The Downside of Integration for Black Christians
In the days of Jim Crow law and custom mandated racial segregation, physical signs of separation included placards over drinking fountains, separate entrances at movie theaters, and train cars dedicated to one race or another. It took a costly movement for civil rights in the mid-twentieth century to bring down those barriers and allow racial integration.
Even though authentic integration between races is questionable—especially in areas like education and housing—we are not in the same place we used to be. Praise God for that. Integration, of course, is preferable to forced segregation, but there are downsides to integration, particularly in the church.
While the black church remains an essential and vibrant part of the culture of black Americans, many people of color have begun attending predominantly white churches. We go there for many reasons—the preaching, relationships, convenience, or necessity. But being in such spaces makes it difficult for black people to experience the same kind of solidarity and community we would have in a black church context.
In an integrated church that is still predominantly white, black Christians have to seek out places where we can be ourselves. These are communities within communities, where people of color gather in a shared sense of their past and their present social condition.
Black Christians long for spaces where they can be proud, black, and free.
We want places to lament when the next unarmed black person is killed by law enforcement. We want “amens” from people who understand what it’s like when a classmate or co-woker insinuates that your presence is only due to affirmative action. We want to say “That’s my jam!” when someone mentions a nineties R&B song (clearly the best era for this genre). We want to talk about what it’s like to be a black believer in a white Christian congregation.
But how can black people get this kind of communal strength when all of our gatherings are integrated?
Integration itself is not the problem. The issue is that in many integrated settings, many of the white people don’t understand black experiences. They won’t understand the struggle, understand the references, or feel the pain and the pleasure of being black.
As much as we love our white brothers and sisters, we don’t always want to have to explain the essence of being black. In integrated settings with white Christians, we have to unpack basic ideas about the black experience. We have to talk about privilege, white supremacy, systemic racism, black culture, food, and music. These explanations are exhausting. It’s hard to have a 401 level solidarity with people who are on a 101 level of racial awareness.
To avoid complete fatigue, black Christians sometimes seek out occasions to be with other black people and not have white people around judging or questioning their lived reality. But in an integrated church culture, just getting together with other black people is nearly impossible.
First, you don’t want to be accused of being racist. It’s very hard to explain to white people, “This is not for you.” They will see you as moving backwards in race relations. Additionally, even if you do manage to gather with just black people, if white people find out they may want to join you. Again, how do you say, “This is not for you,” without being perceived as anti-white? If you publicize your intent to only gather with black people, that only brings more questions and condemnation from those who don’t understand the need for black solidarity.
Many often fail to understand the need for black Christians to gather alone and interpret this as a form of re-segregation and racism. They’ll ask, “If the gospel unites people of every nation and tribe, then why do black Christians insist on excluding white people?”
The desire to gather with other black Christians is about renewal.
Black Christians, just like any black people in America, need communities that will affirm their dignity and restore the strength they expend just to exist in this nation. Gathering in a mono-racial setting is only temporary. Afterwards, we go back out into a world where we are the minority, and where our presence is often considered a problem. It is impossible to survive as a black person in America without rejuvenation from people with shared experiences. We retreat into racially-specific communities with the intention of coming back out stronger and more prepared to engage across the color line.
It is sinful to segregate out of hate for other people or with a desire for permanent separation. But black community empowers us to live more racially integrated lives, not less. With a solid sense of self and the confidence in others’ support of us, black Christians can engage a world built around whiteness with courage and patience.
White people may never fully comprehend the downside of integration for black people. We can only hope our white brothers and sisters will assume and believe the best of us, and celebrate our attempts at forging black community instead of impeding them. Although black people are going to find a way to gather with one another anyway, the understanding from white Christians would facilitate racial harmony.
98 thoughts on “The Downside of Integration for Black Christians”
My dad, a white man, pastored a Caribbean and Hispanic church in New York City. My dad was a former missionary and spoke Spanish fluently. Our associate pastors were Caribbean and Hispanic as well as our musicians and choir. When my dad retired, he was succeeded by our Caribbean associate pastor who also learned to speak spanish. We worshipped together singing songs from all the different walks of life that were represented – to the very best of our ability we were inclusive on purpose. We had bilingual services as well. I have never, since then, experienced the level of love, respect, liveliness and spiritual unity in a church. My life and my walk with God was so much the better because of that precious and sacred space where we came together despite many differences that could have kept us apart. It was true family. That being said, I understand what the OP meant when he said that within the church sub-culture, there needs to be times where people with shared experiences come together for renewal. I totally get that – isn’t that the same thing as when women and women have special services or get togethers ? Do we get up in arms about gender exclusivity? How about when single people get together? Or what about when Spanish speaking peoples have their separate events? Why is it ok for these groups to share their shared experiences in a safe space but not African or Caribbean Americans?
I recently moved from the North to the Deep South with my family, and we felt racial segregation on a level I have never experienced. Our first decision was to become members of an all-black Missionary Baptist church and to attend as many special services in the community as possible. You can not fight segregation by segregating further. I am in so many ways far more comfortable in African American settings than I am in white settings – but it is still awkward at times. It’s not a perfectly seamless experience – because there’s trust and barriers and deep hurts but it is so worth it. I want my children to experience and embrace African American culture in the context of Christianity and worship not just in the hip-hop culture or jazz or sports, although all of that is relevant is well. There are no easy answers or one-size fits all solution to the prejudice and institutional racism issues of our day – there is God’s love and being obedient to what His love dictates. It will not be easy, nor will it be perfect – it will be messy and uncomfortable. There will be tears and joy and frustration. But it is worth it.
Wake up my people, Jesus is not our lord, and an almighty god is a black man.
Mike, your comments are well received as they make 100% sense. I may come from a completely left-field point of view that may cause most who claim to be Christians reading this to look at me sideways, it here goes nothing:
The Western church has, for the most part, been more occupied wirh concerns of a social nature than they ever have been in recent history. From its inception, the gatherings of believers have been a hospital for the spiritually sick; they’ve often been a poor and misunderstood; yet condescending to people of low estate; caring for the untouchables and showing love to all. They were without political influence and shone only in the light of their Savior. This church still exists and flourishes, but mostly in the East and Far East.
The church in the West, however, has run most of that course, but now has prominence, status, wealth, and no longer bears the power to heal and convert like her less privileged siblings in other parts of the world. And due to the ever-present social concerns here in the states, it’s been easy for her to shift her focus to “racial concerns”, “justice”, and the like. Again, the focus is less on the supernatural, and spiritual, and more on the existential, or social ailments in society. (Some would argue that these concerns are equally spiritual, and quite me a boatload of scriptures to prove it. I’m cool with that. In fact I can already think of some that may be used against me as I type this.)
So, to get to my point, whole I agree that the church, when they come together, should be one body regardless of race, color, or creed. I think that because the church is not nearly as engaged with the work of the gospel, is not under any pressure of persecution, or other palpable pressure from culture, and is not preoccupied with those without her walls, she is free to explore other areas that affect her members and her individual members’ own comfort and well-being. Enter race relations.
What is going on in the culture outside the walls of the church in the US has driven a wedge between the races, primarily white and blacks, and the events for the most part elicit differ responses among the two groups. This is difficult to switch-off when worshippers meet together for corporate worship. This is one of the things that the OP is trying to get across. I promise you that he wants unity in the body of Christ as much as you do. I want it too. But as I said earlier, social concerns are so much the topic in the day and time that we live, it helps when a black person can spend time with other blacks who understand the common sentiments. It helps us, like the OP stated, to be find strength to continue on as a minority in a predominantly White culture.
I ask you, I implore you, to consider with some counter-intuitive solidarity, that there may be something to what is being stated here. Despite how it appears, we as black people do not want to “go backwards”, we’ve been there and we didn’t fare well, but there are times when we need the mutual comfort that comes from knowing you’re not alone, and that the experience you’re living and struggling to navigate is shared by others just like you. It can be a very lonely place without that interaction. Without that, being a minority can be a very isolated place, I promise you.
Posts are great! Thanks for the author
glad to be one of several visitants on this amazing web site : D.
Tisby makes several valid points, at least when we generically consider the existential challenges Black Americans face in a majority White politic. Every single institution in our body politic is affected by the “burden of ethnicity,” so to speak, and while the Church at large seeks to fulfill the mandate of the Gospel to be unified in our affections for each other, for the world, and for the LORD, it stands to reason that the Church too has not (and possibly can not) escape the effects that this burden imposes upon us. We are not angels but humans, and part of our proneness to failure and frailty is our inability to transcend our ethnic commitments and loyalties for the sake of unity of integration.
