“Today in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement, which is galvanizing change far beyond the United States, the most recent Public Religious Institute data show that white evangelical Protestants are the only major religious groups in which a majority doesn’t see the need for such a movement. Indeed more than six in ten white evangelicals say that police officers treat blacks and whites equally. And close to six in ten say the recent police killings of black Americans are isolated incidents that are not indicative of a an anti-black society.
How can churches filled with people who refuse to acknowledge that racism is still a problem possibly honor the image of God in the black people who darken their sanctuary doors?” (Christena Cleveland, associate professor of the practices of reconciliation at Duke University’s Divinity School. First published in the September, 2015 issue of Christianity Today.)
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“The black church exists because of racism. We must be clear about that fact. The beginning of the independent denominational black churches is generally traced to a prayer meeting in Philadelphia, where Absalom Jones, Richard Allen, and a faithful company of black Christians were forcibly removed by white leaders from a recently segregated space in the church. This, after those same African Americans helped finance the building of the new facility. White Christian prejudice gave rise to the black church. Its continuance is an indictment against white Christians failing to repent of those sins and prove their repentance by their deeds.” (Thabiti Anabwile, pastor of a church in a black community outside Washington, D.C. Published in the September, 2005 issue of Christianity Today)
Having been a partner in a bi-racial marriage for nearly 25 years, I have seen the truth of Professor Cleveland’s statement elsewhere in her article that white churches are not safe places for black people. “While black churches were leading abolitionist and anti-lynching efforts in the 19th century and the civil rights movement in the 20th century, white churches overwhelmingly maintained the status quo of racial inequality and actively resisted change.”
In many churches, this attitude is still deeply ingrained and barely recognized. The first time my husband attended the church that I had called home before were married, he was greeted with two racially charged statements which the people involved never knew were racist.
One person came came up to him and warmly shook his hand. “You must be a student from Africa at Western Seminary.” Confused, my husband responded that he knew nothing about the seminary, and he was not from Africa. She then said, “Well, where are you from then?”
Graciously, he answered, “I live here.”
Now she was really confused! “But why are you here [in our church]?
“I’m with my wife,” he said, pulling me closer. That was too much for her. She turned and left without another word.
The next person who greeted him mentioned that he was surprised to see him in the Classic (traditional) service. Did we know that there is a second contemporary service? “You might enjoy that service more.” This was code for: “That service is the one that the blacks and Hispanics usually attend. You belong there.”
Again he graciously said, “No, I like the classic service. And I want to go to church with my wife.”
As Thabiti Anyabwile says, white Christian prejudice still exists in the church.