Ironically, my job just did a survey about diversity inclusion and one of the definitions given for an "inclusive environment" was the ability to be your authentic self. Even after desegregation, black people were considered unprofessional if we wore our hair in it's natural state. Our way of talking, our style of dress, etc., are often dubbed as "ghetto" and labeled inappropriate. There's a long standing tradition of black people "turning off" their identity to fit in to white spaces.
The multicultural church I attend often plays CCM during service, and will even sing from the catalogs of Tasha Cobbs or Travis Greene, but they've never brought in Christian rap. In fact, on one occasion I searched for a song they'd sung in service and found there is a "rap" verse in the song that they just skip over. Most Christians, regardless of race have framed their entire view of Christianity and holiness out of Eurocentric ideas. In doing so, we force people to hide the ethnic parts of themselves to fit in. To have a truly inclusive church, it's not just about being polite to those entering the building. We have to make people comfortable being themselves.
In high school, most of my close friends were white because I was often the only black person in my class. I didn't talk to them about racial things I experienced because I didn't think they'd understand or care (and it's embarrassing). My Asian friends didn't tell me about the things they were experiencing. It wasn't until we were out of college that we started truly expressing ourselves to each other. I felt alone in high school, but in the past few weeks, the people I was afraid to be my authentic self around in high school were the first people to condemn what was happening and ask if I was ok. How can I be your sister in Christ if I don't know you?
Because our society is broken, there are issues specific to each culture. There are things immigrants go through that I do not. There are injustices being done to people in the Asian and Hispanic/Latino communities that I may not understand. An inclusive church does not bury these topics to avoid offense, but instead seeks to educate its members on how to assist those effected.
It is important that we create an environment where people feel comfortable bringing their whole self into the relationship. Regardless of race or class or gender, you should be able to tell me something is bothering you or that you're excited and I should be able to cry with you or join you in celebration. You shouldn't have to clam up because the topic makes me uncomfortable and I shouldn't be clueless to your experiences in this world.
In the U.S. we talk about racism as though it's a black and white issue (I mean that literally and metaphorically), but it's a lot more complex than we want to talk about. Most people think as long as they aren't using racial slurs and actively hating people who are different than them, everything is ok. Unfortunately, there's subconscious racism. Subconscious racism is a bias toward what society has told us is good versus bad. We do it without thinking.
The mind is a lot like a computer, or rather computers are modeled after the mind. In computer science there is a field called machine learning, in which the goal is to train the computer to make decisions based on data. This is how Netflix suggests movies for you to watch. If you watched every RomCom in the database, there's a high probability that you'll like the newest RomCom. Similarly, if the only people you've ever seen with tattoos have been inmates, you will start to associate tattoos with criminals. That's how our brains work.
The problem is that our circles and the media are biased, so our brains are making correlations with corrupted data. Let's compare my own circle to national stats for an example. About 4% of the U.S. population has a PhD, but probably 60% of my friends have a PhD. About 5% of the U.S. is Asian, but closer to 70% of my coworkers are of Asian descent. The numbers in my personal experience are skewed; if I didn't look outside of my circle, my perception of the world would be off. When I was in college, I did an internship in which I met a girl who had never had a conversation with a black person before. She was from the middle of nowhere Iowa and everything she knew about black people was what was taught to her by white teachers or shown to her on TV. I have a whole series on the blog about how the media portrays black people so we won't derail the conversation to get into details. The bottom line is that regardless of your race, everything you consume is shifting your perception of the world and we live in a Eurocentric society. Each of us is conditioned to think European ideals are the standard (if you are unfamiliar with this, please take this time to research The Doll Test).
These ideas are deeply implanted into our brains. Most of the time, we don't understand the complexities of them ourselves. No matter what our religious affiliation is, we bring this baggage with us. If we live in a Eurocentric society, it makes sense that people giving their lives to Christ may have a Eurocentric ideas. They bring those into the Church.
A major ramification of subconscious racism is the Eurocentric style of worship. Conservative churches, both black and white, often consider things associated with black culture to be unholy. In the conservative black church I grew up in, we weren't allowed to have drums during worship. Amazing Facts, a conservative 7th Day Adventist organization, condemns Christian rap (and Christian rock). Shouting, praise dancing, and many other forms of ethnic worship styles are often seen as inappropriate.
If you attend an old black church, you've probably see ushers in their white uniform, with white gloves. Did you ever wonder why? There was a time when black and white people did attend church together. Black people sat in the balconies, segregated from the white people, or served just as they would on the plantation. The black people that served during the service were ushers. While ushers are responsible for many things, their biggest role in the service is collecting offering. It is rumored that white people didn't want to risk touching a black hand or have those black hands touching the money/collection plate, so they made the ushers wear gloves. The discipline and stance of ushers that was kept when black people formed their own churches likely stems from the internalization of how they were treated and expected to behave previously.
The first time I went to multicultural church and they started singing, my first thought was "oh, this is why we have separate churches." If we're being honest, music is cultural. How you grow up influences your taste in music; this isn't always racial, but statistically, you'll probably find more black people favoring genres such as Jazz, R&B, Reggae, Hip-Hop/Rap, etc. and more white people favoring genres such as Country, Bluegrass, Rock, etc. One person may feel the Spirit when they hear hymns, another when they hear Gospel, and another when they hear CCM. Unfortunately, like Amazing Facts, many ministries have dubbed whole genres of music inappropriate simply because it isn't their cup of tea. The Amazing Facts website uses Philippians 4:8 to justify their stance, yet one could literally take the words of a hymn and make it into a rap song, after all rap is just poetry over a beat. By condemning Christian rap they imply that either the music is unholy or that there is something unholy about the way the words are expressed. If I were to contact someone from Amazing Facts about this, I'm sure they would say it has nothing to do with race, after all they condemn Christian rock too, and I believe in their conscious mind and heart, its true. They don't have a problem with black people. They have a problem with people who don't fit into their definition of Christianity, which is based on European standards. Despite being predominately associated with white culture, if you trace the roots of rock, it was inspired by R&B and black culture. Many churches (black churches included) still shy away from ethnic music in service because of the way they've been taught Christianity.
History in the Church
The black Baptist church I attended always celebrated Black History Month. We did Black History Month plays and speeches the same way people put on productions for Easter and Christmas. Black churches do this because our history isn't taught in school. If we're already bringing pagan holidays like Easter and Christmas in to the church, why can't we celebrate the history of different cultures in our churches?
The multicultural church I attend is proud to have a multi-ethnic pastoral staff and to host sermon series with pastors from various backgrounds, but we don't do anything for Black History Month, Asian & Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Hispanic Awareness Month, etc. What if we allowed people to speak to their unique experiences? What if we learned about their unique experiences in Christianity? What if we made it a priority to understand other people? What if we invited people to truly share themselves with us?
Other Posts in This Series
- "About 13.1 Percent Have a Master’s, Professional Degree or Doctorate". Census.gov. February 21, 2019
- "QuickFacts". Census.gov. July 1, 2019
- "The Significance Of “The Doll Test”". Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc; visited June 4, 2020
- "FAQs". Amazing Facts; visited June 4, 2020
- Greg Kot. "Rock and roll". Encyclopædia Britannica. April 4, 2019