With that said, Tisby is absolutely wrong when he advocates for a kind of separatism that intentionally excludes White people. “This is not for you” is completely antithetical to Gospel and essentially amounts to a form of re-segregation. Instead, what we as Black worshippers ought to do is invite Whites into our ethno-sacred spaces and firmly, yet humbly, educate them on why this space is considered sacred and why Black worshippers feel the need to build and maintain them. That is to say, we need to create the space and lead the conservation rather than practicing a form of microaggressive exclusion.
Pastor James Hamilton
I was an associate pastor of a very large church in the south that was integrated but due to the issues, i mention previously the tension and stress levels were so high the church closed in 2007.
A couple of my colleagues have attempted to do so but eventually left their churches, one had been a small country church in the middle of an African American neighborhood that was started and owned by his family for 7 plus decades. Should he have left?
My belief and faith in God say no but his wife is 20 years younger than him and knowing the hardships they have endured i simply pray for them.
Regarding you being elected to the council I find nowhere in the scriptures does it mention the church having committees.
Once man decided to operate the church as a business many things have been taken out of context, however, i urge you to read all of the scriptures and seek wisdom prior to making any decisions and the answer you receive stick with them no matter what.
My sister when we begin grade school we’re taught to read a book chapter by chapter, using every word!
The scriptures are the only true book in the entire world but we are constantly skipping chapters & verses to find what makes us feel good. If you really desire to know the truth and be free!
Read the entire book.
If i can help you in anyway never hesitate to contact me.
Thank you so much for you response Pastor Hamilton. This is very helpful. This has been my experience as well. Due to their being completely different cultures between black congregants and white congregants, they seldom mix or cross paths. The appreciation of each other’s culture does not come naturally, but it has to be learned. To call it a challenge would be the understatement of the year. Yet the mission should not be given up just yet. Have you ever attempted to integrate a church?
I’m asking because I’m on the council of my church. They have nominated me for the second time. So, I’m considering simply voicing my opinion– no actual action taken, yet. Thank you again for your current and future responses on this topic.
Pastor James Hamilton
No, i have not seen a fully integrated church that was fair across the board.
What i have witnessed is the senior pastors are white and control the entire services with no ethnic music or integrated bands or choirs even though the audience is mixed.
Please don’t miss understand what i am about to say as i am only relaying what i have personally seen.
Black pastor/ ministers usually never participate in the services if they’re apart of a white church even though their qualifications maybe the same a the senior pastor. But a white woman including the pastor’s wife will have full control and a black pastor may only be allowed to do bible study but he must follow their rules.
Very seldom will you see a white pastor at a black church but i have seen one do a revival meeting several times.
Therefore many pastors/ministers feel disrespected and refuse to associate themselves with a white church.
Please allow me to share with you the explanation given for this behavior: In the secular world bands are often mixed some having white lead singer’s and some having black lead singer’s and they’re successful.
However, in the church, it’s just the opposite.
Many white Christians will only attend a church to where the pastor and music director or white and the music has a country / contemporary flavor.
However, the black’s would rather have an R & B / Contemporary flavor.
If the pastor is really called by God and not showing favoritism he would insist that his director/music minister mix the musician & choir and the service is equal. Not only in music but the entire services.
According to the scriptures, a pastor is called by God and not the church, therefore, he’s not controlled by the congregation.
Thank you for your response. I agree with everything you said. My pastor said the same thing. It’s about power. Unfortunately, most people can’t get to that yet. I even have a hard time with discussing the root cause of the evil, so to speak, because people aren’t there yet. I don’t want to get other countries involved in the discussion because each country is unique with its own problems. Unlike South Africa, colonialists imported Africans here, which severed us from our language, history and sense of meaning and purpose. We are strong and have survived enslavement. However, we live with the descendants of our oppressors that continually have the POWER to institutionalize the inequities of this country. That’s what makes integration so hard. The two cultures rarely mix evenly in institutional settings. However, growing up, I did not see race. I live in one of the most racially diverse areas in the country. My high school was 50% black and 50% white and I did not see race. I grew up not seeing race. I did not have the “Black talk”. I was raised by a talented 10th that taught me education is everything. Then I went to Howard U. and I didn’t like it. While there was cultural diversity, I was not your average black person. My interests align more with “white interests”. Then I went to an all-white school (long story). I was paranoid of everyone’s opinions about me. A few of the teaches were hostile and I made no lasting friends there, although it was partly because of my age, too. It wasn’t until Trump became president that I saw the country for what it really was.
Have you seen any examples of diverse churches? I have seen one. It was mostly multi-ethnic, meaning people of different ethnicities attending one church. I am a member of a Lutheran church. They have accepted me openly and have challenged me to consider my own implicit biases and fears. However, this country still has two Americas. White culture and Black culture are completely separate. I don’t talk to anyone like a close friend. We don’t have the same cultural connection. I joined because this white Pastor cried with me when George Zimmerman got away with murdering Trayvon Martin. Lutherans are open and accepting to everyone, yet they are 96% white, which makes it hard to fellowship. Have you ever seen an integrated church?
Pastor James Hamilton
From the beginning of mankind, we have always been in denial of the truth and constantly blame everyone else for what has taken place.
Adam blamed Eve but he was right there and God gave him a direct order to which he chose not to honor. When you read the scriptures and ask for wisdom only then do the blinders come off and you will be able to see and understand the truths before you.
Throughout the scriptures, God chooses a man to deliver a message to the people and the same as now people refuse to accept them and blame the messengers.
God chose Donald Trump to pull the cover down on the bed that has been covered for decades. In every nationality, there is extreme prejudice and everyone uses it to destroy the infrasturce of mankind and only those that seek and accept wisdom understands what is taken place.
Scripture says one man can change a whole city but he won’t receive credit for it.
When it comes to Churches we’re all wrong as we have one bible that quotes the same things, so why do we need 10 million churches?
There’s one heaven, so why can’t we walk the same road to get there?
The Answer: Power, control over other’s and none of this is in the scriptures it’s all about man and his ego.
As a pastor, i’ve had the opportunity to visit many churches and communities finding many forms of prejudice & pride in every last one of them and the funny thing about it was everyone of them is in denial.
Pastor James Hamilton
I’ve done that. Lived in predominately black neighborhoods where I was shunned and even had threats on my life. I’ve been denied service and help. I’ve been passed up for promotions and time slots. Why? Because I was white.
The only place I didn’t “feel” or think about color, when I was at the almost all black church. We all loved Jesus, and that’s what mattered.
John T. Hardie
No, Pam, that is not what Jemar Tisby said. For the love of God, please try to start listening. Reading the responses to this blog has been a remarkably disappointing, discouraging experience. No wonder white American evangelicalism is so impoverished.
Well, Mr. Tisby. I think your article is wonderful and a path towards integration. Integration doesn’t happen in a fortnight. It’s unfortunate that a lot of the comments do not seem to understand your point of view. Sunday is the most segregated day of the week. Trump won because of the Bible belt and Southern Baptists which has set this country back lets-not-even-mention-how-many-years. This country is in a crisis that pits those in power against (cisgender hetero white men) with those who do not (everyone else). White supremacy has a strong ally in the White House. In order to get ensure that this country will progress in 3 years after this current backslide, it will take conscious and faithful effort from people of majority status to integrate. People in the majority must be willing to make it to that 401 African-American level of understanding. It is not the responsibility of the minority to be accepting because we’ve been asking for hundreds of years and have not yet received a resounding “Yes”. First, they have to admit the REAL history of this country and realize the American dream is not available to everyone and never has been. They have to put down the white guilt and defensiveness and start asking questions. Start that RA (Racists Anonymous) group, read black literature, or watch a black show, and most importantly, have a black friend. Have compassion, empathy and APPRECIATION for people that are not white and straight. Lead with love for all people, not fear.
BTW – I’m in a interracial marriage. When I met my husband, he was at the 101 level of black awareness. Over a few months, he admitted his unconscious bias. He asked questions and hung out with my black friends. We watch ‘Insecure’ together and he has a Black Panther t-shirt. While he’s not eligible for The Black Card, he now has an Associate Member Black Card. Note: that was a 401 level joke. There is no physical Black Card 🙂
Pastor James Hamilton
Pam, I’m not sure as to whom you were referring to in your response but even though i’m black i’m open-minded enough to give everyone a chance.
I was raised in a small town in Ga in the 50’s never witnessing any of the things that i’ve learned and heard about for decades but even as a child i witnessed racism by a white preacher in an all-white church. To this day i have no idea why God chose me at such early age to witness this and had it been today or maybe had it been someone else the ending could have been different.
