He was a giant among men, a leader for the lost and a beacon of hope for countless thousands in a dank, dreary world.
His words were a refuge, so it’s not surprising next to Jesus Christ, Winston Churchill and Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. King is also one of the most widely quoted people of all time.
I know several people that can quote the acclaimed “I have a dream” speech verbatim. Others can recite his clarion calls of civil rights like chefs rattle off their recipes. But one of his most controversial quotes is still making headlines today, “11 a.m. Sunday is the most segregated hour in America.” Ouch! 40 years ago, not so stunning. Today, rap music is tops on the music charts, saggin’ is the fashion rage (albeit a seriously brain-dead look), interracial relationships are common practice and of course, everyone wants to be “Like Mike” (or Tiger). So why wouldn’t the Church carry that same “We are the World” visage?
Because like polka-dots and stripes, there are some things that most people refuse to mix. The celebration of Jesus is one of them.
Recently, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s ace journalist John Blake penned a riveting article on this subject that was picked up by CNN. It’s a long article, so if you have some time, I encourage you to digest it. This brilliant piece sparked many ruminatologies for one HiScrivener. Here we go – this could get lengthy:
> Chronology – Look back the past century. Preachers have been extolling the greatness of God and the inclusiveness of the Gospel for decades. All the while, they have been doing it to stark monochromatic pews. Why doesn’t the message of racial unity bridge the gap in the Church? During the Civil War (and before), religion had to be separate. Congregations wouldn’t mix because of the absent-minded angst many so-called Christians held. That sprouted the roots of some of the most celebrated denominations in America – COGIC, AMC, MBC, PBC and so on. Today, the Church is only less than 10 PERCENT “racially-mixed”. Absurd. It’s common knowledge for folk clutching the hymnal that if you want to get down in church – in the words of the iconic “Curtis” from The Blues Brothers – they can “slide on down to the [analogy here] Triple Rock and catch Reverend Cleophis.” But what does that tell you? If you like your Jesus this way, stay at the all-white church. If you like Jesus that way, go over where the black folk are. Rarely, is there any in-between. And yes, I CAN name just about every larger church that does bridge the gap. The fact I can do that is not a nice party trick. It’s a pathetic indictment on the Body of Christ. But it’s also transparent that time may not heal all wounds.
> Sociology – We are not the same, we are different and this is one segment of society that hasn’t figured out really to grasp that yet. What’s wrong with one portion of the Church enjoying three-chord hymns that are considered works of art in music and another portion that adores progressive and passionate music with choirs that could lift the sin right off your back? Answer: NOTHING! So why is it acceptable to make fun of the other, and please, let’s not act like you are so holy. If you are black, it’s “they clap on one and three”. And if you’re white, it’s “I can’t understand a freakin’ word they sing anyway.” Why not just appreciate it for what it is – an interpretative celebration. That’s the reason denominations were apostatized… er, created anyway. Enjoy the fact that although that church doesn’t do it like your church, as long as you both jam for Jesus during praise and worship, see you in heaven! In other words, both of you shut up and mind your own choral business. God made us different – same blood, same spirit but different emotional make-up – so relish in your unique quality to worship God your way, and let others do it their way. No one has a patent on worship, although one guy was rumored to have it, but he was given the boot from his last gig (literally), but never mind that right now.
> Psychology – Much to the sociology, we feel differently too. Our hearts may look the same and produce the same blood, but they tend to “beat” differently (yes, pun intended). I know many of God-fearin’, Bible-totin’ folk that love the Lord with a greater veneration than jubilation. Because of that mental focus, a more mundane celebration found in some “passive” churches would be more their stelo. These folk go to churches of the Catholic, Church of Christ, Methodist, Wesleyan, Anglican, Presbyterian, et al. persuasion. I also know an equal amount of jubilation saints that you can find in any Assembly of God, COGIC, Church of God, Pentecostal, Non-denominational (and yes, THAT IS a denomination), et al. church. They aren’t in those churches because they are tone deaf or can’t keep a beat. That’s just how they roll, and so what? If they think God is offended by the aforementioned “Old Landmark”, they may be really off-base and in need of consulting how David danced, but they mean well and God respects that. What’s that to ya’? Not much.
> Theology – If God’s children each feel and act differently, I am willing to gamble the mortgage on my house, we think differently too. Why else do you think there are a ba-jillion different translations and interpretations of the Bible? These are also coupled with everyone’s commentary, self-help book and metaphysical breakdown of the scriptures. Oy! No wonder the real money is in Christian publishing. Anywhoo… we do process the Bible in various ways. Some of us are heedful and cerebral, and for that the Church has teachers. Others of us are emotional and sentimental, and for them the Church offers evangelists. And even more of us are practical, and for them are the pastors. Those black or white or brown or yellow or red dudes pounding the pulpits around the world fall under one of those five gifts. And most do so with passion and vigor. Some whoop and holler, others ruminate and orate. Regardless of how they run the race, they usually get to the same finish line – it’s all about God and his son Jesus crucified and risen for our sins. Why are each of those churches full (or half-full) of people every Sunday? The same reason different restaurants serving the same hash are – the food is really the same, but people are convinced it’s different because their preference is the filter, not the flavor. Think about it and dare to try another kind of burger. You may be surprised how differently it tastes; yet how similarly it fills you up.
> Doxology – So, I suppose after this dissertation is complete, the fashions in which we worship, the practices in which we study the Bible and the churches in which we attend all come down to preference. You can usually determine what the demographic of a church by looking at one person – the pastor. If the pastor is white, odds are you will find 90 percent white folk and all of the things that go with it. If the pastor is black, same thing. It the pastor is a woman, well… nevermind. Preference is fine with God. He made us that way. So if you like your worship one way, enjoy it that way. If you wish your pablum a certain way, go get it. If you prefer certain people, cool. But the moment preference of celebration becomes prejudice based on creed, it’s sin! I don’t care if an ordained preacher is proselytizing a black liberationist theology. What I do care about is that he is usually standing on the heads of white people to do look bigger doing it. Likewise, I don’t care if you walk into a church and you are blinded by the stark whiteness in the pews. The moment you hear that pastor exclaim it’s white because that’s how God intended it, I’m looking (and praying) for lightning with the quickness! I realize “We are the World” began as a song for hunger and is now a punch line to extol unity, but… we really are. There are facets of other cultures that are fascinating and for you not to enjoy them – or at least observe them – is cheating yourself on God’s imagination, his own celebration of the life he gave us.
So, here’s to the world and its living rainbow. We are one big melting point of culture and creed, race and region, gender and geography… but when it comes to religion, it seems we all go our separate ways. You go that way and we go this way. Is it acceptable? I suppose. Is it temporal? Probably not. The churches of the rainbow are great, but seem to be a trend that can’t catch steam. Too may people with hot air fill the other ones, you know? But to sum it up, I don’t think a HiScrivener witticism is necessary. I know another guy that has been known to opine from time-to-time. I’ll use his profound words:
Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away, and that in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation will their scintillating beauty.
There. I couldn’t have said it better myself, and after this post that’s saying something!