In the wake of recent violence and increasing racial tensions, Texas pastor Roy Smith wrote an opinion piece suggesting that churches – and Christians – need to practice what they preach when it comes to loving one another. I have had the opportunity to meet Smith a time or two over the years, and his wife, Carla, played a significant part in my life-changing Emmaus experience a decade ago. I truly believe that he wants people to come together as one and be the body of Christ.
But I fear some of his words calling for racial unity will make readers forget all his other words.
He wrote, “… you will be required to get out of your ethnic comfort zone and engage a different lifestyle with and among different ethnic groups and to do it as a lifestyle not as some kind of benevolent or charitable act. Many of you who have never been out of your protected upbringing must forsake it to get among those who have not had the life you have. And that will be far more geared to my brothers and sisters who are Caucasian. When black folk leave their community churches to mingle and become part of a mostly white church, to them it is considered a step up. However, when a white person leaves their comfortable existence among their own to be with their black brothers and sisters, it is considered a step down or some charitable act by their peers.”
Well, that’s the kind of instruction that falls on deafened ears.
To suggest that whites have more comfortable, “protected” lives and regard spending time with “black folk” as charity is offensive to me. Further, that black people who become part of a “white church” consider themselves to be taking a “step up” is even more offensive. You cannot call for unity in one breath, then further divide with the next!
I worked in welcoming ministries at a mostly white church for five years. This church is located in a working-class to no-income neighborhood, and people of all races lived around the church building in modest homes and subsidized apartments.
Our church members regularly walked the streets to invite our neighbors to church. As we got to know them, we began to see their needs. Children left unattended during the day because parents were working. Young children left to watch over even younger siblings. Families that could not afford “luxuries” such as air conditioning or even water bottles to combat the summer heat. There were children who were hungry for food and that thirsted for the love of God. The church and its members responded, and the ministries born out of those needs were never seen as “charity.” They were, and are still, seen as SERVICE. People doing Christ’s work in the world. That is what Christ asks us to do, to be His feet and hands and heart in this world.
I am proud of those programs and people! Smith made too broad an assertion when he wrote, “We the Church cannot fix or better the community in which we live until we better ourselves and our relationships with each other as Christian people. And Pastors, you are the worst of all because you are the ‘shepherds’ leading these congregations across our city!”
I disagree. There are pastors and church ministry leaders all over the country getting it right! When high school youth groups come together in fellowship and service, when ministers share in worship experiences at churches other than their own, when pastors actively seek the addicted and incarcerated, when congregations participate in interfaith dialogues, and when churches hold prayer vigils for the broken, I see shepherds leading by example. I see people stepping out in faith, finding common ground that has nothing to do with their race or religion or neighborhood.
Now, this is not to say that there aren’t still strides to be taken. Smith was right when he said Christians must live as Christians in speech and actions. It is time to put up, or show up y’all, “…or quit wearing the title Christian and talking about how much you love God.”
The more we can do to step out into this big world and meet and work with and love people of all kinds, the better we will be. The better our world will be. See it as doing the right thing, as performing God’s will. That is what Christ asks us to do: love one another. Do it with a servant’s heart, and do it with charity.
And I don’t man the “taking pity” kind of charity, either. Charity, I think, is more a feeling inside your heart. And it is a hard one to master, feeling charitable toward the words and deeds of others, always trying to assume that people have good intentions, even when they say things badly.
I will think charitably about Smith’s words, just as reader “Just thinkin’ ” did when he defended the pastor, saying, “I really don’t believe (Smith) was trying to ‘talk down’ to white people or excuse black people from their own prejudices and shortcomings. I’ve heard him criticize everyone for failing to love our neighbors as the Good Samaritan story illustrates. I think he was trying to say that until we ALL do right by God’s Word the peace we say we want won’t be forthcoming.”
Amen. Amen. Amen.