One day i was walking down the street and met a young preacher probably right out of bible school that had been called to pastor a small white Pentecostal church and immediately he and i connected, he invited me to their church and not one person acted indifferently. I invited him to our church and he was well received. One night we decided to have a meeting at his church and invite everyone ! On that night the church was standing room only and shortly afterward he and i was invited to the largest Baptist church in town for a service and when the service was over i was left to feel lower than dirt and that was the night i died. That young preacher left town and i never saw or heard from him again! One yr later i became a professional musician playing with many major artists throughout the country. Because of that one night, i spent 30 plus years without going to a church as i hated church people to the point that when my sister died i refuse to attend her funeral. During all of those years, God kept people in front of me sending small messages but i refuse to hear them. In the 90’s God put me in a position to where i had 2 choices live or died and i chose to live and become a Pentecostal pastor and i have visited many different churches only to find many people or still the same but i’m not as i continue to visit different churches. My thoughts regarding this now are that God had it right all along. I visited that small church 45 years later and even though all the people that were there at that time has since passed. I was well received. But the town still remains divided. Pam, i had to say this to let you know God works in mysterious ways and we must accept everybody regardless of their nationality. As pastors we must always speak the truth .
So you are saying that being able to”be black” is more important than ALL Christians coming together for one purpose and that’s to glorify the name of Jesus Christ. You view is very non-Christian and its people like you that keeps hatred and prejudice alive. I go to a diverse church and it is NOT blacks in one corner and whites in another. We are a church family, all part of the body of Christ. Serving TOGETHER in the name of Jesus Christ. Shame on you! I pray for you.
Pastor James Hamilton
This whole Christianity thing has been taken out of context for decades and until those of us Christians ( license plate wearers ) seek wisdom from God the only being that can give it we will never know the truth, however, John 8: 32 makes it clear.
First off the church is each individual and not some brick & mortar that we became obsessed with for centuries as we spend millions of dollars trying to have the prettiest buildings in every city while having homelessness and starvation throughout the world.
Nowhere will you find in the Bible that we should have a castle on 200 acres, a limo & airplane that you or your family and friends will ever ride in but you make the payments every Sunday ( to which will be another message ). The issue i have with institutional religion is it’s never on an even playing field it’s either white or black and both are against the laws of God .. Visit me at JBH Ministry on Facebook.
church and faith should be about inclusion, not “this is not for you”.
“First, you don’t want to be accused of being racist. It’s very hard to explain to white people, “This is not for you.” They will see you as moving backwards in race relations. ”
that is because someone who says they only want to hang out with “their kind” is absolutely ass backwards and this is a double standard. i’m agnostic and white, my gf is caribbean and christian., so maybe i don’t understand the context of fellowship with white republican hypocritical congregations, but to exclude someone–in a religious setting no less–is so backwards. not only that, it does nothing but build barriers. and if you have to exclude people and say “this is not for you”, why does one try to belong to that? convenience? cmon.
A white person writing this, replacing the word black with white, would either be a racist, or would have to write a lot more to make it meaningful (e.g. that white only groups could work on self-criticism without always getting defensive, as we all often do when confronted with those at whose expense we’ve benefitted). That’s because the default in most churches, as everywhere else, is already white.
Just spend a Sunday in an all black church. If you want to get it, it is there for you to get. If you want it spoon-fed to you, then that is asking a bit too much.
To avoid complete fatigue, white Christians -living in majority black communities- sometimes seek out occasions to be with other white people and not have black people around judging or questioning their lived reality.
Sounds perfectly reasonable.
There are already examples of this in the church. There are women’s only Bible study classes. There are children’s classes specifically because it is exhausting for adults to be around children all of the time. Churches have already decided that it is a good idea to have the large group and the smaller affinity groups. We segregate by age and sex in the church all the time. Arguably, the kitchen belongs to the women and the gym belongs to the youth. Would a man be disciplined by the church for attending a women’s Sunday school class? It seems much more likely that he would be welcomed and then informed that he may be more comfortable in a couple’s bible study, but that he is welcome to stay. If he does choose to stay, do you think that the women will feel constrained from enjoying fellowship with others who understand their specific struggles a bit better because they have similar ones? Do you think it would be incumbent on the women to leave off discussions of menstrual challenges while the man is visiting their class, or for the man to respectfully listen even though it is an issue that he does not understand?
You have misunderstood the author’s message. He is talking about taking a break from all white spaces where he feels called to do the Work of the Gospel. He does not want to quit his job. He just wants a break room.
I am a white person who has attended all black churches. Reading this article, it feels like my presence at an all black church is an intrusion. I prefer to go to mostly black churches. I may not be ready for 401, but I am sure I am at least 301. I had a meeting with the pastor of the one of the larger churches here. He, of course, asked me and my husband to come worship with them. I told him that I do not feel comfortable worshipping in a monoculture church. He told me that he was partnering with a black church to improve the diversity, but that his congregation chose the church rather than him choosing the congregation. I told him that an all black church has the same monoculture issue so that pastor and him would not be able to help each other. I think that that discomfort has to be dealt with an overcome. I do understand that in a world that is constantly uncomfortable, there needs to be a place where you do not have to rub up against those sore spots. However, those of us who are racially comfortable need to be made less comfortable. How is it best to do so? Is it best to come into an already integrated community that is majority black where there is already the disruption of white skin? Is it just as good to go to an all black congregation and join in recognizing that my skin is a problem, but joining in with respect?
Pastor James Hamilton
Jack Nicholson said it right in the movie!
As many of our people can’t handle the truth meaning some can’t have their own opinion due to criticizing from others. I’m a pastor and former professional musician and I’ve seen many different sides of the story and as long as i wanted to be apart of the club i was accepted by some and others weren’t so eager to be my friend. Some of you are going to say some terrible things about me after i comment here but one day while lying on my sick bed 20 plus years ago i made a commitment to God that should he give me another chance i would do what i had been called to do 35 years before. God doesn’t see color or attitudes that’s all on us! and many of us do it well, however, we continue to keep our people in poverty. Have you ever wondered why all the prayers we pray it seems God Bless Some And Other’s Still Struggle? It wasn’t until i repented for my sins that i was able to see the truth and became a free man. From that day i saw the truth on both sides and i’m telling you it’s down right fugly.. Yes that’s what i said Fugly ! Just so you know i’m a Black Pastor ! I’ve played for white churches and have my money before i hit the first note. I’ve played for our people and had to almost fight after church to get my money, some of you musicians reading this know what i’m saying is true but you can’t get off the wagon because your friends and family will talk about you. Here’s something else for you to pray about ! One time my family was completely out of funds & food, I call one of my colleagues in Christ and when he got finished with me i wanted to crawl under the table. I left there and went directly to a white church and left with enough food for a month. I hold these truth to be self evident that all men aren’t created equal . The Bible says come out from amongst them. But in order for you to do that you must be Free. Free to think for yourself by not being decieved . God won’t feed your Additude but his words says i will suppy ALL YOUR NEEDS . He never said how or who would be the resource .
I can imagine an article where the words “White” and “Black” are switched AND passages about White people confronting their side of racism replace the passages about Black people coping with theirs. I’d love to read it too, because I think it would show me a new way to use the communal power inherent in a church to create a fair and loving world in Christ’s image.
Can you imagine in a white person wrote this replacing the word black with white? Yikes!
Wonderful, very thoughtful article. Thank you, Jemar.
But getting White folks to the 401 class isn’t the job of Black folks. If White folks want to get to the 401 level, why don’t they attend a predominantly Black church, where they would be the minority. Why do White folks expect Blacks to come join their churches?
So you wonder why does “everything have to be about race with black folk”? Tell me, what of significance is not about race in this time and place? In the years that Jesus walked among men. Do you not realize that most of life and conversation pivoted on the actions of the Roman’s? What of consequence could be contemplated or undertaken without acknowledging their overwhelming power?
We are instructed as Christians to submit. The powerless to the powerful. Do not let that lead you to imagine that the religion is the same at both ends of the whip.
Worshipping the same God, adoring the same Christ, but with far different needs, fears, and struggles.
Not a dump site gets designated, not a shopping center gets green lighted, not a school get built, not a voting district get plotted, without factoring in race. We are not called to be fools, and only a very foolish Christian would blind himself to that which is while seeking that which should be.
Odd that you “have never heard any white Christian utter anything close to this hate speech”. I have. The more ‘evolved’ lean heavily on ‘dog whistles’ and euphemisms, but the message is clear. Anyone who works a job with white “Christians” see’s and hears examples of the bigotry that underlies the sanctimonious posturing.
Additionally, “the Colleges” do not have anyone “tricked”. People with a decent college education are rarely “tricked” as compared to those who are suspicious and afraid of higher learning. The Apostle Paul can vouch for that.
Finally, I would remind you that almost to a soul, Southern slave owners and overseers were self proclaimed “Christians”. As were many of their slaves. I fail to see how that benefited the “Christian” slaves in any way. Perhaps with your superior insight you can elucidate.
