Charles Senteio

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Accepted Segregation

Today I was checking out this latest rash of church fires in Alabama and immediately I wondered whether these were Black or White churches. Of course I hoped they weren’t Black churches but I speculated that they probably were.
Why would someone in Alabama want to burn a White church?

Burning up black churches made much more sense, plus there is plenty of precedent.
As I was checking out it occurred to me, isn’t it interesting that I would accept as a given that churches have, are, and always will be segregated?

A few months back my buddy Jim Walton shared with me Divided Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America and I read with interest this country’s history of segregation in church. It’s still alive and well. Of course anyone who has stepped foot in a church service in the country would realize how segregated we are.

Black folks worship with Black folks and White folks worship with White folks.

I am not necessarily across the board for integration, in some areas it has done far more damage to the Black community than it has good, but I wonder why this doesn’t produce more “Why” questions from me… Large urban public schools, barber shops, and churches are some of the most common, segregated areas in our society. Is this bad? I went to elementary school in a predominately white school. I’ve never been in a white barbershop, at least not in this country, and I’m not particularly interested going in one. I was raised in a predominately white Roman Catholic Church in Connecticut. I found church boring and most of the teachings simply didn’t make sense to me. Given a choice I’d rather attend a Black church because I feel more comfortable there. Outside of my aunt’s funeral last year and visiting my cousin in a Roman Catholic monastery I haven’t attended a church service in a White church in 20+ years, and I don’t plan on it. Fortunately (or unfortunately?) it is not hard to make the distinction.

I sure do hope they’re not burning Black churches.


  • Charles;

    I also hope they are not Black churches, doggonit.

    I was reminded of friends I met from a church in suburban L.A. called Newsong
    [ ]I should know how to link, but can't get it.

    Their home page currently has a composite face of at least 4 ethnicities. Click on the face to see their current sermon series, and a reference to the vision that started the church less than 10 years ago. It seems appropriate to your post. Like you said, spending time in a church that is not your "mother culture" is not comfortable, and whenever I touch base with the friends from this church, I am not comfortable, but usually invigorated.

    What do you think of the idea of being separate, according to comfort, as long as we are welcoming?

    Here is another question? Is someone who is comfortable cross culturally ( whether it be across the world or across the tracks) more or less comfortable in their own skin, than those satisfied to stay put?

    Is comfort the right word?

    By Blogger steve, at 8:45 PM  

  • Hey Steve,
    Thanks for the comment. I agree that 'separate but comforting' is a good perspective however I would argue that 'separate but welcoming' might be better. I may not ever want to fellowship at a White church but it would piss me off not to be able to do so. Same for rural schools or White barber shops.
    I think that most folks who are comfortable cross culturally must by definition be comfortable with themselves. I think comfort is like love, you have to have it (of self) before you can really give it. I would guess that those who are comfortable across cultures must have spent time in other cultures, and those who have spent time in other cultures probably have done so intentionally. Those that intentionally seek out other cultures have to, by definition, be authentic in their own skin and simultaneously accepting of learning from others.
    Yes. I do think that those who seek out other cultures are more likely to be comfortable with themselves however there are those of course who are not ‘seeking’ other cultures but are simply running away from their own.
    Appreciate the input, keep it coming!

    By Blogger Charles Senteio, at 3:39 PM  

  • I don't agree with the "separate but welcoming." In my experience, that's a cop-out statement that people make to sound non-racist. I hear a lot of white people talk about how willing they are for blacks/hispanics/etc to come to them--whether it's to their church, school, neighborhood, whatever... yet it is very rare that I've seen them willing to venture into that person's world/culture. It keeps us (whites) in our own mainstream comfort zone where we expect people to conform to our standards. If they can conform (or should I say assimilate), then we are ok with them.

    As for the cross cultural self-comfort...perhaps they are more comfortable in their own skin. But, once again, from experience, becoming cross-cultural is challenging because so few people are willing to branch into that. Before a person becomes comfortable, there's a lot of discomfort in figuring out who you are and why you don't fit in to either culture.

    To one of Steve's first comments, "invigorated" is a good word. It takes a lot to worship in a church with a style you weren't brought up in. Being willing to learn is sometimes invigorating (and other times frustrating!). Either way, I think sticking through that discomfort and frustration is what leads to the merging and appreciation of cultures on both sides.

    By Blogger Janet, at 6:47 PM  

  • Janet; You are right in that it does sound like the old cop out [and unconstitutional] phrase "separate but equal". That in turn makes the bile rise.

    The issue really is not benign. Charles, your comment uses many empowered verbs, as it were, discussing the comfort of someone who is able to cross cultures by his (or her) own volition. But for many it is not their choices that control their circumstances, and you nailed the point when you referred to being able to do so. The analogy of love is right, I think...good reminder: good things generate good as a function of being.

    I think you are [sadly] right, Janet, that white people in general expect all other ethnicities to meet them on their terms...with maybe a little "ethnic flair" for color [pun intended]. I expect it in country clubs, and the stock exchange, and other good ol boy networks, but you are right that it has no place in Jesus' kingdom. For a long time, now, the gospel that most resembles the words of Jesus has been being preached in Black churches. Partly obvious, but still worth reflecting on.

    By Blogger steve, at 8:39 PM  

  • So as a white person trying to reach out and fight for justice, should I just stay out of church completely? Or rather than trying to make my church more appealing to people of color should I join a black church? Maybe they don't want me there. I know they'd be better off without me.
    Thanks for sharing your perspective.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:47 PM  

  • Anonymous,
    Thanks for the post. I wouldn’t necessarily advocate for staying out of church completely. I think ‘joining’ a church that makes you feel welcome and shares your ideals while challenging them at times is the key. I’ve been visiting a very small, very Black church in Ft. Worth that makes me feel quite at home, even when I choose to read the bible during times in the sermon that my 100% attention is not needed. I know they’d make you feel welcome. Of course Black and White churches can be exclusionary so I don’t think either race has this completely figured out.
    I appreciate you for fighting the good fight. I do believe that fighting for justice must involve getting in the trenches with those whom are getting hit with the heaviest artillery. There is something very powerful, moving and most of all effective at battling at this level. Keep coming back and appreciate the dialogue!

    By Blogger Charles Senteio, at 1:14 PM  

  • Sadly, I thought the same thing when I heard about the fires in Alabama - especially as I think I read about them the same day that Coretta Scott King died. Sick history there. Last year there was some good dialogue in the Dallas Morning News about segregation in churches. Article started from a pastor somewhere offering bribes to "white" people to come to his "black" church. Created both good and bad buzz on both sides of the equation. Interesting test from my perspective.
    A few weeks ago Fellowship had their annual Creative Church Conference (C3). It started a few years back and has grown significantly YOY. Ed used to do it on his own, then Andy Stanley co-hosted for a few years then they had another 1-2 pastors share speaking roles last year as well. This year, which I understand was the best one yet by the accounts of the pastors I met in the bookstore, we had TD Jakes as one of the hosts. His discussion was on 10 commandments of leadership (as C3 is really all about leadership) and also about getting out of our comfort zones and bubbles - esp. as it relates to segregation in our churches. It doesn't happen easily but we need to strive for it.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:54 PM  

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