Elephant Room 2: Live-Blog Session 5
Topic: “Come Together”
Two of the largest churches in America, both in Dallas, one of America’s largest cities—one church is almost 100 percent black, the other almost 100 percent white. Is this a problem? What factors, beyond local diversity, are widening this divide? What causes such obvious segregating of the races? In what ways does being a minority worshiper hinder worship and service in the church? What churches are achieving success at breaking down these walls, and how? What do you see the other pastor doing better than your church does it?
Speakers: Jack Graham and T. D. Jakes, with Mark Driscoll moderating
Disclaimer: This is merely a summary of my notes, taken down live during the event. They may not be word-for-word and will need to be seen on video in order for their context to be fully understood. I will be updating this post every few minutes as the session goes on.
Graham: The way to destroy the racial divide is to get the roof off and the walls down. I got to know the Bishop for the first time ten years ago when we prayed together. We put our choirs together. We put our lives together in this. It was an incredible experience. Contextually, for me, I was born in 1950. So I’m old enough to remember in a small town in Arkansas asking my mother why one water fountain said “white” and one said “colored.” Segregation at its worst. In my home, there was prejudice and misunderstanding. (Prejudice is ignorance because we don’t know each other.) You have to overcome your upbringing, grow as a Christian, and then as a pastor learn how to seek progress. We see progress in the coming together of people in the last couple of decades at a much faster rate. We have a long way to go. There is still so much racial hate in people’s hearts and lives and churches. Some churches are dead because of hate. No other way to describe it. The churches do not welcome everyone. As a pastor, I began to ask questions. I worked in West Palm Beach, FL where things are more ethnically diverse. We can pray together and share platforms, but when we are actually in the trenches together serving and doing ministry together – that’s what took it to a whole new level. Talking about it, preaching about it cannot compare to actually living this out because when I know you, I can love you. When I see Jesus in you, I love the Jesus in you and you love the Jesus in me. We learn to be color blind at that level. I’m grateful that our church is making progress. We have 50-60 countries represented at Prestonwood. Most people go to church in their community. So as the community is changing, our church provides an atmosphere where everyone feels welcome and enjoys being there.
Jakes: I don’t think you can successfully integrate your church until you integrate your life. If all your friends are one color and you invite people of other colors in, they feel like props in a stage for your life. Twenty years ago, Caucasians would have been dominant in the city of Dallas. Today, over 50% of the population is Hispanic / Latino. Either you evolve or your church will diminish. Racism still does exist and is pervasive in religion and politics and the way we think. But let’s look at the lower tier of that. Most Americans are not racist. They’re just used to what they’re used to. During the agricultural age, slavery was promoted as a business decision. We went into the industrial age at the same time as the Civil Rights movement. That movement said we would not be held in bondage but it also put us together in a situation where we were working together. Even though we live in our comfort zones, we worked in the central marketplace of ideologies. At the erosion of the industrial age, we have gradually receded back into the trenches of our comfort zones. When you write the books you read, your vision will always be distorted. We need cross-pollination in order to have fruit. The Body of Christ will never be what it needs to be until others challenge her truths with their experiences. The embarrassing thing is that we as churches are not doing as well as the nightclubs are at integrating. We have to challenge that. There’s more to it than racism. It’s comfort. It’s the natural inclination to be in environments where people act like you, dress like you, think like you.
Driscoll: Is that idolatry? Worship of self?
Jakes: Absolutely. It is easier for whites to assimilate into black settings than vice versa. Why? Because we’ve always had to do it. You’ve never had to walk into a room where you are a minority and things didn’t fit you. That doesn’t make you a racist, but it does make you comfortable. God challenges us out of our comfort zones. This is a complicated issue. I started a church in the coal mines of West Virginia and ended up with a church that is 35% white. It can be done. But it has to be intentional. We need to irrigate our ideas. Without it, the media and every aspect of our society plays the music to your band. If we don’t change, we’ll find ourselves in a position where we acquiesce to racism without ever knowing we’ve been pitted against each other. I’m not talking about church. I’m talking about washing cars together. I’m talking about playing games, our kids playing together. There’s so much misconception. At some point, we have to be able to listen. When you do that, it creates a platform not only for the gospel but so that we can begin untangling the way we receive information. If we don’t get down to what is really true, do we really have gospel? That is the task before us. It means challenging everything. When Jack and I got together, our choir directors worked. His people sang. Our people sang.
Driscoll: Who sang better?
Jakes: There are some white people who can sing!
Graham: The main problem we have today on this issue is apathy, going back to our comfort zone. It’s indifference. Not intolerance, but indifference, which may be in some ways even worse. If you always grade your own paper, you get an A. If we look at ourselves and write our own paper, we think we’re doing good. We work with an organization in Dallas called Bridge Builders, to help our church bridge back into the city, and not only pray together but help in the building of the community. Not just us – the white folks helping poor people, but all of us working together to do something great for God. The world takes notice when that happens. They can pass on the prayer meeting, but when the world sees us working together, that’s what changes everything.
