Racism is a funny and often subtle thing. I have seen it manifest itself in various ways over the years. Since the earliest days of my life I can remember God clearly teaching me that He is no respecter of persons. As the songs says, "Red and Yellow, Black and White, all are precious in His sight." He does not elevate one ethnic group above another.
When I came to Christ I did so under the ministry of Jamie Buckingham, who at the time, was a key contributor to what God was doing through the Charismatic Renewal of the 1970's. Jamie was white. His church was white. I chose it over my mothers low church Pentecostalism because the teaching appealed to both my head and my heart. My mothers church majored in the emotions. I have always been a man whose emotions followed his reason, not the other way around. But even as a young teen I started to realize that while some were happy to worship beside me in church they were not happy to completely embrace me as an equal.
In college the Lord began to shape my understanding of the Church through the ministry of Randy Nabors, a White Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) minister whose wife is Black. Randy believed that the Church should reach out to the poor and intentionally strive to break all barriers. Barriers such as race and economics. I bought it. I saw the Gospel as the great equalizer. The New Jerusalem was a city of many tongues tribes and nations! It resonated with what God had been doing in me all along. But while many, both Black and White give lipservice to the belief that the Church is a new nation, a new ethnic group, over the years, as I have ministered in the body of Christ, I have found that in some circles of the Church I am too White. My Black friends are not comfortable with my rational, level headed approach to the things of God. And in other circles I am too Black. Very few White Evangelical Christians will admit to having racist leanings. Mostly, because they honestly have no idea that their not who they think they are.
In Memphis, TN., I pastored a Black PCA congregation which was located in the third poorest zip code in the United States (according to the 2000 census). The church was so poor that virtually all its funding came from outside the church. It was also controlled by Whites who were not a part of the church. When I made moves to put control of the church' finances and leadership in the hands of the local church powerful White men in my Presbytery acted swiftly to have me removed from my pulpit by withdrawing financial support. These men were pastors, elders and business leaders in the community. A prominant Black Christian leader in Memphis requested to meet with me through a mutal friend and she told me the reason why I had been so rudely cut loose by the very men who were supposed to be my brothers. She said that I was viewed by my White brothers as the "uppity Black man from up north" who had come into Memphis to try to tell these powerful men how to run their business. Racist do not appreciate Black leadership that "does not know its place".
I arrived in Memphis January of 2008 and by October I was out on the street with six months severance. I had a wife and five children to care for. These men were willing to pour over $200, 000.00 a year into that church, as long as they could control the work. That is racism.
I have seen that pattern over the course of my life over and over. Whites who love having a Black on their church staff because it gives their ministry a sense of gravitas, but find it unfathomable that the same man should be their pastor and their leader. That's racism.
Earlier, I said that racism is often very subtle. For example, when well meaning Whites vote for a man to be the President of the United States because he is Black, that is subtle racism. Many of my well meaning friends did this during the last election. This is a free country and I have no problem with people making a well informed decision to vote for someone I would never vote for, but that is not what we're talking about. These people thought it would be "neat to have a Black President". That is not what Martin Luther King Jr. had in mind when he gave his now famous, "I Have a Dream" speech. He told us his dream was that people would be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. That's the kingdom way of judging.
When you vote for a person because of the color of his skin ethically you are no better than the person who votes against him for the same reason. The one who votes against the Black man looks down his nose with disdain and sees himself as superior to the Black and will have nothing to do with electing a Black President. The one who votes for him because he is Black also sees himself as superior, but his disdain comes through not as hatred, but as condescending pity. The kind of pity that views being Black as a curse. The -I feel sorry for you poor Blacks, and I want you to know that I know you have it rough. And by the way, I am so glad I am not Black- kind of pity. That kind of pity is the kind that cherishes its place of privelege, while disdaining the one it is ostensibly helping.
The Church is not to be a place of colorblindness. Pigment is a gift too. Black church leaders do not want White Evangelicals pity. What we want is for you to allow the Spirit of God to truly show you your sin. Stop patting yourself on the back because you enjoy the company of a few Black friends. Ask yourself this, "Can I truly be taught by and led by a Black person?" We Blacks are led by Whites all the time. It comes natural to me to follow a leader because I recognize what God is doing in him or her. I recognize God's gifting. I only ask the same.
I close with this, I am truly blessed to be at a congregation not only loves me, but values my leadership and appreciates not only being with me, but being taught by me. That is the measure of true acceptance and equality.