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Churches Remain Only Places That Refuse to Integrate

Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “The most segregated hour of Christian America is 11 o’clock on Sunday morning.”

We repeat his words as a matter of fact, not as a challenge. It has been named and noted. But rather than shake our heads in agreement, I ask, “What are you going to do about it?”

Don’t just change seats; switch churches. Get up and follow Jesus somewhere outside of your comfort zone, gated community, tradition, perspective, cultural and personal experience, worship style. Jesus did it; if we are following Jesus, we should too.

Don’t spend your whole life pointing out the problem. Don’t just shake your heads; put your heads together. Figure it out. Solve it.

Because Jesus doesn’t go the same way every day, talk to the same people all the time or travel in the same neat circles. Nothing routine or traditional exists about his ministry or his message.

Jesus was not the expected Messiah, the predictable Savior. Persons did not point to him and say, “I knew it was you!”

Just listen to the people who were around him who asked, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

And hear his own disciples who questioned if they really knew him, “What kind of man is this?”

Because if you meet Jesus and do not walk away from life as you knew it, you did not meet Jesus.

If you and I can meet Jesus and return to our regularly scheduled programming, we may have met Jesus, but we do not know him.

“Once we start paying attention to Jesus’ way, it doesn’t take long for us to realize that following Jesus is radically different from following anyone else,” observed Eugene Peterson in his book, “The Jesus Way.”

Life with Jesus does not consist of a mere introduction but a lifelong conversation to include long walks like those with the disciples on their way to Emmaus. We need to listen to Jesus until our hearts burn (Luke 24:32).

If we can remain hard-hearted when it comes to race, we need to have more than “a little talk with Jesus.”

Because isn’t it a sad commentary that Christians in America cannot come together one day a week for an hour or two, that though Christ prayed that we might become one, it is hardest to answer and to embody this prayer on Sunday (John 17:21)?

That we have integrated businesses and schools, hospitals and cemeteries, buses and hotels, lunch counters and restrooms but not sanctuaries? That praying hands still section themselves off to worship the God who “so loved the world”?

That a space marked sacred still has the signs of segregation hanging above its doors, that our churches secretly or unconsciously signal, “for white people only” or “for colored people only”?

If anything, Sunday should be the one day that we can come together. Or is the Holy Spirit not at work or unable to overcome the challenges of our flesh?

What do we walk in if not the Spirit and where are we going if we are not walking in the spirit of truth (Galatians 5:16; John 16:13)?

We cannot claim the creative power of God, the resurrection power of Jesus and the fire power of the Holy Spirit but continue on as if powerless to challenge and change the social realities of race. What of this new identity in Christ?

During this season of Lent, we were called to give up our carnal cravings, our fleshly feelings in order to shorten the distance between us and Jesus.

Friends, I assure you that race is not the way. We are no closer to Christ than when we first begun if we put anything before or in front of Christian: black Christian, white Christian, Republican Christian, Democratic Christian, female Christian, male Christian. Christ is all or nothing at all (Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11).

Following Christ is a one-way street and it leads to Calvary. We cannot continue to follow the prescriptions of race and claim we want to go all the way with Jesus. Because it is a death walk; race and our racialized identities simply cannot survive.

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared on Thomas’ blog, Raceless Gospel. It is used with permission.

Starlette Thomas

Starlette Thomas is interim pastor of Village Baptist Church in Bowie, Maryland, and minister to empower congregations at the D.C. Baptist Convention.