In heaven, it won’t matter. And since we are to portray the closest thing to heaven here as His representatives, it shouldn’t matter here. Essentially, this article seems to suggest that solidarity is just hidden segregation in reverse. There’s only one way to get white folk to the 401 class- go to church together.
I think it depends on what type o congregation we are talking, most people’s social circles are racially homogeneous, that’s just human nature. That said, going out of ones way to avoid any interaction w/ other races IS a problem. I’m not saying that that is what you do or that that is what all white people do. I’m not saying that it’s only white people that do it either. I’m simply saying that I do take issue w/ that. That’s no way to live. Especially as a Christian.
I have no problem with any people group enjoying the company of like minded folk who can share common experiences and traditions. This groups can be racial, cultural, social status, age, sexuality…. you name it. It’s a free country, thank God.
What I don’t like is is the hypocrisy around the prejudice that if white people congregate, that it can only be for nefarious purposes and must be condemned. This is racism.
Most importantly however: any Christian who defines himself primarily by his racial identity doesn’t understand Christ and will miss out on the meat of the gospel. Christians must be Christian FIRST, since they are not of this world.
Exceptional article! Exceptional!
Joel,Thank you for your comments. Very insightful!!
Wonderful comment. That was stated perfectly . Thank you for the insight brother!!
Even though not all churches are integrated, I do think it’s a good idea to come together for revivals, church musicals, etc at times and worship as one body because in Heaven, you are going to have every nation, tribe, people, and language-side by side.
I see where the author is coming from but I do not agree w/ EVERYTHING in the article. I’m not opposed to integrated churches nor am I opposed to racially homogeneous/ethnic churches. Of course w/ the latter, just be sure it’s a result of natural gravitation vs making others feel unwelcome. Black Christians DO have a unique experience from how they worship and from how they came into the faith to begin with. The church has been a pillar in the black community for a quite some time and sometimes it is nice to have that place where you can “let your hair down” so to speak, but at the same time, I don’t think that going out of one’s way to create a black church service is the way to go. Birds of a feather typically do flock together, that’s human nature. I reject the idea that we cannot get together as black people in an integrated setting and talk about our issues. I’m also not of the idea that there are not others who can’t relate. I don’t think [intentional] church segregation is the answer, but I also do not think that going out of ones way to see that all churches are culturally diverse needs to be priority.
Also you’ve heard of freedom of speech . Don’t warn me!!!
Thank you. I put in a,comment about that and got a racist response! IF THIS WAS ABOUT WHITE PEOPLE THEYD BE PISSED! Thank you for your comment
This article fails the test of love!!!! Turn it around ! And see how great you think it sounds.
John T. Hardie
I don’t know if you do not have anyone willing to tell you this or if you’re unwilling to listen, but as one so-called white Christian brother to another, would you please not communicate what you did to the persons who wrote and contributed to this thread. There is a very high likelihood that you’ve spoken about some things which you should not have, both because the sentiments you shared may not be shared by Christ our Lord and because you may not understand certain dynamics that our African American brothers and sisters in Christ have experienced in the past and continue to experience in our current context.
This is as kind-hearted a response as I can muster right now. If you want to talk further about why I think what you said fails the test of love, please feel free to call me 770.331.1010.
Why does everything have to be about race with black folk . We all go to church together where I am trhere is no color. We all share a common bond The Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is an awful article and an awful way to view things. But I thought all white people were racist. Sure seems the other way around. I’ve never heard any white Christian utter anything close to this hate speech. We invite everyone in we are all Gods children. Trhis is what’s messed up with the world. The colleges have you totally tricked. But keep preaching your hate speech . Everyone sees that this is the problem. You!!!!! Please feel free to respond. But the time has come . You poked with your stick long enough. Just keep being racist. I will follow my Lord. You are a fake Christian and I will pray that the Lord ma show you the way.
I’m not an advocate for excluding anyone from church based on race. That said, I don’t think church integration needs to be priority and I do not believe that the black church should change it’s customs to accommodate a white visitor. I do believe that whenever possible we should come together for things like revivals, bible studies, outreach. OTOH look at ethnic churches such as Korean churches, where the services are conducted in a native tongue. If you don’t speak the language, you cannot go. You will not know what’s going on. I don’t see integration as their primary focus, yet I don’t hear the same claims about divisiveness.
I would like to ask you to consider a couple of things, and please, please, understand that for MANY years, I made the mistake of looking at black/white issues as ‘same,same’ or ‘double standard’. The FACT of the matter is, that while it would make things more convenient, and easier to wrap our minds around, simply EXISTING in America, without any other factors applied is not the same for black people and white people. That is not a CHOICE made by black people, yet it brings shared pains of experiences and struggles that even the most loving white person (my mother 🙂 can have compassion for but could never empathize with. The sheer fact that people often pose the question of “What if white people…….” supports the statements in this article of the level of difficulty and exhaustion involved in attempting to even begin educating our brothers and sisters as to how that is comparing apples and oranges. -Especially when the comfort of pretending that ‘We’re all equal’ ‘We’re all the same’ ‘Life is really the same for you as it is for me’ causes so much resistance by many of (yes) our beloved brothers and sisters, to even acknowledge that this is MILES from the truth.
I would urge you to, NOT look at it in a way of feeling excluded. That is not the heart of this, and it is what the enemy would erroneously have it appear to be.
Please Consider this:
I have been affiliated with the military my entire life. My father and sister both retired from the Air Force, my husband and I met in Korea while serving in the Army, and he is still active duty, and served in combat in Afghanistan twice. While I have loved ones of ALL professions and backgrounds, there is a certain bond through shared experiences I have with others who did not grow up with established roots, and who were often without a parent who was serving overseas for extended periods. There are people in MY OWN FAMILY with whom I would not have this bond. That does not mean I love them any less. Even more so, my husband served in a dangerous combat environment, where he experienced bombings, witnessed death, and many other complexities of being away from family, dealing with hopeless soldiers many suicides. Although I am a veteran myself, I never endured that environment or experiences myself. I had to come to grips with the fact that there are other people with whom he shares the bond of those experiences, and not me. I can listen, understand, and have compassion, but it is not the same effect as reuniting occasionally with those who KNOW those same experiences. My willingness to be understanding of this, and even accommodating, rather than choosing contention, has helped our marriage to THRIVE. I had to trust God with my own fears and feelings, for my husband to have what he needs to be healthy for ALL of our family’s benefit.
Blessings to you, Brother, as WE ALL seek the Lord to understand each other better. John 13:35
As not just a white person but also a human being, I am wildly offended by this article.
I mean, c’mon! There has been plenty of great R&B in the 00’s! Did the 90’s have a Jazmine Sullivan?
That’s all. The rest of the article was interesting and informative from a perspective I hadn’t heard before.
Can I just say, wow! I didn’t know people actually had conversations like this. I feel like a child in a room full of grown-ups. So, I will just sit over here on the side, listen, and learn.
John T. Hardie
840 Dockbridge Way
Applaud this man, for he gets it. Loved the India part; that’s the essence. If commenters simply put themselves in THAT situation, they’d get it too. No one said “start a NEW church; segregate services”. Being black in a PWC is sacrificial and MISSIONS. If Tisby was truly divisive he’d say “leave the PWC and go back to historically segregated BECAUSE OF white supremacy – black church”. Interesting how he never says this
The need Tisby highlights diminishes with white evangelicals championing racial and cultural EQUITY. Until then, stop throwing stones from ivory towers of inequity where “other” is expected to assimilate or go home
Scott M Roney
How is it “divisive” to be afraid of losing your distinctive culture?
There is a consistent trend in these comments. White people who have never been a minority are highly critical of Tisby, while those who have actually experienced life as a minority (in another culture) completely understand him. The former are speaking out of ignorance – and the most ignorant people usually have the biggest mouths – while the latter speak out of their knowledge.
I lived overseas for 3 years, including a year in India. I absolutely loved it, and (in contrast to some of those posting here) I never experienced discrimination. Yet, at times I still longed to be around fellow Americans, eating a hamburger and watching football and listening to modern rock. Growing up in Kansas, I always thought it was weird that black people needed to “escape” and just hang out together, but now I get it. Sometimes, you just need to be around people who understand your culture and have shared your experiences.
P.S. You are absolutely right about 90s R&B.
