I spent my teenage years competing in the sport of boxing. When I was 16, I competed in the regional Golden Gloves tournament. The show was hosted at the Hyatt hotel downtown in my city. My girlfriend at the time was there, and I even invited my pastor to come see me fight. The 1st round was a challenge for me. My opponent was very uncomfortable in his movement and threw his punches wildly. I didn’t know him to be a wild fighter. He was throwing punches awkwardly and some of them were landing. I put pressure on him with some combinations and did enough to win the round. But when I got back to my corner, my coach told me this: “Be careful in there, that boy scared of you! He’s uncomfortable and he fighting wild, scared fighters are dangerous!” My coach had told me this before. The most dangerous fighter is a scared fighter. They are dangerous because they are unsettled, which makes them unpredictable and difficult to deal with in the ring.
As a Black Christian in a predominantly white church, I too am dangerous right now. Why so? For the last 6 yrs, I have been helping predominantly white churches foster multi-ethnic communities. For the first 3 yrs I did that by just showing up, but the last 3 yrs I have put in intentional work. Since the fall of 2016, I’ve been growing socially conscious of the historical and present day minority experience in the nation and in my own city. The more I learn and experience personally, the more uncomfortable I am remaining a member of a predominantly white church. In these past 2 years I have began to take the black historical experience and even my own experiences more seriously. My historical and present day analysis indicate to me the need for Black people (especially Black Christians) to work together right now, but I’m not with them. I have spent the last 6 yrs of my walk with Christ mainly with my white brothers and sisters. In many ways I have benefitted from these white Christian circles, but there are areas I have been impacted negatively. One of the greatest negative impacts I’ve had, was the imbalanced/one-sided exposure to historical theology, contributions made to the Christian faith.
My white family do not acknowledge enough Black people who have contributed great work in the faith, and they are missing so much not knowing about it. It’s very rare to hear illustrations, quotes, or book recommendations of black preachers and theologians. They don’t acknowledge what Black Christians have contributed to historical theology. There is a reason why Black people aren’t served communion last anymore. There is a reason why American slavery, Jim-Crow, and segregation are no longer theologically and socially accepted by White American Christians. The reason is largely because God has used redeemed Black people to expose White America’s cultural sin, and has caused these issues to change for the sake of both Black and the White society that dehumanized them. The gospel preached in America is better because of the Black Christians who helped White Christians understand its nature better. Now do you think White churches celebrate this? Hell na they don’t. They have no idea how much they have benefited from people of color in this country. They think they got where they are on their own. As if Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield left behind commentaries on slavery with notes saying; “don’t do what I did!”. But even with all the written work put in by historical Black Christians, white historical Christian figures are still who they prefer to make time for.
Now that I’m taking these realities more seriously, It’s starting to hurt more. It’s uncomfortable for me because I know that this affects how they see present injustices and their responsibility to deal with them. In the early colonization of America, gifted preachers such as George Whitefield and puritans like Jonathan Edwards were major contributors to the Great Awakening and the widespread “colonial” revival. But what my White family too often fails to take seriously, is the huge contradiction men like these have in supporting freedom for white people based on the enslavement of the Black people who lived among them in their time. These are men that they proudly hold up as their heroes, biblically faithful men committed to the sovereignty and truth of God’s Word. But the ugly truth is, when it came to the injustice of Black people, they ignored God’s Word to repent of their evil ways. When I look around my theological camp, I see very similar contradictions. There is a lot of talk about being biblical faithful and gospel-centered, with no desire or effort to see that lived out socially for Black people.
But besides that, I believe God has given me a passion to engage my own ethnic group with the gospel, and not only that, he also has given me a passion to help other Black people thrive in my city. Being a member of a predominantly white church takes me away from this work. Even considering the fact that African-Americans represent almost 50% of my city’s population, helping black people build and thrive are not on the agenda of most predominantly white churches. Also, my wife and I began to desire space for more black Christian friends, but didn’t have the margin because of our commitment to our white family in Christ. This really sucked for us, because it began to feel unhealthy for us to be surrounded by too many white friends, especially when we were hurting the most.