Loritts: I love your assessment, Bishop. Interestingly enough, there was more cultural diversity in the 50′s and 60′s than now. All the way up until I was 12 years old, I never knew I shouldn’t like people who were different than me. Until high school. I was hanging out with white friends and my black friends said I was selling out. My dad said to me, “Boy, don’t you ever let anyone tell you who your friends should be.” It takes courage to do this. I think the lack of moral courage that I see in the church of Jesus Christ is appalling. We give ourselves a pass by accepting our comfort and apathy. This issue is a higher issue. It reflects the integrity of the gospel. Jesus came to bring tribes and nations together. The call to Christ is a call to express the unity of the blood that brings us together. There ought to be something diverse about Christianity or it’s not authentically Christian. That was what Paul meant when he confronted Peter in Galatians. He said “You violated the truth of the gospel.” We need to kick this discussion up. I love your expression too, Jack. It has to be authentically spiritual people. We have to teach people about the implications of the gospel – far deeper than praying a prayer, being in the kingdom. What does it mean to live the gospel out and be distinctively Christian? That is the beginning of the pilgrimage of telling the truth about God in human history.
Cordeiro: In these last days, when the Spirit is moving powerfully, all of us ought to be saying the same thing. Intentionality is important. In Hawaii, the line of missions blurs. We have all kinds of people. It’s not integration or blacks and whites. It’s Pentecost. We’ve got to get to Pentecost. That’s got to be our goal.
Driscoll: How? For the average pastor who has a congregation that is comfortable, what recommendations do you have?
Cordeiro: It has to be intentional. The first beginnings have to be structural. Structure can decrease as maturity increases, but not until then. The intentionality of structuring something until it becomes comfortable can turn the tide.
Driscoll: Is being comfortable a sin to be repented of?
Jakes: I don’t think we can fulfill the Great Commission in our community. He said – Go into the whole world. You can’t pick the houses you’re going in. At a certain level, it’s sin. But it’s not always easily identified. I don’t want to use terms that are counterproductive. When you label something as racist, they have burning crosses in their mind and think, “They’re not talking about me.” But when you ask – “Who’s in your life? Who do you run with?” Then all of a sudden, I have to come out of my safety zone and enter your atmosphere. You almost have to go back to being a baby again, because you can’t trust what you see when you walk into my atmosphere, because you are seeing it from your history. And your conclusions are white conclusions about black realities, or black conclusions about Latino realities. You got to go to Ground Zero and learn how I think. How did I get here? All of us got here from generational ideologies. You are looking at it from your Presbyterian, Catholic, or Lutheran ideas. You have to become a student again and have the humility to do it. The sin is the pride that stops us from admitting we don’t know everything. That’s where the sin is. The arrogance that we must always be the teacher and not the student. Of all things that we blog about and tweet about, the thing that God hated the most is pride! Nobody blogs or tweets about that because often we have it and it goes untouched. It’s the pride of life that is the third dimension and strongest. We don’t preach about it because it grows in our garden without ever being weeded.
MacDonald: BAM! That was my contribution.
Question: As a white pastor in the south, how can I encourage having a racially diverse congregation?
Graham: Engage your community. Build relationships that are obvious. You say by your action you model this reconciliation. Find ways to work together on equal footing. We serve and help together. Bring people on your team, both volunteers and ministers on your staff team that are diverse. That says a lot. That’s not posing. It’s giving people an opportunity to serve Christ in your church. You ought to be able to serve, if you’re qualified and gifted, in the ministry.
Question: How do you make people of varying ethnicities feel “comfortable” in your church?
Furtick: I’m evaluating my failures in this area, listening to both of you guys talk. When I was in high school, I joined the gospel choir because I liked it and the people so much. It wasn’t a statement or a mission I was on – to be the white guy in the gospel choir. But I went to college, and I was the only white guy in the dorm. But we loved those guys. It was great what God did my freshman year in college. I thought – Would you ever think you would be friends with a white guy like me? He said, “Steve, you’re not white! You’re Hispanic or something!” We need true affection and love for one another. When we had Bishop Jakes preach in my church and you love his ministry and it’s not a crusade you’re on… it’s not “let’s have black preaching so our church can be diverse…” I have to go back and address more deeply my failures in this area. How did I go from being the kid in the gospel choir in high school and college (I was in Black Student Fellowship and they changed the name to accommodate me when I joined) – to having so many white people in my church? I have started addressing it. We’ll see whether or not we can change that.
MacDonald: If I could speak monolithically, I’d say that most white folks, suburbanites, are clueless when it comes to the city. James Meeks took me into the schools in the neighborhood around his church. The school in my neighborhood was replacing the track field with tax dollars, and the school in his neighborhood didn’t have lockers. I saw what was being done and thought, “I am a stupid man.” Another thing that is important is to see the benefits of the other worship. When we brought in African American music to the church, the volume went up. Our church was better because of whole body worship. Heaven will be great because the nations there will be worshipping. My son-in-law is African American. He is a joy to our family. The soil of my heart has been tilled by these subjects.
Jakes: We’ve got to have relationships. If I say something stupid, tell me. We’re going to make mistakes and we need to have people willing to help us. The greatest heroes of the Bible were multicultural. Moses down the Nile, trained in Egypt, lived in Midian, back to Egypt and then to the Promised Land. Paul taken as a missionary. God asks, “Who will go for us?” If you want to say “Here am I. Send me” then go beyond your area code.