The problem with your argument is that it’s no better than the Jim Crow laws you condemn. I want you to try to reverse your description of black segregation for white segregation. What would your experience be? If a white man said, “I need to get away from my black neighbors because they don’t know what it’s like “”being white.”” I’d assume you’d be furious. You’d be writing in your blog on “the problems of racism” in our country and I’d join your cause. The problem with your argument above is that you do the very thing whites in the South did in prior to Jim Crow. Their very argument was “Blacks are different than us. We really don’t want to share our water fountains, our schools, or our bathroom. We’re ok getting rejuvenated in our churches and then reengage with those people again. But right now, we’d like to around our own race.” That’s the problem with your argument and therefore, you’re application is no better. But, most concerning, it’s anti-gospel. The gospel does not allow us to hide away in our own characteristics. The gospel does not allow us to hide behind our ethnic traits and refuse eating the Lord’s supper with every race, creed, and nation. The gospel unites us in that we are all sinners, made in his image, and saved by his blood. The gospel does not allow us to do what you’re asking and I’m so thankful for that!
The African-American Church has a strong history and has done much good in the cause of Civil Rights. Certainly one cannot ignore the links between social justice and the history of the African-American Church. I have to say that I am intrigued by some of the claims in this article– and I am someone who is converting to Judaism.
“We want places to lament when the next unarmed black person is killed by law enforcement. We want “amens” from people who understand what it’s like when a classmate or co-woker insinuates that your presence is only due to affirmative action. We want to say “That’s my jam!” when someone mentions a nineties R&B song (clearly the best era for this genre). We want to talk about what it’s like to be a black believer in a white Christian congregation.”
This sounds to me like concerns about political/social realities in America. But does the author not believe that Christianity has the solutions to these issues? Is there not a difference between a discussion of Christian theology and politicial/social realities– and shouldn’t the root of solutions come from the author’s face? In which case, wouldn’t it be better for all Christians to work for this aim?
“White people may never fully comprehend the downside of integration for black people. We can only hope our white brothers and sisters will assume and believe the best of us, and celebrate our attempts at forging black community instead of impeding them. Although black people are going to find a way to gather with one another anyway, the understanding from white Christians would facilitate racial harmony.”
Would the author see some disconnect between pointing out that white people do not understand the black experience, and then requiring mono-racial settings which will not facilitate that understanding? Again, does the author not believe that Christianity alone has the solution for these divisions in understanding? The faith itself is supposed to transcend the reality of existence, and have the final answer?
I’m interested to hear the author’s thoughts, or those of anyone who agrees with him. I have a lot of respect for the African-American Church, given its history. So I wouldn’t completely reject the premise of this article. However, as a black British woman, I have complete faith in Judaism as a guide to life, and wish to associate with Jews who practice and live those values. Those values will have a positive effect on time.
John T. Hardie
Brian, will you click on this link and take a look at this? It’s Nina Simone’s version of “Strange Fruit”
In the Christian community, we all understand what it feels like to be sinned against. We all understand the constant struggle against bitterness. We all understand the sorrow of loss, persecution, and injustice. You may think blacks have a long history of these things, but Christians have suffered longer and more deeply as Christians than blacks have as blacks. Only abysmal ignorance of church history could dare to claim otherwise.
By all means, get together with people you consider to have shared experiences, there is no sin in that. No one said you had to only show hospitality to white church members. You are free to get together with anyone you want, and no one is entitled to your hospitality at any particular time. Who exactly thinks you’re racist for having only black friends over? I suggest that’s a completely unfounded assumption on your part. But with all that freedom and liberty granted, I have to call you out on one thing. If you find more community and identity in your ethnicity than you do in the body of Christ, it is incontestable from a biblical perspective that something is drastically wrong, and it cannot ALL be in your church.
I’ve re-read the article and have changed my mind. I agree with it now.
Jemar, I listened to your seminar at the PCA General Assembly in Mobile last year and thought it was very thoughtful and very good.
This post is about as far from that seminar as I can imagine. What has happened?????
You’re good my brother. Hadn’t read your post at the time of my post. Having read it now, you’re spot and I agree with you 100%. Frankly, it is your thinking that WOULD allow ME (speaking for myself only) a sigh of relief, and the ability to be vulnerable, because your words indicate you have a pretty good comprehension and humility on the subject. This disposition mitigates exhaustion, allowing for deeper fellowship. Bless you brother, thank you, love you in Jesus name
Thank you that is true. We must always remember to use scripture as the plumb line for our thoughts and ideas. It’s easy to be sincerely wrong with good intentions.
Thank you Joe as that is exactly what I was thinking but you laid it out better than I could. As an African American woman and new to the reformed faith I hear what the article is saying but I do disagree strongly on some points. I go to a predominately white church and do I long sometimes for the comfort that comes around being with someone that understands me and my struggles as a black woman…of course! However, what I feel the Lord is teaching me that is of way more importance is the unity of suffering among the believers as a whole. If you seek out those of like kind suffering then you get temporal comfort but you miss the greater comfort of unity in the body and the much greater picture of seeing that my struggle is really no different than my brother or sister in Christ’s struggle and that I can seek to find common ground in the suffering and in that be united in Christ as co-sufferers. THAT to me is far superior. Sometimes it’s not a question of what’s good vs. what’s bad but what is good vs. what is EXCELLENT. To deny myself a lesser comfort in order for God to give me a supernatural comfort not of my own doing in a way I would not expect both heightens my sanctification process of self-denial and regarding others more highly than myself. It is tempting at times to leave any situation where you feel alone and misunderstood but that’s no different than marriage. If you’re not careful you will seek things outside of your marriage on the basis of commonality and end up dividing your relationship, however well-intentioned. Let God stir the hearts of other races to seek to understand the “black experience” but as for me my job is to seek to understand others above myself. If it’s not reciprocated that is not my concern as I am following the Lord and not man. I will be richer for the experience. My goal is not to get my brothers and sisters to understand the black experience and my need to find others “like me” so I can survive in this temporal world…but to love them openly and fully with the love of Christ and lay down my life for them and spur them on to good works so we can cross the finish line in this race. That race is the only race that matters. Can this be addressed at some point, yes maybe, if we get the most important thing right..and the American church has a lot more to worry about than race relations or racial harmony or racial compassion and understanding. If we preach the Gospel we’ll have no need to put out all these insignificant fires.
John T. Hardie
John G., just to clarify, I did not intend to imply the one way street of assimilation is a good thing. I was naming the dynamic only in the sense of “unfortunately.” So the line “African Americans are called to….” – I can understand that may have been confusing. I meant it in terms of an unfortunate reality/necessity because of widespread indifference on the part of the so-called white church. I do not believe African Americans are obligated to adjust and assimilate to majority white churches. And your suggestion is spot on – Caucasians need to start asking why they do not more frequently place themselves under the spiritual leadership of black pastors. I honestly have no earthly idea why more whites do not reconize and value the Black Church tradition as unquestionably evidencing far more spiritual maturity and depth of Christian commitment than the so-called white church in America. An African American coach led me to Christ in high school then in 1987 the Rev. Sylvester Crooms, Sr. baptized me into a Missionary Baptist congregation in Tuscaloosa, AL. In 2003 I had a seminar with Cornel West in 2003 then sat in a seminar with Eddie Glaude in 2015. Both reintroduced me to African American thinkers Du Bois, King, Cone, James Baldwin, etc… Frankly, I have no idea why African Americans would find white American theological thinkers esp of the evangelical stripe anywhere comparable to the depth and richness of the African American intellectual tradition. The fact that the majority of white pastors have not already drawn the same conclusion is indicative of how poor a job we do training our future pastors at places like RTS, TEDS, SBCs. I am not finding fault with any African American who for a sundry of various reasons might find themselves in a predomimately white church. But let’s all be very clear – there is so much for the so-called white church in America (esp the American evangelical church tradition!) has so much to learn from the Black Church tradition. The Black Church tradition is of course not perfect – Eddie Glaude’s essay a few years raised some eyebrows – but unfortunately the white church continues to be severely impoverished.
I fail to see where the author advocates a new church,
Subchurch within, etc. If we really believed that, we’d never stepped foot in a PWC since we have plenty of historically black churches to begin with. And you do know why we have black churches right? We weren’t wanted! Please understand any black person in a PWC is truly honoring love of the saints because they mostly likely came from a black church experience. I don’t think they’d leave that just to ‘segregate’ again. Pointless. Open your hearts and listen. Sidenote: who from dominate culture is do the work of Jesus by leaving their comfort, and joining a black church for the sake of gospel unity?
A lot of these comments rest upon the expectation that minorities entering PW churches should assimilate or acculturate. Please, ponder and unpack that with Christ like humility. Consider counting it not robbery to lay aside privilege and be missional in understanding black American culture. Again, for emphasis, missional. The luxury of dominate culture is you get to be your natural self, and that’s normative. What’s unfortunate about other demographics, specifically blacks, is our normal, parallel to THE normal, is judged and condemned. This creates conflict: water down my natural black self for the sake of palatabilty? EXHAUSTING. Hence this article.
