The analyses continue post-election on why our nation is divided and last week’s op-ed by Dana Milbank is fodder from some interesting and painful conversation.
Americans are deeply, and for the moment immutably, divided by whether or not they’re nostalgic for what had long been a White-dominated country.
Milbank sees this as the crux of the issue. There are citizens who see the past history of the United States as one that favored them (White People) and they want to return to that time. And there are citizens who see the past history of the United States as one that was unjust to Native Americans and People of Color, and they hope for a different future. Yes, this is a simplistic assessment, but it’s worth talking about.
And so I share a story.
In the church mid-council I serve as a pastor and leader, we have 93 congregations and 28 of them are historically African American churches. Our oldest African American congregations were founded just after the Civil War when – as enslaved people – they had been relegated to the balcony for worship. As freed people, they were either banned from the balcony of White churches or they set out to establish congregations of people whose experiences were like their own. They had endured the humiliation and brutality of slavery together. And then they experienced the horrors of Jim Crow together. And then they experienced the battle for equal employment, equal education, and voting rights together. And today they continue to work for equal rights and equal opportunities, while enduring both monumental and everyday slights and injustices.
In our Presbytery, each congregation has a volunteer liaision assigned to them from something called The Community on Ministry to help with everything from church conflicts to calling a new pastor. We have Black liaisons serving White churches. We have White liaisons serving Black churches.
During my first week on the job in 2018, I received a phone call from a member of a White church asking if they could have a White liaison. And I said, “No.” It smacked of racism to me.
In 2020, when assigning a liaison to an historically Black church which was beginning the process of seeking a new pastor, I was asked if they could have a Black liaison. And I said, “Yes.” It seemed like the right thing to do.
Sometimes double standards make Jesus happy.
Every Black person I know lives in a culture dominated by Whiteness. Most of our politicians are White. Most of our business leaders are White. Most characters in the movies are White. Most of the faces we see in magazines and on TV are White. Black people know how to negotiate White spaces. They have had to know this to survive much less prosper.
Most White people I know live in a culture dominated by Whiteness. We see politicians, business leaders, and media personalities who look White. We (White people) think nothing of it when we walk into a room and there are no Black, Indigenous, or People of Color present. Most of us fail to notice. We have – at best – only a trace of understanding about cultures that are not White.
And so the historically Black Church seeking a new pastor gets a Black liaison to shepherd them along in that process.
Do you understand? I hope so.
Image of one of the remaining Rosenwald Schools on the campus of McClintock Presbyterian Church in Charlotte which is the oldest African American Church in Mecklenburg County. The Rosenwald Schools were founded in the 1910s by Booker T. Washington and funded by Julius Rosenwald to offer education to Black students in rural communities throughout the South. McClintock Presbyterian Church was founded in 1865 and they established a school in 1885. This Rosenwald School building, which is still used today, was built in 1922 to replace the former school building. It’s still a beautiful space for church gatherings and offices.