“Sometimes I don’t like it here because people look at me funny,” my wife Dulce said. “I’m an American citizen. I speak with them in English. I’m a successful college student. But they treat me differently.”
Then a friend asked my wife, “is it different when Eric is around?”
“They’re better when Eric is around,” she replied. “But if I’m alone, I still feel like I don’t fit in.”
Dulce and I moved to the U.S. eight years ago. She has been an American citizen for four years. She communicates clearly in English, and her medical jargon is far superior to mine (she’s in nursing school). And yet she can’t feel at home in her own skin. People glare at her for it.
In the church, Lent is a time for spiritual disciplines and repentance. As we were reflecting on this series, the Connectional Ministries Team remarked that, “it is always timely to call out the evil in our midst.” As followers of Jesus we are called to repent of our sin and “resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves” (UMC Baptismal Covenant).
Racism and discrimination are still alive and well in society and our churches, friends. They are robbing God’s people of their lives and the lives of their fathers, mothers, daughters and sons. And they are robbing the church of the fullness of Christ.
The Kingdom and People of God includes all of us from all around the world. Peoples of every nation, race and tongue, not just those who speak our language or share our skin color. The Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12) is made up of all people, all parts, all functions. And if any are missing, the body suffers.
It is my hope that our worship can fully reflect all people of God. As a global denomination, we’re blessed to have musicians, songwriters and faithful disciples from Africa, The Philippines, Central and South America, throughout Europe and beyond.
In my experience with Dulce, the prejudices, spoken and unspoken, and walls come down when in relationship with other people, as we eat together, share conversations and experience, worship and more. Worship is one incredible opportunity for all of us to gather and unite before God and care for one another. In community with God and neighbor, the sins of racism and discrimination begin to crumble.
What can our churches do?
- We must start with our own hearts. There are moments I find myself enjoying my privilege. After the recent conversation with Dulce and my mom, I really had to look within. If we can’t acknowledge and confess our lack of acceptance of the other, they will never feel welcome in our worship.
- Train our congregation for hospitality. A lot of our churches are friendly to those who have been in the club for a while. The problem with a church that “feels like family” is if you’re not a family member, you feel left out. We must train our hospitality teams (greeters, ushers, etc) and entire congregations to be welcoming toward all people.
- Include acts of worship from other cultures. This is where we start to stretch our comfort zone, but that’s really important. Recently a good friend reminded me that oftentimes we encounter the Holy Spirit just outside of our comfort zone. Try to sing a song in a different language. Use a method of prayer that comes from a different people group. Engage with different sounds and instruments. Research global praise and worship.
- Raise diverse people into leadership. Our churches will not embrace the multicultural world around us if their leadership all look and sound the same. We’re called to be in relationship with the fullness of all God’s people, and then identify those with the gifts to serve and lead our churches. And we’re missing out if they are all the same.
Of course, this isn’t everything. It probably isn’t enough. But it’s a start. And friends, we need to start.
Our friends, families and communities are full of people who still suffer from the sins of racism and discrimination. As God’s people, we are called not just to love them, but to work for justice, mercy and peace. May that deep work resonate in our spirits in this season.