Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Most Segregated Day of the Week

by Gregory A. Johnson

By John Vachon for U.S. Farm Security Administration (Library of Congress[1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Drinking fountain on the Halifax County Courthouse
(North Carolina) in April 1938
A great display of racial segregation can still be found in America, and it's in an unlikely place—the church on Sunday mornings. Sunday is the most segregated day of the week. Here in America, we have churches for every race—African American, European American, Native American, Latino, Japanese, Korean, Hmong, Chinese, etc. I understand the language and cultural barriers that exist, but should our churches not have representatives from all races within the community that they reside?

In 1996, I received a call from a church board in Mississippi and was invited to come to speak on a Sunday morning as a candidate for a vacant senior pastor position. Becky, our two young children, and I traveled to Mississippi to spend a weekend meeting with the board, speaking to the church, and seeking the will of God. We were put up in the nicely furnished and fairly new parsonage that was adjacent to the large debt-free church, which sat on a nice piece of property.

I preached that Sunday morning to a church full of people. There was excitement in the air. They had a church potluck dinner on the grounds after the service, and we were treated like royalty. That afternoon I was asked to meet with the church board of deacons.

That Sunday afternoon, I answered questions for nearly two hours. The church board of all white businessmen asked me question after question in order for them to feel satisfied that they had found the right pastor to present to their membership. When they were done with their questions, they informed me that they wanted to present me to the congregation that night to be voted on to be their senior pastor. As they were adjourning the meeting with their minds made up, I stopped them and politely told them that I had one question to ask them.

I asked them the question that had been burning in my heart since the service that morning. I said: "I noticed that the church and parsonage is in a predominant African-American neighborhood and area of the city, but there are no African Americans in attendance at the morning service. Why is that?"

A dead silence fell in the room. They looked at each other with grins on their faces that I will never forget. I was able to sadly answer my own question as I watched their reactions in the silence of the room.

I refused to talk until they answered my question. Finally the chairman of the board spoke up and I will never forget his words. He sarcastically asked, “Well, Brother Johnson, how do you feel about black people?”

I took my time to look each one of them in the eye. Then looking the board chairman in the eye, I said, without further hesitation, “I love them as much as I do white people. Christ died for ALL people, and you will not be voting on me tonight to be your pastor.”

I preached and ministered at the church that evening. The next day, my wife, and I packed the car, and we left with our two young children for the long drive back to West Virginia. We had found God's will for us concerning pastoring that church, and we didn't even have to pray about it.

A faith and justice revival must come to the church in our day. In his book, Why We Can't Wait, Dr. King said: "To the ministers I stressed the need for a social gospel to supplement the gospel of individual salvation. I suggested that only a 'dry as dust' religion prompts a minister to extol the glories of heaven while ignoring the social conditions that cause men an earthly hell" (1964).

In our day, may God put ministers behind the pulpit that will extol the glories of heaven while reminding of the conditions of the world that we live in, and how God wants to use His children to bring about necessary social change – to replace hell on earth with God’s Kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven.

Excerpted from the book, The Kingdom According to Jesus by Gregory A. Johnson. Copyright © 2012 by Gregory A. Johnson. All rights reserved.

Know that you are loved,
gaj

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