Imagine God calls you on long term missions to a culture foreign to your own. You go and serve gladly. Do you think you’d find it a rejuvenating comfort if perchance an American with your identical culture were to come and you have opportunity to be…YOUR NATURAL SELF… without any effort because they… just… get it? Really imagine that
“surely can’t we care about such experiences in the context of a church community?”
It would be difficult to if we practice the racial separatism proposed by the author.
John T. Hardie
Thank you, Jemar. Reading thru the comments above, I doubt seriously Jemar intended to suggest or promote an essentialized racial imaginary where “white” and “black” are monolithic, fixed categories. Certainly he’s not referring simply to skin color – the experience he’s described just is a felt necessity because of widespread social construction of race in the U.S. As I read some of the comments, James Baldwin’s essay “On Being White…and Other Lies” came to mind. At some level we white folks must have enough courage and love to be willing to deconstruct or question our assumptions re the idol / ideology of whiteness. Unfortunately the vast majority of white churches – or to use King’s phrase, the “so-called white church” – are not necessarily sinful because they’re racially and socio-economically monocultural – this is more of a matter of impoverishment. The really helpful reality to which Jemar has given us an open window to see and feel and experience is that unfortunately racial integration in churches too often is a one-way assimilation street: African Americans are called to adjust and accomodate to the larger majority. I appreciate a brother telling me such experience can be, at times, exhausting. May Christ the only Head of the Church one day bring about a whole bunch of “white” and integrated congregations who do lament “How long, O Lord?” on the Sunday morning after an unarmed black man has been shot and killed by police. Our Lord Christ Jesus who himself sat in prison does care about such experiences of injustice and the kind of dehumanized suffering experienced under the lived conditions of the new Jim Crow (see Michelle Alexander). For every critic of Jemar’s post, can I ask whether we as white brothers and sisters can find enough love to care about such experiences in our present context in the U.S., and at the very least, surely can’t we care about such experiences in the context of a church community? If not, we may find that instead of really caring about being Reformed according to Scripture we’re actually uttering, implicitly and silently of course, something closely akin to echoes of the cold-hearted question of indifference, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (we all do realize that wasn’t included in the text to honor Cain, right?). Godspeed to Jemar Tisby and all who care about such matters, believing love demands they cannot simply look the other way
I’ve listened on other occassions to your podcast and have cheered you on as a Chicano, but this is absurd on many levels. On a philosophical level, there is no monolithic black identity, I would argue that there are commonalities among people of color, but what does it mean to be black? Black existentialism has challeneged the notion the black identity is concrete or fixed. We are becoming. There is facticity but we are also Becoming. Furthermore, what of an interacial couple? Should they go to seperate services? What of women? They have a unique experience as embodied female, should they have their own churches? There is so much to say about this, but I simply end by saying this is sad. No need to divide the body of Christ to share cultural experiences. I say this as a Latino, a person of color.
Hey Mark I really appreciate your thoughts, and I think they do contribute to the conversation, because you’re bringing the Word to bear, which is refreshing.
I wonder if we can read into Paul’s words concerning his Jewish brothers “they are of great comfort to me specifically because they are Jewish and therefore can minister to me in ways non-Jews cannot. The Gentiles drag down my spirit, and having oppressed the Jews for generations, they don’t get their Gentile privilege, and I’m exhausted telling them about it. So because they comfort me in ways only Jews can, I’m glad at least these few are along with me or I’d be in really bad shape.” Is that what Paul was getting at?
If so, then I’d say your argument carries great weight. There would need to be a logical connection in Paul’s mind between the Jewish brother’s race and a ministry to him specifically that only they could perform because they were Jews. I’m not sure it’s there but it’d be worthwhile to hash it out.
As a black man that attends a well integrated church I find this to be a most excellent point and a great find in the scriptures.
Hi Jemar, as a white Christian with Reformed leanings, I thank you for this article, and for this website. I believe the best of you. What you have stated makes total sense.
To my other fellow white commentators who love the Bible, but are not seeing the point that Jemar is making…consider the case of the Apostle Paul. The parallel I’m about to point out is not perfect, but it is still there. Paul was a cross-cultural living Christian. Check out Colossians 4:7-18. Paul is talking about his ministry team. Paul is a Jew, ministering in a majority Greek context, with the sheep being Greek, and most of his fellow workers being Greek as well. Paul name drops two Greek brothers in verses 7-8. And verses 10-11 are the KEY. Paul mentions Aristarchus, Mark, and Justus and states, “These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me.” Men of the circumcision = Jews. And then in verses 12-18 he goes on to name drop 5 other Greek fellow workers.
Paul makes public to all of the Colossian Christians (vast majority being Greek) that these 3 right here are the ONLY Jews among his fellow workers, and they have been a comfort to him. Wow! How insensitive and divisive Paul! My Greek feelings are hurt! No, Paul loves his Greek brethren, but as a long-time minority, he draws a particular or different kind of comfort from his fellow Jews. And he is prepared to let his Greek audience in on that.
Paul loves Christ above everything, and his actions & life have shown his love for his Greek brothers. And yet Paul can still draw comfort from his fellow Jewish workers…while acknowledging that they are all part of something bigger with the Greeks in the Kingdom of God.
Check out Romans 9:1-5 and 10:1-4. Hear Paul’s natural and very human love for his people. Christ has of course called Paul to focus his apostolic labors on the Gentiles, and he evangelizes, loves, and advocates for his Gentile brothers within the wider Body of Christ, but Paul never stops cherishing his birth culture and ethnic people.
Thank you for the blog post, Jemar. I hope my comment proves helpful to the discussion.
This was a good piece and I feel like I learned a good deal by reading it. I think you make very good points and while I can never fully appreciate the needs you describe as a member of the majority, I do my best to empathize.
In thinking about my own group though, the recurring problem is how ignorant we are of minority experiences and issues. And while we should be doing more to rectify that, I think the most effective means of addressing that problem is via direct personal interaction with people of color, and the church is one of if not the best space for that to happen. We can read things and talk amongst ourselves about racial issues, but very few people will have their eyes opened to the experiences of plights of people of color that way. The vast majority will simply reinforce their pre-conceived notions in an echo chamber. Face to face relationships are what change people’s hearts.
Your points about the necessity of rejuvenation still stand though, so it may be entirely unfair to place that need for integration on people of color. I don’t know how we can balance these two needs. I want to be respectful of your needs but I also desperately want the body of Christ in America to achieve racial understanding and empathy. So while we as the majority need to respect the need for minority spaces, please don’t give up entirely on integrated worship spaces. However difficult and tiring those integrated spaces may be, they are so crucial to understanding ourselves, each other, and God.
I love everybody in my church. Church gatherings are always a blessing, but like any spiritual discipline, they usually require work in order to be beneficial. This is particularly true in small fellowship groups or Sunday school classes that are made up of a cross-section of the congregation. I often have to remind myself that in spite of a lack of natural affinity, I am bound to these people by faith in Christ and our membership vows.
But I also have a few close friends in the church. I sometimes meet with them exclusively in private gatherings. Being with them is not work. In addition to our common faith, we have all the natural affinities and chemistry of friendship. With them I am completely at ease and feel free to discuss anything on my mind. After time with my close Christian friends I feel rejuvenated.
Our Lord Jesus had the three with whom he sometimes pulled away from the larger group. With them he seemed to have been more open and at ease. We may wonder at his wisdom of in doing this. Did it offend the other nine or hurt their feelings? He was a sinless man so we know it was not wrong.
But it does seem to me wise to keep gatherings with close church friends a private matter. Don’t hide your friendships, but in broader church gatherings, don’t talk too much about those exclusive times and how good they make you feel. Also, in broader church gatherings, make every effort to talk to and fellowship with church members who are not part of your circle of close friends.
, I feel am completely at ease and feel free to discuss any matter.
I hope you and the family are doing well! I have always considered myself to be unapologetically black and unapologetically christian. Thank you for capturing the intersectionality of our faith in Christ, and our historical and contextual realities as black people in America. The various comments that I’ve read from some of the individuals on this post, clearly demonstrates how our faith has been used to systemically de-culturalize and invalidate our God-given identities and experiences as people of African descent. In addition, for anyone to make claims about your thoughts being “divisive” without acknowledging the legacy of white supremacy in this country and in the church, is to be historically dishonest. Yes, “It IS impossible to survive as a black person in America without rejuvenation from people with shared experiences.” The church can not chapter-and-verse away the trans-generational trauma that you’ve described here. Thanks again bro!
