“Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law.” James 2:8-9 NLT
I ran into a church member I hadn’t seen in a long time. I asked him where he had been. He told me that he and his wife were looking for more diversity. I said, “I see. Well if you’re ever in the neighborhood come on back. We will save a seat for you.”
Anytime someone tells you that left your church to look for something else you stop and think about it. I get it. They want a church that has more of a racial mix that more closely represents their work experience. Maybe a mix of black, white, Latino, Indian I was thinking to myself I’d like a more diverse church too. But the reality is that in the south blacks will assimilate faster into a church under primarily white leadership than whites will under primarily black leadership.
We could argue about style of preaching and contemplative versus emotive worship. But the fundamental question is, “do we love everybody?”
Because of the racial conditioning in the United States especially the South we have been taught to distrust anything black. Richard Nixon successfully associated a black face to crime and ran his presidential campaign on the fear of “the big black man” and being the law and order candidate to protect whites against blacks. It seems this election cycle to a page from the past with “law and order” “building a wall” “barring Muslims” once again drove a wedge between races.
People of color have always been some of the most accommodating people. We have embraced people of different backgrounds for the most part. The black church could do a lot better with its homophobia but we allow people in our circle. Take for instance Dylan Rolof, the white young man that sat in a predominantly black bible study in Charleston without question and then shot everyone there.
There are plenty of predominantly white churches that open their doors for assimilation but is it really diversity? Can we truly worship as African Americans without fear of offending someone if I shout Hallelujah? If I were Mexican American could we sing in Spanish and all the English-speaking people put on earphones? If I’m poor do I have to sit in the back so the celebrity can have the seat up front? What does diversity in the church look like?
- If we favor one group of people over another we sin. We are supposed to love all of God’s people. There’s nothing wrong with loving your own people and embracing your culture. Jesus was a Jew who spoke Aramaic and was from Nazareth. Some of the other Jews looked down on Jews from Jesus town and asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Jesus takes to despise racial and social groups. But he also made a priority of reaching out to his people first then to the Gentiles.
- Loving others does not exclude loving yourself. Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself. As Africans in America I think we have the misnomer that we have to abandon our culture to love our neighbor. And in the Caucasian community I think we confuse diversity for assimilation. America is a salad bowl not a melting pot. We should be able to appreciate each other’s differences and not just tolerate them.
- To love your neighbor is to look out for your neighbor. When Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan, he gave an example of two races that don’t normally mix. A Jewish man had been robbed and left for dead. Two believers on their way to the temple passed by the wounded man without helping someone of their same race for fear of being hurt themselves. But a Samaritan, despised by the Jews for being a mixed breed, risked his life to help. True diversity is when someone from another race risks their life to help you. False diversity is when you come join me in my comfort zone. Our country is being put to the test to see if we will risk true diversity. Will we stand up for our neighbors that are from a different race? A different religion? A different sexual orientation? Or will we be in a hurry to get to our comfortable churches where you can come as long as you’re not bleeding and in need of help?
In the book “The Shack” a man is given a glimpse into heaven and he meets God. God is a black woman. The author wants us to know that God will manifest himself into someone that is not threatening to us. But I wonder how many Christians in America would change their minds about going to heaven if God were a Black Woman.
Who is my neighbor? – Anybody that is in need. I’d love to have a diverse church. Whosoever will…let them come.
Help us to be loving to all of your children. Our nation is so polarized with xenophobic tendencies. I look forward to the day when I get to heaven and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and hear them say, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” Until that day teach me how to love everybody.
In Jesus Name,