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Monday, July 9, 2012

"Whites Only"

Each year over the 4th of July holiday, Pastor William J. Collier and the Church of God's Chosen host a Christian conference and retreat--for white people only.

Our knee-jerk reaction is to declare how crazy and misguided they are, to denounce them as Christians. We want to brush them aside as an anomaly. But are they?

Much has been written about the obvious appalling nature of such an event being held in today's world. Clearly, none of us would make statements like this group has.

But what if they are simply saying with their lips what we say every day with our actions? "Whites only." Do the demographics of your church match those of your city? Why or why not might that be?



What kind of music is your church's worship?
What faces are represented on your website and powerpoint slides?
How does your church take up the offering?
How are the sermons structured?
What do your leaders look like?
How are your social gatherings conducted?
What are the topics of conversation after the service, and what issues get ignored?

These factors that make up a church's culture. That culture may be sending a message of "white only." Though we may intend to be welcoming, our awkward questions, ignorant statements, and sideways glances make the truth all too clear.

When our behavior 'otherizes' newcomers, we maintain an environment of segregation. Our intent may be different from that of the Church of God's Chosen, but the net effect is the same. If we say with our lips that the Church is open to all, but take no actions to make it true, we make liars of ourselves and of the Gospel.

To be clear, there is an important place for race- and ethnicity-specific worship and fellowship. Understanding one's own identity in Christ and in the context of one's ethnicity is a central part of the process of spiritual growth (including for those in the majority position). It can also be exhausting to maintain an attitude of worship when you feel you are sticking out from the crowd. So, when it comes to worshiping God, sometimes it is helpful to remove that burden when we can. Likewise, it is important for folks in the majority to explore their identity and what that means for the modern Church. But in either case, such moments should never promote exclusivity, isolation, or stratification of the Body of Christ.

When confronted about their 'whites only' conference, the folks at the Church of God's Chosen were quick to respond with a couple of tired arguments that are, unfortunately, all too common among more mainstream churches:

"We didn't mean to offend anyone"This statement is often the first line of defense for indignant offenders. But, though we don't always intend to sin against one another, the consequences are real all the same. Even if the cross-burning at Collier's conference were some 'sacred ritual,' Christians have an obligation to be knowledgeable and sensitive to the things that cause pain for our siblings in Christ. Singing about 'whiteness' in conjunction with 'goodness' and 'purity' might feel innocuous, but what message does it send? When we say ignorant comments in making conversation, when we "appreciate" someone's culture by caricaturing it, when we touch someone's hair because it's different from our own--we don't mean to be offensive, but sometimes simply being oblivious to the context and the potential for offense, is hurtful enough.

"It's our right to worship the way we want" It is true that the US Constitution grants freedom of religion and freedom of speech, but the Bible grants no such things--quite the opposite! We know that "if anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless" (James 1:26). Nor do we as Christians have the freedom to worship as we please. Worship is not about pleasing ourselves. It's it for God's glory. And how can a divided church be for God?

Don't just roll your eyes at Collier's conference. Don't just suck your teeth at his ignorance. This is the Christ that is getting the publicity. This is the stereotype that is being reinforced. This is our responsibly.

Folks like Collier offer us the opportunity to shake our heads and externalize bigotry, without fully examining our own exclusivity. However, Jesus told us that although murder is a sin, so is harboring anger. He said that adultery is a sin, but so is lust in one's mind. If a "whites only" conference is a sin, what does that say about a "whites only" heart?

See Also:
We are Gulnare Free Will Baptist 
I am George Zimmerman
Inclusivity in Campus Ministry

12 comments:

  1. Thanks to Dan for the heads up on this story.

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  2. This is a great post! What seems contradicting is that while the "intent" was not to offend anyone, the same "intent" was I suspect than to be "welcoming?" At some point in time, did someone not say, This might not look good to others, may be offensive etc. etc. and if so, I wonder what the response would have been. I also find it ironic that the church is called, The Church of God's Chosen. Yea. Ok. Anyway, thanks for this post. Well explained. Good viewpoints. By the way, where was the conference held?

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  3. Division is unfortunately an all too common reality in the Church and yes it goes both ways. I have been unwelcome in a church before due to my "whiteness". If we as a Body simply structure our services, worship, and sermons around the scripture and what Christ says and not a particular demographic, culture, or society than our churches will be welcoming to all peoples. But unfortunately all too often we seek to cater to a particular group and our churches our structured around that group leaving the rest feeling outcast. I love the fact that at the church I attend now, which is majority black (reflecting the surrounding community) that people of all races feel welcomed and the services are not targeted at a specific group but speaking biblical truth which applies to all peoples regardless of race, sex, or culture.

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  4. ONe does wonder what runs through people's heads...

    Conference was in Alabama. More background here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/05/whites-only-christian-conference-alabama-william-collier_n_1651268.html

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  5. diaryofaredeemedsinnerJuly 9, 2012 at 9:59 AM

    diaryofaredeemedsinner (http://diaryofaredeemedsinner.wordpress.com/):

    Division is unfortunately an all too common reality in the Church and yes it goes both ways. I have been unwelcome in a church before due to my "whiteness". If we as a Body simply structure our services, worship, and sermons around the scripture and what Christ says and not a particular demographic, culture, or society than our churches will be welcoming to all peoples. But unfortunately all too often we seek to cater to a particular group and our churches our structured around that group leaving the rest feeling outcast. I love the fact that at the church I attend now, which is majority black (reflecting the surrounding community) that people of all races feel welcomed and the services are not targeted at a specific group but speaking biblical truth which applies to all peoples regardless of race, sex, or culture.

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  6. Great post! I especially like the part about how we subtly (and perhaps inadvertently) succumb to the forces of homogeneity. If Emerson & Smith's 2000 research is still somewhat accurate (I think it is!), then over 90% of churches engage in "for [insert ethnic group]'s only" worship. There's plenty of room for growth on this one!
    While there IS a place for ethnically homogenous worship (as you note), most churches should strive to represent and include the diverse people of their

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  7. I'm glad you have found a church that strikes that balance well. What strategies are in place there to help combat our very natural tenancy to seek familiarity and similarity?

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  8. Such a convicting book! And yeah, I bet most of those stats still hold true. Not much change in the last decade unfortunately.

    BTW, I enjoyed the talk you posted a couple weeks back. Check it out folks:
    http://www.christenacleveland.com/2012/06/video-overcoming-divisions-in-the-church/

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  9. There is an episode of Star Trek "The Next Generation" where Worf discovers a settlement of Klingons & Ramulans that have formed a community primarily around the "Ramulan" Cultural values. The Kilingons are taught to deny their natural instincts to adapt to Ramulan values & customs. To the observant, the episode is clearly a polemic on structural racism and internalized racism, but it is addressed in a way that can be eye opening to those who frame, teach and assert Christianity in a predominantly mono-cultural way as if it were the "only way" for it to be framed, taught and asserted.

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  10. Many times Sci-Fi worlds allow us to examine our own behavior in a way that is impossible other mediums and can be a great tool for initiating dialogue. Have you read/seen Derrick Bell's Space Traders? It is certainly more overt, but is still an interesting thought experiment on our own behavior.

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  11. Nicely redirected. Judging is easy; self examination is hard. Thanks for the challenge.

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  12. "Judging is easy; self examination is hard" -- so true!

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