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The Black Church, Obama, and Gay Marriage

I am about engaging with conflict and being ok with disagreement. I am about diverse and vast views of the Bible while still maintaining my spiritual journey with God. And I am about the spiritual ethos laid out by Billy Graham at the 1996 inaugural luncheon of then President Bill Clinton when a reporter asked him why he was in the presence of an obvious “sinner” such as Clinton; Graham stated: “It is God’s job to judge. The Holy Spirits job to convict. And my job to love. I’m here doing my job.”  – Dan White Hodge.

Read the entire post HERE.

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5 Reason Why I Love My Church

After much searching for a place where I could worship God, and grow in character, relationally, and use my gifts to serve others, I have finally found a place to call home (or should I say, God has lead me to a place)! Though the demands of school, work and ministry interfere with my ability to attend every Sunday, I can honestly say that I love my church. Here are a few reasons why

1. Commitment to Diversity/Being Multicultural – Worship style, staff, and congregation mirror the neighborhood where we are located. It’s refreshing to see diversity not only in the people who lead up front, but also to hear it in the selection of music genres and preaching. Sure, we have some growing to do in in this area, but what’s already a reality is worth celebrating. There is an authentic commitment to celebrating a variety of cultural groups without pressuring individual groups to culturally conform to any other culture. In essence, there is encouragement to be ones authentic cultural self. What helps us is that River City Community Church is a learning congregation that is willing to have complex and candid conversations regarding social issues, race, and ways to build authentic relationships both within amongst attendees and within the community of Humboldt Park.

2. Casual Environment – Casual sounds too casual and for some it may even appear slightly irreverent. But casual takes some of the edge and intimidation off for those who walk through the doors (whether Christian or not Christian). Though I grew up in a local congregation that required wearing “Sunday Best” (and yes I know the history behind it for African Americans), it is so liberating for me to be able to come as I am, not feel pressured to look like a superstar, be able to stand or sit as I worship, and encounter people who are not stiff and unapproachable. Not to mention, it is a place of prayer where God is at the center of what we do. I love my church!

3. Children are Welcomed- As a former Children’s Ministry Pastor, one of the first things I noticed about my church is the commitment to children and families who attend. I also noticed that this commitment extends far beyond just those who attend and reaches to those in the neighborhood as we partner with a local school.

4. Pastor and Leaders are Authentic – In the past I have been in intensely hierarchical church environments (admittedly, I find that structure somewhat unhelpful). The leadership at River City is very difficult to describe. They are personable, approachable, humble, behave as though they understand that with God there is no hierarchy in the family of God, and yet their style of leadership makes you want to follow them, listen to them and learn from them and this can happen without leaving their presence feeling “less than.” Go figure.

5. Care for the Local Community where we are located – One of the aims of RCCC is to transform the city of Chicago through neighborhood development. There will always be more that we can do to work towards this goal, but the investment in the local community is at the heart of who we are. Whether it gets worked out through offering ESL classes, giving away backpacks and school supplies to local families, partnering with other community leaders and working together to learn more about the community and learn how to best serve them, this church is invested and it shows.

There are many other reasons why I am glad to have found a home with this group of Christians, but the above are a good start to a sneak peak into why the love is there.


The Diversity Delusion

The topic of diversity is one that many find intriguing, others are passionate about it, and still others are apathetic regarding the subject of diversity. Certainly the topic of diversity holds a variety of meanings for different people, but since the setting I am most familiar with are church or religious environments, I approach the topic with that as a backdrop.

I have discovered that to say that you as an organization or a church are “diverse” or “multicultural,” along with other descriptive terms is on some level trendy and it can even draw individuals to a place or group. However I find that with many Christian groups, whether it be churches, universities or otherwise, it can end up being only that which is on paper or on a computer screen. Some even go as far as to display photo stock pics of diverse groups of people as though it were a reflection of the realities of their group.This is not limited to groups/organizations – every group is made up of “individuals.” The actions of individuals also have bearing on what takes place in the area of diversity. I find that we all at some point can suffer from a disease I call the “Diversity Delusion.” Here are some of the symptoms:

1. All of your friends (whether real or via social media) “look” just like you. The only people you have deep conversations with or friendships with are of the same race, class, etc that you are

2. Failing to notice dominance of one cultural group or be aware of who is culturally missing and never wondering why.

3. The books on your shelf are all written by authors of one dominant group or cultural perspective.

4. With the exception of maybe one or two or less, the people you listen to and learn from are all people of your specific race, culture, social and economic status.

5. Because you are familiar with certain cultural stereotypes, you assume that you know a particular culture.

6. You precede your references to people of a culture different from yours by adding a race description – “African American man,” “Asian woman,” instead of simply saying a woman or man.

Awareness of the symptoms can be remedied by choosing different actions from this day forward. During my attendance at an event titled “Experimenting with Diversity:Using the College as a Laboratory by Marvin Worthy, he mentioned that “Not everything you face will be changed, but nothing will ever change unless you face it.” I don’t believe that lack of opportunity to embrace diversity and learn not only about, but from others is the problem. I believe that the problem is that we fail to extend ourselves beyond what makes us comfortable…

Is Church Diversity Possible?

