I want to talk about something. Something controversial, although I don’t intend to participate in a controversy. So much of our country has changed since my childhood. When I went to elementary school, all the kids were white. I remember one day walking to the convenient store on Chambers Road in north St. Louis County. I had met a black kid at the store, he was the first black kid I’d ever met. We were about the same age, he seemed nice. I invited him over to my house to play Joe Namath football. You know, one of those electric vibrating football games. When we walked down the street, all my neighbors came to their doors and stared. He ran out of the neighborhood. I was calling his name as he ran away. He was so afraid. I didn’t understand then, why. Later in life I became a pastor. The first church I pastored was in a small rural community in North Carolina. The church was all white when I went there, but the town was fifty percent African American. I began inviting everybody I met to church. We ended up with a black piano player. One day she was in my office crying because she had a death in her family and no one had taken food to her home. I became angry when I found out the ladies of the church didn’t want someone who was black eating off their dishes. I didn’t ever want to live like that. I saw the injustice, the prejudice, it was horrible.
Today I pastor a multi-cultural church in Central Florida. We have people of all different races that attend our church, from more countries and cultures than I even want to try to enumerate. Our church has been like this grand experiment. Even though I’m a white pastor, less than forty percent of my church looks like me. We have a Christian academy, eighty percent of our students are below the poverty line. Less than ten percent of our student base is Anglo. We also have a preschool. We accept government subsidies that allow low income families to attend. Many families in our church are bi-racial. I might even want to use the word multi-racial because they’ve been bi-racial for more than one generation.
We made three decisions that enable us to get to the place where we are today.
Firstly, we would be curious about each others backgrounds. We acknowledged the fact that everyone has some level of prejudice, and that the only way we would overcome our prejudices was if we got it in front of us where we could see it. Only in seeing it could we manage it. We decided to stop hiding from one another, to stop pointing out the differences in each other as if what made us different was wrong. We instead decided to understand one another; our historical difference, our language difference, it seemed race became irrelevant when we looked at culture. The second decision we made, was that we would only speak biblical absolutes. This was really important because people so often use the scripture to reinforce their own “tribal” traditions. The Bible has been used throughout history to accomplish great deeds. It’s also been used as a justification for horrific actions against humanity. We placed our hope in a belief that if we looked to the scripture for truth that applied regardless of our culture, we could discover a common culture, God’s culture. One that was marked by love, acceptance, and forgiveness. The last decision we made, was that we would openly celebrate what made our families unique. The celebration gave us the freedom to discuss who we are and how we fit together in the body of Christ. This celebration meant that we had to stop talking about race because racial discussions divide. These celebrations led to sharing each others food, music, and life stories.
I guess I’m writing this today because I thought our country had come so far. We have a black president and the chief law enforcement officer in our country is African American. Children of all races attend the same schools together. We work in the same places together; and yet, there’s still so much fear. It really doesn’t matter what your race is, there’s fear. I suppose, that the reason why I’m writing this is simply to offer the idea that we’ve made progress but there’s still so much more to make; and that perhaps, only perhaps, its time to stop talking about what divides us, and to consider what we can celebrate together.