by Acasia Olson
It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences. -Audre Lorde
“If a kingdom is divided against itself it cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” – Mark 3: 24-25
In 2012, Reverend Fred Luter Jr. became the first African American president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. Upon learning of Rev. Luter’s appointment, I didn’t know if I should celebrate, shake or scratch my head. “What took ‘em so long?!” I asked myself. It seems that southern black folks have been Baptists since time immemorial. My mama grew up Baptist, my granny grew up a Baptist, her mother was a Baptist…you get the point. So why didn’t the convention appoint a black leader before the nation saw its first black president? Isn’t the church supposed to set the standard? Hmm… What frustrates me most is the fact that Rev. Luter promised that he would do everything within his power to ensure that his presidency is not a “one and done” ordeal.
As a leader of the Christian faith and an organization that professes to follow the teachings of Jesus, why is it his job to ensure that other people of color are considered and voted as the president of a Christian organization? Why must he carry the weight of the black and brown people on his back? He shouldn’t have to; but I guess the Southern Baptist Convention still uses the SMT (Slave Master’s Translation) version of the Bible.
Most of us will admit that Sunday is the most segregated day of the week. As someone who spent a considerable amount of my life in the south (Birmingham, Savannah, Atlanta stand up!), I often witnessed this conundrum. More often than not, I found myself wondering why the church remained in the pre-civil rights era. There are the majority white churches and the majority black churches. Even our worship music is divided. We listen to Gospel music and Contemporary Christian music, which I believe is code for Black Jesus Music and White Jesus Music. Granted, I understand that geography/zip codes and musical taste have a lot to do with the location and makeup of the church and the type of music one listens to. In recent years, I’ve made it my personal goal to attend churches that have a healthy mix of racially and ethnically diverse congregants. I don’t want to be the only black person in the congregation and experience that awkward frustration of not belonging because my fellow parishioners don’t know ‘what to do with me,’. I don’t want to attend an all-black church where I don’t feel challenged and encouraged to love my non-black brethren.
So I want to renew a movement. This is a “Go down Moses, part the Red Sea, crumble down the walls, walk on water and rise up” type of movement. It’s that bleepin’ big. It all started with a radical man who imparted a few radical ideas and I, His willing disciple, believe it is my duty to carry on His mission.
What if the church decided to start, lead and build an anti-racism movement? I could be wrong, but I don’t know of any modern day anti-racism movements lead by the church, and more explicitly high profile church leaders. Should that be a priority? I don’t know…Did Jesus talk with a Samaritan woman?
Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself with wishful thinking and maybe some would argue that I’m trying to start mess. I’d like to call it righteous rebellion but tomato/tomatoe. When I think of the Church, I consider it a pillar in the Christian faith and lifestyle. We fellowship with one another. We come together and celebrate God’s Word together. We hold each other accountable and sharpen and encourage one another. Why wouldn’t we find it appropriate and acceptable to have conversations about race and reconciliation with our Christian brethren? Why can’t we talk about the role of the church in the perpetuation of slavery and otherism as well as its role in the abolishment of Jim Crow? Why can’t and why don’t we talk about the role of the church in promoting modern segregation? Jesus radically challenged the status quo, the norms, laws and social expectations of His day and He calls us to do it as His disciples today.
I look forward to the day when the Christian church apologizes for its role in slavery/racism and stops ignoring its responsibility for mending the festering wounds and keloid scars of racism (including the church’s actual role in endorsing social Darwinism). I anticipate the day when the church starts to collectively, openly, and willingly tackle the issue of racism and otherism and inferiorization not just in countries across the pond but here on our own soil. Call it what it is, do a sermon series and trainings on it and provide congregations with open spaces and opportunities to discuss and work against the monster of racism. The word of God explicitly says that if we say we love God but hate our fellow man, we are liars (1 John 4:20). How can you hate your brother, whom you can see but say you love God, whom you haven’t seen?
There’s a lot of hate and tension floating around these temples of faith. Maybe that’s another reason non-believers and former believers and pseudo believers don’t really believe. Because the church still hasn’t figured it out. Jesus was and through His teachings still is relational and interacted with all people. That includes the educated, the wealthy, the scandalous, the people ‘on the fringe’ and the marginalized ‘others.’
We, on the other hand, will go on missions trips to remote countries outside our borders but let someone suggest driving in and volunteering in certain “bad neighborhoods,” and you might as well have blasphemed the name of God in 5 tongues. If we remain divided over our differences, we won’t be credible in our pronouncements of love, justice, faith, and community.The nation is still greatly divided but if we can get it right in the church and in our Spiritual domain, everything else will fall into place. So who’s with me?