Is local church diversity possible? Not too long ago I had the experience of joining the staff of a local church as the only African American staff member. During the interview process the church had mentioned a desire to become a diverse congregation where everyone was welcome to come. However as I spent time on staff I would soon discover many challenges that accompanied this plan.

Now that I have recovered from the experience of being there, I can honestly say that the experience helped solidify my convictions even more deeply regarding church diversity. Many lessons were learned and insights gleaned. Here are some that flow, not only from my experiences there, but from internal places within the fibers of my being.

Courageous Leadership
When it comes to diversifying local congregations, cowardice really has no place. (I will refrain from using terms such as being a wuss, punk, chump, etc). The Church needs leaders who love people deeply – all kinds of people and refuse to become satisfied with status quo and always doing what has always been done. Leaders who aim to lead the way in the area of diversity take hits that can be avoided if only we keep the majority culture in our individual settings happy. We could avoid criticism and having people question our motives if only we didn’t launch into difficult conversations about race, cultural injustices, and issues of discrimination. Are you up for the task – pain and all?  Today’s Church needs leaders who aim to please God rather than appease people/be a people pleaser. Are you that kind of leader? There are some noteworthy leaders in the conversation of diversity that model courage for leaders, individuals such as Soong-Chan Rah, Mark Deymaz, Brenda Salter-McNeil, Daniel Hill, and David Ireland, to name a few

Long-Term Commitment to the Process
I suppose I don’t need to say much here. But I include it because I realize that starting out in the pursuit of diversity is one thing, and continuation is another. Some never start. Others start and quit when things get tough and even give “God” the credit for their lack of commitment to continuance, assuming that if they encounter opposition then it must be a signal that they should stop. However, opposition can and usually does serve as at least one indication that we are on the right track. Keep God’s vision for a diverse, yet united humanity in mind and keep going!

Celebrate Rather than Tolerate
A few years back after visiting countless churches during my time in New Jersey and leaving disappointed, I decided to give it one last try by visiting a fairly large church. I went with low expectation, because I was weary with the search and on the verge of giving up finding the place for me. As I entered the area it became clear to me that this was “the” place! As I walked from the parking lot to the church building I noticed that I was surrounded by a variety of cultures – Asian American, African American, Caucasian, Latino, Middle Eastern, etc. I entered into a space where I was greeted at the doors by Greeters of mixed cultures, encountered people from these different cultures interacting with each other. As morning worship began, the diversity was visible and audible again as staff members of different races and styles were present and those who lead musical worship were not only a mixture of races, but the music selections were from genres that appealed to urban gospel, instrumental, contemporary worship, etc.

It became obvious to me that this church did not only invite all people to come and then ask them to conform to cultural norms that were not there own, but each person could come and be celebrated for who they authentically were and were encouraged to celebrate who others were. The presence of people different that you are should not cause us to simply endure their presence among us, but to rejoice in the beauty of our differences! Willingness to let go of things always catering to our particular group, styles, etc we much be willing to join with others and celebrate their styles as well.

Willingness to do What Does NOT Come Natural
I suppose the Caucasian gentleman that once said to me “it’s natural for people to gravitate to those who are similar to themselves” was correct. When I enter a crowded space it’s natural for me to look for other African Americans and move in their direction as a point of connection. But after thinking about this concept of doing what comes natural, I shifted my thinking to biblical text and saw that God’s design is the extend us beyond what simply comes natural to functioning supernaturally. What I mean by that is that we should be willing to let God empower us to reach beyond ourselves and do some of the things we would not naturally have the tendency to do. Even a brief skimming of the book of Acts gives us a glimpse of what it means to reach beyond our specific cultural groups. A look at the life and ministry practice of Jesus also gives us a clue – as He talked to Samaritans and other marginalized groups. The very purpose He came for was to break down walls that divide us from each other and eliminate the barriers (Ephesians 2). So, maybe God doesn’t excuse the Church from diversity as easily as we excuse ourselves from it?

Shared Power and Authority
It’s one thing to invite people of various cultures to the table – changing them positionally from being an outsider to an insider, it’s a totally different dynamic to share the authority that comes with the position. I learned this during my time on staff at the Caucasian congregation as I was repeatedly left out of important meetings and decisions, as my authority even in the area where I was invited to lead was even nonexistent. The dynamics of being a women on a male staff, and not only a woman, but the only African American made it nearly impossible for me to lead. I had a position, but I soon discovered that the authority that was to accompany the position was not a reality. Sadly, this eventually lead to feelings of tokenism. If you are a church leader, particularly if you are a member of the dominant group/race/culture, remember not just to embrace the lofty idea of giving positions to people of minority groups/race/cultures, but be prepared to also share the power and authority that is appropriate for such positions.

I believe that church diversity CAN happen! I must admit that it disturbs me to encounter diversity everywhere I go  schools, malls, neighborhoods, restaurants, etc and then attend churches where homogeneity is the norm. When I enter into neighborhoods that are clearly diverse, and then enter a church in that same neighborhood and see a homogenous group of people it creates a sense of unrest. And though this unrest is uncomfortable I am inclined to believe that God is in the discomfort in that the discomfort compels me to action. So maybe dissatisfaction is actually a good starting point? What do you think?