There are so many reasons why its a good idea to plant a racially diverse church in downtown Cincinnati. Numbers one and two have already been covered, and I’ve got 8 more good reasons to write about. Three months after moving here, I’m very optimistic that this will work and that its God’s desire for this to happen.
Fortunately, I’ve identified the biggest obstacle to planting a racially diverse church in downtown Cincinnati: me. And the third reason why I’m planting a racially diverse church in downtown Cincinnati is to strip away my own barriers and, God willing, the barriers that other people have to forming genuine relationships with people of another race.
Am I willing to do what it takes to apply the gospel comprehensively to lingering and even undiscovered racial residue? If I am ready to do that in my life, the real test will be whether or not I will be willing to help expose the racial residue in others’ lives as well.
Last week, I had lunch with Chris Beard, pastor of another congregation in Cincinnati that is targeting racial reconciliation, and Sherman Bradley, a local leader in poverty ministries. This conversation challenged me that I cannot merely be content to be introspective and address issues in my own heart, I need to be an “agitator,” as Chris put it.
I believe that most Americans, both white and black, filter their perceptions of other people of different races through a grid of incorrect perceptions and assumptions that prevent genuine relationships from forming. Many white people will lock their car doors when a black pedestrian is near their car, for example. His appearance generates the perception that he is somehow a threat. Now, suppose a relationship is formed with this man and he becomes a trusted friend. All will not be remedied by this because he will simply become “one of the good ones.”
Suppose even further, then, that genuine friendships can be formed with about 10 or 12 African American men, from different neighborhoods. Now, there can be perhaps enough to begin to challenge one’s predisposition to assume that black men are a criminal threat. There need to be enough relationships formed with others of another race to change one’s overall perception of that race.
My contention is that the best place for these relationships to form is the body of Christ. This will be potentially more difficult for white people than black people, because we can easily tune black culture out and refuse to learn and understand it if we wish. BET is only one channel, and VH1 is just a click away. But black people must understand and work within white culture if they are to survive. In other words, black people already understand white culture automatically, white people can learn black culture electively.
That is where being an “agitator” comes in. I need to be the person who constantly brings up racially diverse perspectives into conversations. I need to be an advocate in the white world and refuse to allow white people to choose to ignore their black neighbors. I must not allow weak excuses for white disengagement in racial justice to go unchecked.
This will undoubtedly cost me relationships with white people and potential church members. So this is why the biggest barrier to planting this church is me: I often lack the courage to be an agitator. Planting this church forces me to face my own fears of not being liked by people who’s approval I crave. If I feel called to plant this church and am too timid and cowardly to confront white people with their racial residue, who then will do it?