It’s black history month in America, and too often that just means token quotes from Martin Luther King Jr (selectively chosen for their inoffensiveness) pop up on Facebook. So this month I’ve been educating myself about awesome black women in American history , and there’s a lot of them. There’s Katherine Johnson of Hidden Figures fame– if you haven’t seen it, go watch it—to Ella Baker, the middle-aged woman-power behind the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, to Ida B. Wells’ single-handed campaign to end lynching, to the many rural Southern Women who not only changed the diapers and washed the laundry of the white people’s kids, but also housed student volunteers during the Civil Rights movement and led the Montgomery Bus boycott—it’s good that America take some time to say “thank you” to reflect on and celebrate the many black people in our history who have made America what it is today.
(Most of these stories were collected in the book “When and Where I enter” by Paula Giddings if you want to read them.)
I’ve also been listening to a series of sermons during Black History month from Fellowship Memphis—a church with a vision to reflect all the diversity of Memphis, TN in their congregation and on their staff team. The sermon collection I have is from 2009 (from a CD! Remember those?!). But the idea that is circled back to again and again in these sermons is:
If God is our Father and one day in heaven he is going to have people from every tribe, nation, and tongue gathered around his throne, and we’ve been told by Jesus to be praying, that things would be “On earth as it is in heaven”, then racial reconciliation and ethnic diversity within our churches isn’t just a nice option for some people. It’s part of what the church is called to.
These sermons were given in 2009, and almost ten years later, I was convicted that American church isn’t famously known for giving people in our nation a glimpse of the celebration and diversity we will experience in heaven one day. On the whole, our communities aren’t little pictures of the reconciliation that comes from life in the kingdom. For the most part, no one in America would look at the church and be compelled to say, “Something of God must be going on in that community, because this is one divided, racist city, but those Jesus people somehow are all working together.” (Or even, on the other side of the spectrum, why aren’t people saying, “I hate black people, and most people I know hate black people, so why are all those Christian white folks spending their Sundays with those black folks?!”)
As I’ve talked about before on this blog, reconciliation isn’t just where we agree that we’ll push our differences under the rug, pretend to be color blind, ignore past injustices and current inequalities and just say, “Well, we’re all Christians, so let’s just get along.” Real reconciliation involves a reckoning. It involves repentance, as well as forgiveness.
But my sense is there aren’t even that many churches that are trying the “let’s all just get along” version of racial reconciliation at the moment.
How are you celebrating black history this month? Have you ever been part of a Christian community that did racial reconciliation well? Tell me about it!