.L. "Denny" Denson, who pastored an African American church in Franklin for many years. Moving from Georgia to the Southside of Chicago in his twenties, Pastor Denson grew up with hatred in his heart for Caucasian people and joined the Black Panther Party, the historic African American revolutionary leftist organization. As he grew in age and maturity, however, God captured his heart for Him, then shattered his hatred for his Caucasian brothers and sisters. When I met him in 2001, he had become an outspoken promoter of racial reconciliation in Franklin, the U.S. and around the world. I loved Rev. Denson's heart for God and for people, and even though he often teased me jokingly, yet mercilessly, about my modern woman ways, as he would say, I truly miss him.

There are so many others that have made great strides in the Body of Christ in the area of racial reconciliation. I don't have enough time to discuss Anthony Hendricks, Chris Williamson, Mark DeYmaz, Harry Li, David Anderson, Tony Evans, Erwin McManus, John Perkins and so many others leading racial reconciliation in their churches, communities and the world.

Our country is changing before our very eyes. Racial diversity is more than a trend. It is a movement of God. God's people must be in on this movement. Will you be in on it?

3 comments:

  1. Thank you, you are kind to me. I feel like there is SO much more I have to learn and I can't wait to learn it along side you! Love you girl. And, by the way, I think we are 90% sure we are going back home. I will send you a long e-mail to tell you the details of that decision. I love you!

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  2. Thanks Carla! I never thought much of racial issues until I moved to the south. I had been teased as a child, growing up in an all Caucasian private school. But for the most part California is so diverse that it just didn't cross my mind much. After coming to STBC I realized it's still a problem in the U.S. and now I remember how there were so many gang fights in CA that stemmed from race and so many stereotypes are made there as well. I guess I was just blind to it. I'm blessed to say that I have dear friends of many races and Of course our little family is a mix of Caucasian, African American, Hispanic and Native American... and what if God called us to adopt one day... who knows what else will be added! :) I love the Kingdom of God--so diverse! :) Love you Carla.

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  3. Thanks for sharing here, Monique! I was raised rather sheltered from race issues too. But boy, are race issues still alive today... Your family is a wonderful model of God's diverse Kingdom.

    Funny thing, I just read your last blog post about going back to Ghana a few minutes ago! How awesome is that! I always knew you and Curtis were destined for some great works for the Lord. Love you much Girl.

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