Why White Churches Can Be Challenging for Black People

churchAlthough many black people have realigned themselves with white churches, there are times when it is difficult. It becomes disheartening when fellow “believers” spread their political affiliations more than the Gospel. Instead of echoing the sentiments of Christ, the voices of Washington become the shallow primary. When issues of injustice or inequality arise, many white congregations choose to remain silent as opposed to speaking out against the climate of pain its African American members are subjected to. What happened to Paul’s directive in Romans 12:15, “Mourn with those who mourn”?

I attend a predominantly white church that I love and do not intend to leave, but I would be lying to myself and anyone else if I acted as if it is not challenging at times. The African American culture is accustomed to, just as others, the church speaking to the “heart” of the whole man. This will never occur if we skirt around current issues for fear of offending supporters.

The reality is, for many white Americans — and particularly the white church — silence is the norm. When it comes to race in America, white evangelicals tend to act as if it is always time to be silent, and never time to speak. Many Caucasian co-laborers are insistent that they are not now nor have ever been racist. At the same time, they are good with white privilege and embedded white supremacy remaining unexamined while preferring to focus on personal responsibility.

It is easy to say politics and religion have nothing to do with one another, but that is not an absolute truth. It is confusing for black people when they witness many atrocities that stem from our current President, while white Christians continue to issue their stamp of approval. White churches can be difficult for black people when no one voices any concern about the issues that continue to hurt their communities, but would rather use their platform to say, “We stand for the flag and the National Anthem here.”

Perhaps our white “brothers and sisters” who are unwilling to speak themselves, could be more intentional and listen to the cries and pain of their African American brothers and sisters without dismissing or debating them. There are a few simple things predominantly white churches could do to create a more inclusive, encouraging and open environment. For starters, refrain from imposing personal discomfort with race and America’s racist history onto those closest to the pain. Instead, acknowledge that the pain often experienced is a direct result of our tragic shared history.

Many white people assume they know what it means to be black, and everyone should share their concept. However, enslaved in their narrow definition of being black in America is a host of ignorance and indifference. Many black brothers and sisters live in fear and shame. They are not free to be who God made them. Therefore, they feel the need to “code-switch” by adjusting the black culture [or code] to fit the majority. Excessive code-switching exhausts the switcher to the point of acculturating them altogether.

Far too often, black churches are the only place where many African Americans find it safe to be Christian and black. Where else is it acceptable for blacks to be righteously angry with issues that affect us, without arousing the ever-feared “angry black person” stereotype.  In addition to personal struggles, we often are forced to fight stereotypes that make it difficult to “hope for all things” (1 Cor. 13:7).

Whites have the privilege to overlook issues that plague black people – concerns that black people cannot ignore. Yet because those who are privileged do not have to think about these issues, many of them do not or simply abdicate the responsibility to someone else —and this is discouraging. On any given Sunday, blacks attend churches where the majority of the members and the leadership are woefully uneducated on issues that shape black experiences, black fears, black families and life in the black community. These issues affect our spiritual state. However, the white majority treats these painful truths—if they acknowledge them at all—as black people’s feelings, not everyone’s facts. Ultimately, while the majority continue to dismiss these truths, our experiences and current reality remain invalidated.

White churches can be difficult for black people because as African Americans, we share many common experiences, and these experiences build a unique solidarity among us. This is why racial injustice in Libya can shake black people in America. Unfortunately, this level of solidarity suggests that every black person feels the same way about all issues, which is not the case. Truth is, as a black individual, it is exhausting to feel as if you are constantly representing all black people.

Likewise, I do not ignore the realities of racism that have continually plagued this country. I do not think any of us should forget the racism of our country’s past, or ignore it in its present form. Rather, we should honestly acknowledge and learn from our worst moral failures and darkest hours. We should see the sins of our fellow citizens for what they were and what they are…humans in rebellion against God and each other.

When discussions of racialized violence stop at the church door, the result is an unbearable dissonance for many observant Christians, particularly black and brown people like me. For the future of the church and our nation, listening, empathy, and love are all golden, but silence is not.

White churches can be difficult for black people, but equally rewarding. As I said at the onset, I am an active member of a white church with no intention of leaving. I love my church; I would not be who I am today without its influence. Whether you embrace the challenge – as I do – or not, as Christians we must work to bridge the racial divide. It is my belief that we are better, stronger, wiser and a more accurate reflection of Christ … TOGETHER.

Opinion by Cherese Jackson (Virginia)


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Image Credits:

Top Image Courtesy Cherese Jackson
Featured Image Courtesy of David Butcher’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

2 Responses to "Why White Churches Can Be Challenging for Black People"

  1. codesgen.com/psn   December 9, 2017 at 6:20 am

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  2. Daniel Hill   December 6, 2017 at 8:46 am

    Awesome article – thanks for writing this!

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