My mother was a "spiritual widow"
with six children who was forever reminded that she had no husband, therefore
a non-person. As African-Americans and members of a single-parent family,
we had little voice in the church.
But, my mother taught us, her children, as her
father had taught her, to respect ourselves, to hold our heads up and to
do the best with the resources we had. We learned that it was better and
less expensive to buy high-quality second-hand clothing, resulting in our
looking as though we had more than we did. Some did not like that and thought
we should look more impoverished.
I still clearly remember how upset my mother was
when one man took it upon himself to reprimand my brother for talking to
his daughter, when it was she who had the crush on him. In all my childhood
years, I do not recall our family ever being invited to any nonblack brethren's
house for dinner.
At church dances and social functions, we were
expected to assimilate and adjust--with the right attitude--to having no
one to dance with because there were few black males around.
These events were usually uninteresting for us
since there was little for us to relate to musically or culturally. Music
that was not of the classical, country-western or easy-listening genres
was alluded to as being somehow connected with Satan. I actually thought
that easy-listening music somehow made me closer to God, so that's what
I listened to during my teen years.
At Ambassador College I was one of the
few black students admitted. As such, there were unspoken rules for us:
We were to date among ourselves, accept the fact that playing our music
at a dance more than twice meant we were trying to take over, and, please,
don't have a conversation with fellow blacks for more than a couple of minutes
or someone was sure to ask what was wrong--as though we were preparing to
launch full-scale social unrest.
I even had the interesting experience of sharing
a room with a person who had never associated with blacks. She went to bed
every time I came into the room, no matter what time of day it was. I finally
moved out after our residence assistant concluded that I was somehow responsible
for my roommate's misery.
In recent years, a former Ambassador staff member
would entreat me to encourage black students to apply to the university,
and I refused because I could not see that anything had changed from when
I attended many years ago.
Since then, I have had the experience of visiting
or attending more than 20 churches across the country. Professionally, I
have facilitated diversity workshops that dealt specifically with racism
and sexism. I spent a year in graduate studies of advertising, and I've
had many opportunities to observe what makes humans react and respond.
Seen a bit of everything
As a black woman, I've seen and experienced
a bit of everything: some positive, more (unfortunately) negative.
The negative experiences have run the gamut, from
an entire church congregation expressing thinly veiled hostility towards
me as an African-American showing up for church services (admittedly in
an isolated area of the United States) when it wasn't the Feast, to having
a cheerleading coach from Mississippi segregate her own squad and refuse
to put meal tickets directly in my hand.
Before you dismiss these experiences as being myopic,
overly sensitive or distorted through the lens of one woman's viewpoint,
give yourself a little test. How many basketball games have you attended,
secretly hoping that one team wins because there are just too many blacks
on that other team?
Did you ever feel the church needed to be more
careful of where literature was being placed so that the wrong people wouldn't
be attracted. Or have you ever felt compelled to take over when sharing
responsibilities with a black person, just to make sure the job was done
Have you ever, in a closed environment, discussed
how many of those (black) people you have to support with both taxes
and third tithe? I actually heard this discussed in a home Bible study.
These are but a sample of my experiences, and you
may say: So what? Times have changed. Believe it or not, some of the scenarios
I've just related are recent ones.
If you are a Worldwide Church of God member
and are proudly saying, "See how we've changed," remember my background
in marketing? I know when a specific market is being targeted for acceptance.
I also understand brand loyalty, so I know that
if I were, all other things being equal, merely neutral about a complete
change in my set of beliefs, I would certainly look at the benefits that
might come from staying where I felt most accepted.
In today's environment, when most African-Americans
spend energy every single business day battling covert and overt racism
and sexism in corporate America, in schools, even in the grocery store,
depending on where you live, none of us really has the desire or inclination
to fight it on the Sabbath.
Thus, we are reluctant to move into the unknown
territory of a newly formed church in which we might have to face the battle
for redefinition yet one more time.
Somebody wise and somewhat famous once said that
to know where you are going you have to understand where you came from.
I hadn't really assessed where I came from, from
the perspective of church and race, until I began to write this article.
One of the positive things that has occurred out of the past year's turmoil
is the cracks in the barriers we have put between us as men and women and
as people in general.
In the spirit of serving as a catalyst
to continue this process of growth, I offer these suggestions:
- To those of you who have chosen to stay in the
Worldwide Church of God, no matter what race you are, I hope you have made
that choice based on what you have read directly from the Bible. If so,
- To those of you who have moved on to other churches
and say that you are now "back at home," don't settle in so easily.
Now is the time for you to start to examine yourself down to the core of
your personal existence. We all tend to ignore, minimize or dismiss that
which makes us uncomfortable, and, if comfort is the only reason you left
the Worldwide Church of God, then your reason for leaving is no more valid
than that of someone who chose to stay for comfort's sake.
- To those of you who are ministers in whichever
church you are in, I have to say I have never known anyone, in all my experience
with racism and sexism, to change from those prejudices without first recognizing
and acknowledging those traits within themselves.
I have found that many churches tend to take their
lead from the surrounding environment, even as many church members take
their lead from the ministry. Whether attitudes of omission, or acts of
commission, many individuals acquire their prejudices not from actual experience,
but from preconceived notions accumulated from family, friends, the news
and entertainment media or their environment.
(If I can continue to be candid, I perceive that
some may even think that the Worldwide Church of God's changes were brought
about by one black man and they are going to see to it that it never happens
If you view yourself as a Christian, and you are
serious about coming before Christ without spot or wrinkle, then examining
the source and substance of prejudice is an area you cannot ignore as an
individual or as part of the greater body of the church.
When I wrote the letter to the editor that appeared
in the Jan. 22 issue of In Transition, I wrote it to evoke commentary,
discussion, even criticism. My agenda was to create consciousness. Not thinking
is too comfortable, too easy, too growth-defeating.
My goal? When I walk into church and you see me,
I want you to see a person striving to be like Christ who is no worse and
no better than you as a Caucasian, Latino or Asian, and a person with a
culture and history rich with treasures that you are welcome to share.
You see, I have made it plain that I accept you.
After all, I'm still here.