Red flags are usually meant to indicate danger, warnings of impending harm or damage to people or property. As I sit on the Emerald Coast of Florida this morning I can’t help but notice the stiffly flying red flag which warns folks about the rough Gulf waves. I also can’t help but enjoy the oddly peaceful sound of the crashing waves and the fresh salty breezes which actually aid my youngest son’s breathing.
A stiffly flying red flag doesn’t physically have to be present for someone to be wary of a bad business deal or a dark cave or even dating the wrong person. “Too many red flags,” they might be heard to say.
This post forces us to just jump right into a topic which might be a red flag topic to some–well, to many. TOO many.
I may be jumping into a somewhat dangerous body of water, but the risk is worth it.
It is time.
Diversity in the Body of Christ
(NOTE: Please know that I will use the term ‘black church’ as a distinction from the predominately white folks’ church to which I am accustomed. This is not meant as an offensive term. Interestingly, we recently learned that our black friends use the term ‘white church’, so I think we’re all good on these usages.)
I (Katie) grew up attending the black church in our small town whenever they had a gospel meeting. It is not clear whether we visited because my daddy was a local minister or because my parents wanted to attend. It doesn’t matter. Either way, I always loved visiting the brothers and sisters in the all-black church. My parents had several friends there and I recognized kids from my school. Only fond memories are held regarding those visits. After our marriage, Mr. Patient and I took our three older children to the same gospel meeting assemblies. Our sons never indicated that the folks there were any different from our family. (We never pointed it out and I never once said ‘black people’ to them. In fact, it wasn’t until our oldest son attended kindergarten and came home asking me, “What is a ‘black person’, Mama?” He was confused but I tried to explain. “Oh,” he replied, with understanding, “you mean, my brown friends?”) Well, back to the topic at hand… The vibrance of the worship and the enthusiasm for the Lord was inviting and addictive in any church we’ve visited where the predomination was made up of folks with darker skin that ours.
But, to worship together on a weekly basis? Well, that’s just something “we don’t do”. I think that comment goes both ways between black and white brethren. Are we being honest here? Well, I’ll be the one to say it… We have all felt like we needed to “stay in our place” or worship “with our own peeps” or “don’t cross the tracks” for so long that doing so is second nature, or maybe even first nature to all of us. The church which holds our membership is comprised of all sorts of ethnicities, thank God; however, the predominant skin shade which takes up pew space is pretty pale. Our minister preached just this month on the topic which this blog post raises; he reminded us that Sundays are still unfortunately the most segregated day of the week in America. Makes ya think…or, at least it should make us think who claim to be members of the Body of Christ.
For a few weeks I had been feeling like our family needed to be worshiping in a congregation of people who weren’t all like us. After all, Mr. Patient and I have always agreed that we want our three littles (the youngest of our children–the olders are adults) to know that everyone is not exactly like them in skin color, talents, physical abilities, beliefs, learning lifestyles, etc. This is not to teach them that they are better than others, because they are not, but to teach them to love all sorts of folks despite the differences. We believe knowing makes the loving just a bit easier.
Almost in passing, I mentioned to Mr. Patient my idea of visiting a predominately black church and even seeking these congregations out when we “hit the road” to full-time RV. Just a few short weeks after my mentioning this to him, our minister preached an entire sermon on the topic of diversity in the Body of Christ. It was after that lesson that Mr. Patient suggested we begin visiting the predominately black church where a couple of our friends are members. He said he felt it was time.
Many folks would say, “red flag! red flag!” Although not a red flag for us, it may have been a yellow flag, to be quite honest. We were not anxious about being in the minority at the worship service, but it was…well, interesting. How so?
We never felt unwanted, uninvited or unwelcome. At all. Entering right as the service began, we were greeted joyfully outside and inside the building. Finding our seats, we began to worship with the other Believers. You want honesty? Okay. We were not made to feel unwelcome but I did wonder what folks were thinking, “Wonder why they are here?”, “Did they realize this wasn’t white church before they walked in?”, “Do they have some ulterior motive?”, “Are they trying to prove a point?”, and then I couldn’t help but wonder if some might have thought “They don’t belong here.”
Even though I had those thoughts for a little bit, I never regretted showing up for worship there, right outside of my white comfort zone. My pew-mate sister and I found common ground and enjoyed fellowship and conversation. The hugs and greetings were dearly appreciated from many of the church members.
The sad part is, I realized that my crazy thoughts were possibly the same ones that black folks might ask themselves when sitting in our white assemblies. All those red flags. Oh dear, I hope not.
What to do about it, about those odd feelings when visiting other churches? I think we just keep on keeping on. Surely Jesus physically asked the apostles and His disciples to step out of their zones, into a world of crazy persecution–real, full-on persecution. It is time, time for us. If we Believers don’t show the world what love is then who-in-the-world will?? Jesus came to make those red flags white. He washed them with His red blood so we could be as white as snow. Denying this doesn’t make it untrue.
Oh, did I neglect to tell you the best part of worshipping with our brown-skinned brethren?? As we blended our voices in song to the One King Jesus, the Spirit washed over me and flooded my whole being. I felt this impression in my soul, “THIS. This is a picture of heaven, dear daughter. THIS. This is what I love. Step out. It’s OK. I Am. I am here to meet you in your discomfort. You are loved. You are loving others. You are allowing them to love you. I love you, dear daughter. Go, do the same.”
“Don’t pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what to good.” Romans 12:9
Footnote to this post: If I were to believe in coincidence I would say that our most recent “field trip” to Montgomery, Alabama, was just that. I would say that it was coincidence that we worshipped in the new-to-us church the same week that we stopped to “just see what we could learn” in Montgomery en route to a Florida vacation. But, I don’t believe in fate, coincidence, or chance. Instead, Mr. Patient and I both feel that our Abba Father is completely in control. While He allows our free will, He leads, directs, and allows His children’s goings-and-comings to align with His Will and Purpose.
We thank our Lord for crossing our path with the lovely Ms. Wanda Howard Battle as we walk through life–living, learning and loving.