“A social problem is one that concerns the way in which people live together in one society. A racial problem is a problem that confronts two different races, who live in two separate societies, even if those societies live side by side.” ~ Pauline Hanson, Australian political leader and author
Last Saturday morning I told my wife, Dana, I’d like to attend two church services on Sunday.
We’d go to the 10 o’clock service at our home church, Fellowship Bible, and scamper out early to make our way across town for the 11:30 service at New Mt. Zion Baptist. To get to New Mt. Zion, in Jonesboro, Arkansas, you must go literally, “across the tracks.”
My heart was prompted to attend New Mt. Zion following an early-morning conversation with my friend, and the church’s pastor, Dr. Ray Scales, and I knew going in we’d likely be the only “white folk” in the congregation. I also knew Mt. Zion’s membership would welcome us with open arms.
The original post from that experience may be viewed here: http://wp.me/p2bjEC-q1
As we were getting ready for the dual-service experience, I told Dana I thought it would be interesting to write about the sad fact that, here in the South, we still have black churches and white churches. She was hesitant for me to write about such a divisive topic, but knew that I’d never shied away from addressing certain present realities of our culture.
I understood her hesitancy. Dana often thinks things through better than me. My heart tends to rule my head, and I grieve over the white-church, black-church phenomenon.
It’s not just some academic theory here in the South. It’s a reality. A dark one. And it bothers me.
There can still be a certain apprehension just before a blogger hits the “publish” tab on certain topics. She takes the risk of putting herself out there before the world, and the world can be cruel, especially on subjects like this.
But the moment came, I hit the tab, the conversation ensued, and I wasn’t disappointed.
I’ll share with you three paraphrased excerpts from conversations that were directed my blog’s way. As my book, Light Wins, develops, I hope to pursue these conversations further, but for now, they speak for themselves.
One reader said her pastor described Sunday as “the most segregated day in the South.”
That’s a pretty profound statement coming from a preacher.
She went on to say she was happy about the fact the church she now attends has been described as “beige.”
Another comment came from a respected friend born outside the U.S., who’s lived in Memphis for the past several years. He related this story:
One Sunday morning his small group Sunday School class initiated a discussion about how they could better reach out to the community.
So he spoke up:
“Well, we have a fairly significant African-American population around the neighborhood. Perhaps we could better reach out in that regard.”
Their response, he said: Silence.
And every head slowly turned his way.
“What? he asked.
One member: “They have their own churches.”
Another member: “We’ve always been a white church.”
And from all indications, they always would be. At his own choosing, my friend’s days at that particular church were numbered, and he left.
But for me, the most profound response came from a man in my hometown. We’ve known one another about five years or so, and for two of those years we were members in same church.
Following a wretched split in that church over more details than I can relate, we both left. Not because of the split and taking one side or another, but because I believe we both thought it turned into such a ridiculous fiasco, that it dishonored the very One we were there to worship, and the entire reason we were there was lost in the petty, self-serving, agenda-promoting atmosphere. Yes, it still stings, but I should stop that tangent here.
As we traded a few emails, this is what my friend said:
He said he’d long been
fascinated troubled over the black church/white church reality. So much so, that he’d taken it upon himself to address it with others, and he found that same troubled heart permeated the souls of many men and women. It’s an issue, he’d one day like to write about, he said.
And furthermore, after the church split we experienced, he found himself in a paradox. Where would he go now? He was imposed upon by a choice that should never present itself. The simple reality for him was this: Would he now go to a black church or a white church?
The reality of that choice is profound and incomprehensible.
I’m wondering how we get to the beige alternative?
And now, to hit the “publish” button…