Why haven’t you left yet?
Dear Black Christian in a predominantly white or “multiethnic” church,
I want to start by saying that I value you. I don’t look down on you because I grew up in the Black Church and currently attend a Black church. I’m not trying to be one of those “woker-than-thou” types who refuse to consider any nuance in a given situation.
I admit that I probably don’t know you, your church, your particular circumstances, or the reasons you worship there. Your church might be a wonderful place full of caring people. The white members of your congregation might be “doing the work” of antiracism and making sure that your place of worship is both life-giving and safe for you. I hope that is the situation you’re in and that people aren’t merely paying lip service while catering to white fragility.
For almost a decade now, we’ve seen the rebirth of a Black Civil Rights Movement and a renewed conversation about racism and injustice in our society. This cultural conversation has brought out the worst in the white American church. We have seen white Christian Nationalism raise its ugly head. Black pastors are leaving white-dominated denominations, and the denominations are doubling down on whiteness.
You should count yourself blessed if you’ve never had a single adverse racial experience with the white people at your church or if church leaders handled such incidents well. My inclination, however, is that if you have spent any length of time in a predominantly white or multiethnic church context, you have probably seen, heard, and read things from people that you worship with that make your heart grieve. Lots of Black folks have left white and multiethnic churches because of difficult and traumatic experiences.
If you’re in a church where you continually have to educate, redirect, and pretend that you don’t see or aren’t hurt by racism, I have to question your relationship with such an institution. I understand that no one is perfect and that there are issues in every congregation, but why continue worshipping in a place where people are free to harm you? Long-suffering is the fruit of the spirit, but Jesus also told us to cut our losses and go when people don’t listen to us as we’re calling them to repentance (Mt 10:12-14). Why haven’t you left yet?
I know that you have your reasons for staying. I have interacted with enough Black folks in these kinds of churches to know that you see all of the “progress” that your church has made. You “feel called” to be there. People “aren’t perfect,” but they’re “trying.” You are doing your best to “extend grace. Your church is different. Your pastor is different. Your white church folks are different. I know that there is nothing that I can say to change your mind.
What I will tell you is after years of listening to hundreds of Black folks tell their stories of worshipping in these whiteness-dominated spaces, I have never heard a person regret leaving too early. Most of the time, people wish they’d’ve left sooner. I don’t want that to be you.
If you have spent years fighting to make a little bit of progress, you’re going to spend many more years fighting to move another inch. This work is never easy, but it’s not as hard as some of these folks want to make it for us.
Again, I know that there’s nothing that I can say that will change your mind about your place of worship. I’m not trying to change your mind or convince you to leave.
I just want you to know that you don’t have to keep living like this. You don’t have to die on the cross for white people’s racial sins.