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I went to a Black church for the first time when I was in 6th grade. I knew it was a Black church because the people there had really dark skin. But I would have known it if I were blind. There was so much emotion, energy, and excitement at this church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I loved it.
I compared their energy with the drab, dull, and subdues White church I went to and there was no comparison. The Black church was better.
What never crossed my mind was, "Why are there Black churches?" I mean, shouldn't there just be churches? The fact that there were Black churches, and therefore White churches was so much a given and so normal that it didn't strike me as division. I mean really, we let the Black church come to the annual area-wide worship service and we even let them sing their way for a few songs - we were united, right?
The fact the "we" let "them" should have tipped me off that something was amuck. When "we" let "them" do anything it understood that "we" have the power and "they" do not. "We" are the norm and "they" are an anomoly. "We" are normal and "they" are tolerated.
I should have known that, but the thought never crossed my mind. I assumed we were open-minded "fellowshipping" with them. We were brothers and sisters, well, so long as they stay way over there and do their "Black" things and we continue in our "white" (normal) things.
This division became more and more into my awareness when I attended a couple Urban Ministery Conferences (Memphis, Dallas, Houston) back in the early 1990's. I realized that there were differences and divisions that ran deep. The history of it all I never knew. It was never told to me. It was treated as if this division were mutual and acceptable - the wya things were.
These conferences were great. They had a feel of a mutual cultural appreciation, but still there was the sense of difference and division. One comical time was when one of the Black choirs performed and the choir leader was directing the swinging and swaying choir, with the audience joining in. It was beautiful. However, a time came for some clapping to go along with the song. No lie all the whites were clapping on one beat and all the Blacks were clapping on the "off-beat" (or was it the other way around?). The director turned to the audience and tried hard to get us all to clap on his beat (he was the director for crying out loud) and the whites just couldn't do it.
I remember Charlie Middlebrook of the Impact Church in Houston talking about bringing many sons and daughters home, not just some of them. Powerful.
After one of the conferences, I spoke with a friend of mine, Lester, who is Black. We talked about race and the church and the culture for hours that night. He, of course, had a much clearer view of the racial divide - the minority group always notices and the majority group almost never does.
He asserted that Whites muct make the first step toward reconciliatio, and if Black s do not respond, that Whites should not quit. At that time I had a strange sense of fairness that said, "Why do whites have to go first?" This really messed him up since I am more Mexican than I feel and less Mexican than he thought I was. "Because they are the majority," he replied, "you of all people should understand that." I, of all people, did not understand it. He was just irritating me.
But that conversation stuck somewhere in my heart and simmered. The more I thought about it the more I realized that he was right. It is the responsibility of the majority group to be committed to the minority group as equals. When the minority group imposes equality, it smacks of reverse racism and usually is resisted. If the majority group treats the minortiy as equals, it is better.
Because racism has gotten so systemic and sociological and geographical and economic, there is no easy fix. This will not be fixed with a program, but rather a dream or a vision. It will take mystics and visionaries, artists and performers, orators and lovers.
We will never be united on race until we are more fully converted to Christ.
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