Jemar. Man. This was one of your tougher reads. I don’t want this to be true. I don’t want you to need to renew/refresh. I want this to be different than it is. I want to hop up on my extremely high horse and tell you how your wrong, how we’re the same, how you’re being divisive. But I’m not, because that’s not true. Thanks for the truth. Thanks for sharing your true experience. I don’t like hearing this, but we need to, and I appreciate you saying it.
Reformed?? Hardly. Proud? Ready for a fall are we? Free? Free of/from what?
I’m not being obtuse here, but perhaps the author should put down his pen for a few months, and start reading again beginning in Matthew. Stop at Jude.
Seriously…black Christians, white Christians, segregating, causing division? I do not think by your words you qualify for the title of Christian Sir. There is no Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free. If you are concerned more with the amount of a chemical in your skin vs the One who supposedly lives inside you, you have some serious repenting to do as well as some SERIOUS soul searching.
I’ll say not more, but really, if for you its all about your blackness, the may I suggest a group more your speed, like the Black Hebrew Israelite.
I think one of the things that is frustrating with Mr. Tisby’s writing is his lack of specifics. There seem to be some potentially serious implications, but not any formal statement about what he actually means. When you are start talking about dividing up believers within the same (physical) church by race, I think that certainly calls for some specific recommendations. Mr. Tisby never actually says what he truly means when he talks about”forging black community” or “publicize your intent to only gather with black people” within the local church.
When I read this article I can only come up with two situations that he is talking about.
1. Mr. Tisby is talking about black people getting together outside of church, in an informal (not official church sanctioned) setting. For example, a group of black Christians from a Predominantly White But Integrated Church (PWBIC) gets together at someone’s house for dinner, meets up for coffee, goes to a ball game/plays golf/etc.
2. Mr. Tisby means that the PWBIC should have formal, church sanctioned events just for black people (or maybe all people of color, he was not clear on this). For example, a sunday school for only black folks, a minority only women’s group, a blacks only pot luck lunch, etc.
If Mr. Tisby is talking about option 1, then I don’t think I (or most people) would have an issue with that. I am sure that black people are not totally at home in a PWBIC for a variety reasons (like the ones that Mr. Tisby laid out). If I (as a white guy) went to an AME church, I imagine it would not always be “comfortable” for me either and I would probably want someone from a similar background to hang out with from time to time. I think there could be a concern about ending up with two separate churches inside of one church in this scenario, but generally speaking, I think Option 1 is reasonable (and probably already happens).
Option 2, in my humble opinion, would be very problematic for several reasons:
1. Practically speaking, how would this work? Who gets to go to a black/minority event? Is it for only black people? Are all minorities invited? What if you are half Mexican/half white? What about a couple with a black husband and a white wife? What about a white couple that has adopted black children? If a white person shows up, does the church discipline this person?
2. I can’t imagine most white pastors would be real excited about doing this. I can only imagine the local newspaper headlines (“White Church Starts Blacks Only Sunday School Class: Says Blacks Need Some Space Away from White People for their Own Good”). A white pastor may not feel comfortable creating intentionally segregated events (history has not been kind to this general idea).
3. I’m not convinced that this strengthens the local church. I have a hard time believing that formally segregating one group of believers from another because one group is “exhausting” to the other is a good thing. It’s possible that I am wrong, but I don’t see how a church saying “Group A gets annoyed/exhausted by Group B and so they are going to have separate ‘space’ just for them) is going to lead to unity. Is this type of deliberate race segregation something that happens in the Church throughout the world and throughout church history or is this primarily with Black Christians in America?
I believe that articles like this should almost always end with a paragraph that starts with … “and so this is how this would look in the local church”. But we don’t see this here. We see a potentially divisive implication (black people need their own (formally recognized?) spaces in a PWBIC) without really unpacking what that actually looks like on the ground, in the local church, which is very frustrating.
Perhaps my concerns to option 2 are wrong (wouldn’t be the first time I am wrong). If so, Mr. Tisby should share how to get around those concerns (not because they are mine, but because those concerns are going to be pretty universal to PWBIC. Perhaps he (or readers of this blog) can give us examples of how this has been done in other PWBIC.
Jemar, I think you’ve touched on some of the paradox of the racial problems and solutions in American churches today. After listening to you, reading your articles, and just finishing Divided by Faith, the conclusion I had come to was that white christians needed to do more to re-integrate into black communities. That means moving into different neighborhoods and start attending predomoninantly black churches. That was the boiled down solution presented in DbF. The purpose, ultimately, was to help white christains to better understand and empathize with the black experience and the black christian experience in particular.
If that happens and large numbers of white Christians do that, doesn’t that reduce the number of places that black christians can meet as a common group? And how does your article square with that possible outcome?
I do get the part about being quiet and listening. But at some point, action should follow the listening. Right now, it feels like mixed messages.
Hey Jemar- thanks for your thoughts. Totally understand and appreciate your feelings on this. If I ever find myself as a minority (racially, religiously or otherwise) in a setting, it is comforting to find those few others that are “like me”.
I’m thankful that you have a refreshing group of friends to turn to when you’re exhausted.
Thank you for writing this. I will never know completely what you go through as an African American in America. But I believe I understand a little of what you speak about. I lived in Japan for two years. While there, I worshiped at the only evangelical church in my small village. There were about 10 of us who would gather each week (3 of those who attended were the pastor, his wife, and their young son…the rest were elderly Japanese women). The entire service was in Japanese (which was appropriate…I was in their country after all.) I understood about 25% of what was said. The pastor labored hard to translate the main points of his sermon into hand written, broken English (which I greatly appreciated). They usually fed me lunch after the service (traditional Japanese food). And I was thankful. On Sunday afternoons I would board the first of several trains I would need to ride in order to get to Kobe. I went to the huge city because there was a large (about 150 people which was huge by Japanese standards), English Speaking, Baptist church. It was refreshing to talk to people who were from America. It was nice singing songs that I knew, in English. I understood the whole sermon. It was relaxing and refreshing. It was a little oasis in my week. I even got to eat at a Kentucky Fried Chicken that was close to the train station! I loved Sunday evenings! It gave me the strength to head back to my little Japanese town and begin a new week. I would face some discrimination and lots of loneliness because I was reminded on a daily basis that I was different. I stood out. I was an “outside” person (Gai-jin). I know this is not the same, but it has given me a little window to empathize. I appreciate the stand you have taken and pray others will be able to see and understand without immediately thinking it is racism. I know it wasn’t racism that lead me to attend that English speaking church in Kobe each week. I also know that it helped me immensely while I lived there because I was able to relax and be completely at “home” once a week.
“To avoid complete fatigue, black Christians sometimes seek out occasions to be with other black people and not have white people around judging or questioning their lived reality….. It’s very hard to explain to white people, “This is not for you…
First, you don’t want to be accused of being racist. It’s very hard to explain to white people, “This is not for you.” They will see you as moving backwards in race relations. Additionally, even if you do manage to gather with just black people, if white people find out they may want to join you. Again, how do you say, “This is not for you,” without being perceived as anti-white? If you publicize your intent to only gather with black people, that only brings more questions and condemnation from those who don’t understand the need for black solidarity.
Many often fail to understand the need for black Christians to gather alone and interpret this as a form of re-segregation and racism. They’ll ask, “If the gospel unites people of every nation and tribe, then why do black Christians insist on excluding white people?””
Now… just substitute the word “white” for “black” and imagine the response. Right? Its apparently fine to have black only singles groups, black only gatherings of Christians, but try and say “whites only” and what will happen?
There are far too many double standards at work in our society. If we want to end racism, and we should, then we need to work towards eliminating racism of all kinds in principle, no matter where it comes from. If white fragility is a thing, then these kinds of double standards are examples of black fragility. You cannot have it both ways, one standard for one group of people, and another standard for someone else. When you try and insist on double standards, its glaringly obvious to see it for what it is, racism, and just adds to the problem instead of helping to solve it.
Hi Jemar, I replied to this article here: https://biblebased.wordpress.com/2017/08/22/an-open-reply-to-jemar-tisby-and-the-downside-of-integration-for-black-christians/
I’d be interested in getting your thoughts if you ever have the time.
The author wrote:
“It is impossible to survive as a black person in America without rejuvenation from people with shared experiences.”
This is quite simply, hogwash. And utterly incompatible with the Bible. Ephesians 1:3 – “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places”.
The Christian, be they black or white or any other shade of race, has everything they need in the Spiritual blessings of Christ. We lack nothing. To assert that black Christians, or anyone else for that matter, needs something apart from what God has provided in Christ through the Spirit, is a false and spiritually harmful doctrine. To teach a black believer that they need this extra thing is to lead them down a misleading path.
Interesting assumption and presumption about other people.
Why do you presume ‘white people’ don’t believe people of other skin shades have something to contribute?
