Response to “Why You Didn’t Like ‘The Help’ As Much As You Think You Did”

Before reading this post, would you please read Sean Palmer’s incredible blog post HERE.

I’ve come to appreciate Sean Palmer. I don’t remember how we came to be connected … via Twitter or Facebook or some other way. But I have enjoyed his posts and reading his thoughts.  I found his post called “Why You Didn’t Like ‘The Help’ As Much As You Think You Did” to be intriguing. It is well-written, as always.  Sean makes a needed point, and rehearses an often quoted sentiment about the most segregated hour of the week being Sunday morning.

I’m a white person. I do not know what it is to grow up as a black person in America. I was born in 1963, so by the time I began to perceive attitudes about relations between the races the violence of the Civil Rights movement was over (though not the cause). In my school years I always enjoyed having friends from both races, and that was especially true in college when for a time I was the only white face in our dorm. But Sean’s post relates to what happens down at church.

My home church was all white, in a community that was at least 50% black. I remember an effort 35 years ago to reach out to the black community when we invited African American preacher Rudolph James from the New Orleans area come and preach for us. We took brochures into the black community. As a result our congregation was no longer totally white. As I look back, I appreciate the effort that was made at that time. It was uncharacteristic of churches as far I know. In college I was a part of a small country church. The old white men would be very pleased with themselves as they told about building a church for the “nigras” to have their own house of worship. Until then they would let them listen to the service through the open windows. The fact that this attitude was common for it’s time and place (they were reflecting back to circa 1950s in Mississippi) does not make it right.

That brief history informs my attitudes toward black and white people and churches. The worship style argument Sean mentions transcends race, as far as I can see. Even among white churches in my denomination there are congregations who are uncomfortable with each other’s worship styles. When I visit predominately African American churches I note a style of preaching and singing that is much different from my home church. I think neither of us would like to do it the other person’s way. So, in our enlightened times (?) maybe this is a bigger issue than Sean gives credit.

But that doesn’t mean that he misses the boat. He mentions David Duke, and as a Louisianan that reference carries a little sting. No doubt our state (among others) has a ways to go to repair racial relations particularly in churches. I like Sean’s breakdown of the teachings of Paul and Jesus on this matter. In his concluding remarks Sean writes:

We get all in a bunch about things we can’t do anything about; real important things like millennial debates, and hardly lift a finger to do what was critical to Jesus and Paul, bringing people from different backgrounds together to become one….But the majority maintain it by not caring at all, not working to end it, not standing up for others and by  sitting on their hands…in the theatre.

Sean, thanks for not holding back. That really is a punch in the gut. It is hypocritical to watch a movie that exposes the evil of racial prejudice / mistreatment and at the same time ignore the lack of racial relations within our churches. But I’m left with a lot of questions because I’m not sure, really, where to go from here.

*Is there anything inherently wrong with homogeneous congregations? Isn’t it human nature to gather with people “like us” because of commonality? We also segregate in light of doctrinal understandings and worship preferences. In churches our commonality is Christ, but we retain our humanity as well.

*Is the answer an “open door”? I believe in our church there is an open door for anyone of any race to enter and become part of our family. It is my job to make sure that it is known that the door is open. But is that enough of an answer?

*Must all predominately white and predominately black congregations disband and choose instead to meet together?  Is there any value at all to a black congregation meeting in a black part of town that knows how to reach out to a black community (insert ‘white’ or ‘hispanic’ or ‘asian’ as needed)?

*More than saying we liked a movie or speaking words against racial bias in our churches, what do we do to tear down walls, without insisting that one or the other remove themselves from their cultural context? (Or do we we insist on that?)

I once wrote an article in a church bulletin on the subject of racial prejudice. I think this would have been in 1985 or so. An elder in the church instructed me never to write on that subject again. I asked him if I wrote the truth. He didn’t answer. Instead he said, “It causes too much trouble.” He was elderly. I know he grew up in a different time with different attitudes and tried to make sense of it in his own way. But I think that if we are going to move ahead, we are going to have to cause some trouble. More trouble than race riots and gang warfare can solve… The kind of trouble that should rumble in our hearts and souls when we see injustice and a life outside of what God envisions.

So thanks, Sean, for causing some trouble in my mind today. I hope you’ll write more on that subject. I’d like to hear anyone’s thoughts in the comments… or write a response on your own blog!

~John

Comments are closed.