Someone might disbelieve that it really is this bad for some minorities like myself. I mean after all, we only see each other 1 day a week right? No… one day a week is a low view of community. The local church body should live more of their lives together, and this is the very problem for me as their Black brother in Christ. There is a huge chunk of my life that they can’t live with me right now. None of my white brothers and sisters live in my neighborhood, and very few even live in a place like it. They know nothing about the historical experience of Black people in my city, and how the city itself has historically and presently created many of the inequities we see today. Why is it that Koreans control the black hair care market in my neighborhood? Why is it that Arabs control the convenient and cell phone store economy in my neighborhood? They come to Black communities, take our money, and contribute nothing back into it. Who allowed that to happen? Why is it that white “urban” developers can flip properties in low-income Black communities and let young white professionals live there instead? Who is letting this happen? Why it is that an upper class neighborhood can say no to a major franchise coming to their neighborhood, and be taken seriously, but a low-income Black community can beg for the same respect and be ignored? Who is gonna help me deal with these issues that are affecting my family’s life? Will my white brothers and sisters do this? It’s hard to live life with people who don’t understand what happens in your life.
I’ve had friends looking me in my face, knowing that I was struggling, saying to me; “Marq we love you”. I believe them, I appreciate it, and the love is definitely mutual. But their love is not all I need right now. I need them to recognize that I belong somewhere else. I need them to love me enough to not only let me go, but encourage me to go. The longer I stay, the more pain I endure. The longer I stay, the more I delay doing what God is calling me to do.
“You cannot be Black with a level of consciousness, and not function with some level of rage” – James Baldwin
I’m tired of waiting on a church full of college educated believers to pick up a book and read African-American history and authors on injustice, I’m tired of wondering when they will ever be ready to attend a conference led by African-Americans. I’m tired of requests for one on one meet-ups to “pick my brain” about something. I’m tired of them asking me to help them “think through” something, especially when the thoughts don’t lead to direct actions. I’m tired of getting one way emails. I’m tired of them stalling to speak up about things they say they are against in private. I’m tired of vague speech about speaking up for “the most vulnerable” without ever identifying who the most vulnerable are. I’m tired of them fearing they will be viewed as a Marxist, liberal, or a social justice warrior. I’m tired of being shamed and toned checked for what I share and post on social media about racism and injustice, I’m tired of so much being expected of me because I’m Black. I’m tired of trying so hard not to be “the angry Black guy”. I’m tired of paying the price for a multi-ethnic church, I’m tired of my white brothers and sisters thinking they have all it takes to love me and care for me. I’m tired of predominantly white theological spaces thinking the mere “content” of the gospel is enough for us to have unity. I’m tired of seeing a reconciliation that requires people of color to come to them first. I’m tired of them not realizing that working “towards” justice and equity are a part of reconciliation too. I’m tired of seeing failures to take risks.
Now, listening to this all, does it sound like I should be anywhere near a white church right now? No…. At least not right now. I’m like that guy I fought when I was 16. I’m way too unsettled right now. I’m too emotionally affected. I’m dangerous. At any minute I could pop. There’s no way I can survive in this current ring. I’m gonna hurt too many people just trying to- good people, friends, my white brothers & sisters in Christ, the people I believe I’ll be in Heaven with.
If I stayed, my particular problem as a socially conscious Black Christian among a predominantly white church will not likely go away. The loneliness I feel as a Black Christian in a white church will not likely go away. The sense of delaying my calling and passion to Black people, will not likely go away. The ways I have been trying to fix or cope with it haven’t helped. I have made a lot of mistakes, thought of crazy ideas, mostly out of anxiety and fear. I’m still carrying a huge burden, and it’s pointing to the conclusion that it may be necessary for me to leave. To continue to stick around and endure further pain carrying this burden would only cause me to hurt my white family (and I have hurt several already).
But what about Revelations 7? God’s Word about every people, nation, and tribe worshiping Him in Heaven? Yea I know about that, and I believe that reality will happen! But I also believe that God knew from the moment the first African slave was brought to this country, that there would need to be a safe space for future Black people whom He would call to Himself to be conformed to the image of His Son. Thank God that there still is a space of Christians, who are able to bear my burden, heal my wounds, and restore me to sanity. Thank God for the Black church.