And again, a rather broad assumption that white people think blacks people only contribute to music, sports and dancing.
Have you considered it could be your own ‘assumptions of what you think white people think, and not what they actually DO think’ could be part of the problem?
You write, “We can only hope our white brothers and sisters will assume and believe the best of us…”. Well, we hope you start believing the best in us too. Cuz it sure feels like you don’t.
Your writings seem more and more divisive. No thanks.
Asking questions is an expression of active, engaged listening.
This piece is a good read and heartfelt – but – shouldn’t we be united as one church to bear each other’s burdens and exercise accountability? If not, shouldn’t we at least be heading in that direction? Christ’s shed blood was red as is the blood of each of us. Separatism isn’t a cure. Nor is segregation. Praying for peace as we seek common ground instead of division.
And here you are, confirming the exact thing that Jemar is talking about. Amazing how a person of color can’t explain his or her experience without at least one white dude piping in to invalidate said experience.
So, from one white guy to another: learn to be quiet and listen.
If the results of integration are that people of color find themselves in a place of white cultural dominance, fatigue and the need to retreat a bit from time to time makes absolute sense. Here’s my question: if a church became more integrated because white Christians sought to be at home in black churches (under the headship of predominately black pastors and elders, without seeking any accomodations from the church), would that fatigue exist?
I’m asking because in my own church tradition, efforts at bringing white and black congregations together have too often meant black churches being welcomed into white spaces, and when churches have merged, the results have been shared leadership among black and white leaders. But the result is a congregation culture that feels normal and like “home” for white Christians but isn’t “home” for folks who grew up in African American churches. I’ve wondered if a racially unified church shouldn’t mean white Christians surrendering comfort and culture and submitting to the leadership, worship styles, preaching and teaching of churches planted and led by black leaders. (No doubt some might feel nervous about a bunch of white people coming to their church without the church’s express invitation. It might feel a bit colonial.)
I appreciate the authenticity of the writer, and do not question his intergrity or intentions. I think he means well, even though I am conflicted in my feelings and reactions to the article. If, as a white person, I felt the need to get away from my fellow black parishioners to be in a safe space with fellow whites, to renew each other, I would think something deeply was wrong with us. This would not have been considered ok. Our brothers and sisters in Christ are not our “white brothers” or our “black sisters”, we are supposed to be one. But the feelings the author has are real, the issues, the concerns, but what if instead of suppressing them and taking them to a safe space, why not share them? Why not bring them to the worship service, or speak them from the pulpit? I’m not a very holy person, and have strayed from the church in my own life so take anything I say with a sin of salt. But when I was active in my church, to know my brothers in Christ needed time away from me because of my race, to know they felt that way about themselves, that they felt that way about me, would have made me very sad.
“We are all entitled to our opinion but somewhere along the way I think the author needs to put on Gospel lenses.”
Yes! This was definitely the #1 omission.
Thanks for sharing this. I spent the past 3 years in Haiti. For 2 years I preached an English service at a Haitian Church that was translated into Creole. After 2 years my family was completely exhausted from trying to integrate into a culture that was never going to accept us. Our skin color marked us everywhere we went and our church was no exception. We finally had to pull back and began meeting with a small English speaking church for the spiritual health of our family. All the other people were meeting there for the same reason and we began to build each other up so that we could go back out into the culture God had called us to minister to. I have now moved back to the US and have s fresh perspective. I know there are things I will never understand fully because it was my choice to live as a white man among a black culture with my family and had the option to leave at any time. However the racism and hate that I and my family experienced was real and painful. I now have a fresh perspective with a sensitivity I’ve never had before. I understand your need to pull back into a “safe” culture to recover. I’ve had to do it myself.
We are all entitled to our opinion but somewhere along the way I think the author needs to put on Gospel lenses. When our white brothers and sisters in Christ say and write stuff like this we automatically consider them a racist. The Gospel is not supposed to make us comfortable and I should find my rest in Christ and encouragement and strength in all my brothers and sisters in Christ. I think we need to start looking around the globe and outside of America, we are not the only ones suffering. If we reduce this to an us vs them, then we are doing what satan wants and following the prince of the air, just saying
Wow! I lot of white fragile feelings on display in these comments. We don’t have all the answers – we don’t even know all the questions!
Men – do we insist on being a part of the women’s ministry? Ladies – are you leading the Men’s Fellowship Breakfast?
Are how many of us 50+ year olds want that 15 year old kid who got saved in youth camp 6 weeks ago and is feeling a calling from God to preach to us about ‘how to walk deeper with the Lord’?
Not all of us are hands or feet or toes or kidneys…but we are all part of the Body of Christ. When the kidneys or colon are doing their very important thing – I don’t want the toes interfering.
So let’s let our black sisters and brother decompress from the noise of Modern America if it’s needed…..
We all need it….we just don’t like to admit it….it might show we have need.
Christ is the root that produces the fruit of true reconciliation. But in your call for black Christian separatism you remove the opportunity to gather together and be sent out together in the name of Christ.
You say, “Gathering in a mono-racial setting is only temporary. Afterwards, we go back out into a world where we are the minority, and where our presence is often considered a problem.” Establishing churches as mono-racial settings effectively leaves integrated spaces everywhere BUT the church, the one body committed to the only true source of reconciliation in this world.
You wrote, “But being in such spaces makes it difficult for black people to experience the same kind of solidarity and community we would have in a black church context.” This could only be true if you hold black solidarity in higher regard than Christian solidarity. Otherwise our solidarity and community in Christ trumps all other forms.
“Many often fail to understand the need for black Christians to gather alone and interpret this as a form of re-segregation and racism.” Yes. Its probably more accurate to say “recognize” this as a form of re-segregation and racism.
You concluded with, “Although black people are going to find a way to gather with one another anyway, the understanding from white Christians would facilitate racial harmony.” Would this not merely be a “separate but equal” form of racial harmony which would be a very flimsy facsimile of harmony?
Is it not possible to find renewal by gathering with other black Christians apart from establishing black separatism in the church? Should our primary identity be found in Christ or our race? If its in Christ then perhaps our primary communities, churches, could be integrated while establishing secondary bodies as racially separate?
Just wanted to say thank you for your wisdom!
Perhaps you are making a “thing” out of skin tone when what you really want to focus on is “shared experience.” All the pups in a litter share a common experience, but they may not all be the same color. Some dogs are treated like family, and some are treated like hired hands, but they all got sustenance from the same mother, and frolicked with one another as they learned the essential survival skills of barking, biting, attacking, and defending. At the end of the day, it was back to the litter, back to mother, back to back with multicolored siblings.
A particular irony was the one black family in the (white) First Baptist Church in this college town. At the time, mine was the only non-black family in the (black) Second Baptist Church, so I was interested in this man’s story. He felt more at home in the white church because it was Southern Baptist, and his Christian experience had been bound up with Southern Baptist missionaries to Africa by means of which his family had been introduced to Christ.
The shared rituals, music, doctrine, order of worship, etc., of the Southern Baptist denomination were more compelling to him than the shared skin color of those people in the black church.
[It was another irony that many in the white church were made uncomfortable by the presence of a black family that was a product of their own efforts to fulfill the great commission! But that is besides the point.]
“It is impossible to survive as a black person in America without rejuvenation from people with shared experiences.”
Brother this sounds divisive. It sounds like, and even uses some of the same verbiage as the logic for “safe spaces” that the snowflakes need. Is it biblical? Please show me if it is.
Churches get lectures for not being diverse enough. This article indicates diversity is a drain on our black brothers and sisters, at least a diverse church without racially exclusive sub-communities. So white people are told they’re hurtful if we don’t reach out to black people, and now we’re hurtful if we embrace them, because they really need to be together in a white-free zone.
This doesn’t seem to glorify the gospel as creating a God-ordained church community that is all-sufficient for all our various needs. God places the members in the church as He desires, creating a gathering of worshipers who need each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
Sadly, I suppose this comment only serves to further affirm that we “don’t get it” and contributes to your “complete fatigue.” What should we do? Walk away?
You answered that: “even if you do manage to gather with just black people, if white people find out they may want to join you.” God forbid!
Safe spaces aren’t the answer you’re looking for. They’re not the answer for anything, especially places safe from your brothers and sisters who are just too dense to get your own sorrows. Give the rest of your kindred in Christ some credit: they’d get it if they could, and sometimes they’re trying to gently tell you that maybe your vision needs some clarity too.
interesting article……In my opinion use true togetherness will not come until white people believe in their hearts that all colors have something to contribute….the problems is that we are all raised to believe that the white way is the best way. This is not true because God made different colors because we all have something to contribute in this word…..And for Black people it is not just music, sports and dancing.