PC: KSB

Evangelicals embracing diversity – it’s a thing

Live in harmony with one another…If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  -Romans 12:16a, 18, ESV

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. -Psalm 119:13-15, NIV

PC: KSB

PC: KSB


Norma took the stage, her voice shaking as she shared her story.

Through pauses and tears, she told the group about growing up as a migrant worker, not fitting in with her Texan friends because of her Floridian accent, and experiencing microaggressions because of her brown skin. She joined the church in Denver, thinking it a safe place, but still did not fit in. Her stories of regularly being tailed while grocery shopping, for example, are not believed.

This she shared on stage in front of the church itself. Norma pleaded to be believed and understood, said her Latina sisters there felt the same way, and called for unity. Being in a white space can be exhausting when that means people cannot relate to you, or when they question your experiences.


Our church is actually very multicultural,

especially for an evangelical church – that’s why I love it and why I want to share about it with you today. The worship team is equal parts black and white with one or two Asian or Latinx musicians completing the group. Mixed race children zigzag around the aisles after church while their parents mingle.

Yet many people in our community still feel as if they cannot fully be themselves or be known and believed.

We are working on it. We have a diversity committee. We, an evangelical church in a predominantly white denomination, are an example in our intention to be racially inclusive. Though we are still imperfect, the attempts are showing results.

The diversity committee is about two years old, and I have heard women of color say that it has been helpful. The committee is part of the reason why we recently had an untold story event where people of color were able to share some of these microaggressions they experience, and it is why we had a service dedicated to discussing racial diversity.

The space last Sunday allowed for testimony, listening, and lots of applause. The speakers were honest. The message was about unity. You can watch all of the service here. In addition to testimonies, one of the older men who leads worship explained the history of Negro spirituals and shared one.


Unity is important, but we need to dig deeper into what that means.

Harmony, too, is necessary. We do not need to put aside our differences to get along; we need to put aside our division.

A song is made stronger by its different, cohesive sounds – the harmonies. We, as disciples of Christ, need also to embrace who we are and build each other up using our unique gifts. If we try to fit in or suppress the parts of us that have caused us trouble because they stand out, we hurt ourselves and the Body of Christ. We suppress the Spirit within our bodies by suppressing how God made us to be.

Some of those gifts from God are our identity and our very appearance. We are God’s beloved children, designed according to his specifications, just as the Tabernacle was designed with physical measurements for utmost holiness and beauty. Let me share some examples of these gifts:

  • For Sho, it means her dark skin and bald head, her understanding nature and loving spirit. All of that is intentional. She is tall for a reason. She is black for a reason. She is strong, lovely, wise, and holy.
  • For Fabian, it means his ability to speak both Spanish and English, his passion to care for his students and to fight for their best interests, his athleticism and his servant’s heart. He is American for a reason. He is Hispanic for a reason. He is in Colorado for a reason. He is considerate, kind, and intelligent.
  • For Lee, it means his Dragon Ball Z-esc hair, his endless knowledge of everything that exists, and the way he interacts with people. He is Korean for a reason. He is white for a reason. He gets caught on subjects that fascinate him for a reason. He is encouraging, dedicated, and thoughtful.
  • For Djeffrey, it means his big, welcoming eyes and bright smile, his energy, his commitment, his voice, and his body that was made for dancing. He is Haitian for a reason. He is a man for a reason. He is black for a reason. Regardless of how he does his hair or how much energy he has on a particular day, he is serious about people, crazy about Jesus, compassionate, and giving.
  • For me, it means my light skin, my ability to shift between cultures and build relationships, my short stature, and my voice. I am white for a reason. I always seem to be the one who doesn’t quite fit in the crowd, and that positioning is for a reason. I am inviting, knowledgeable, hospitable, and beloved.

David, a Korean-American man who shared his testimony last Sunday, recapped a story where a friend told him not to be “that Asian guy.” He initially agreed with his friend and then thought about it later with curiosity. A woman who shared her story told of the teen girls around her also being told not to act their race.

“Don’t act black,” or “don’t be that Asian guy” is like saying “don’t be the way God made you to be.” It is spitting in the face of God! It is also racist.

God made you in your skin and placed you with your kin for a reason. If you are black, God smiles upon you. If you are Native American, he sees you. If you are Latinx, he is proud of you. If you are Asian, he knows your innermost thoughts and desires. If you are white, he loves you too.


I am proud of my morning church for its efforts to be racially inclusive.

Some ways we can continue to improve are to incorporate Spanish songs into our worship to benefit our large Hispanic population and add some Korean, French, and Creole songs as well. We sing a little bit of Gospel and have recently learned a couple spirituals, but the majority of the worship is still CCM, aka white Christian music. As a white attender, I think we are doing pretty decently, but I know we can definitely push ourselves more for the love of our Body, who is Christ.

Although our church is multiracial and the people on stage represent that, most of the elders themselves are white, and they are all men. Adding more people of color to our leadership (and women, but I have intentionally left gender out of this because that is a different story at our church) will change the way our church is run so that we can grow more harmonious and united and reflective of Heaven.

To other Christians who may be reading this, and church leaders especially, consider taking our model as an example for how to grow your church in the glory of God, and share with me how you have harnessed the strength that comes from the diversity of God’s Kingdom!

Peace.

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Lawson field, PC: KSB

Confessions of a formerly racist woman

A busload of college students preparing for summer ministries filed into the open room that evening, abandoning the Midwestern winter air. We were entering a space of lament that MLK weekend. Mostly we sat, stood, or bowed in silence, allowing God to heal us from ways we had been sinned against throughout our lives. We let ourselves grieve.

But as we did this, the Holy Spirit showed me something ugly within myself, a way I had sinned against others. It was disgusting and shameful.

I knew God could and had forgiven me, but that didn’t stop my heart from pounding and burning with a pressure that only comes when the Holy Spirit is compelling me to do something. That night as I kneeled on the carpet, God was telling me to publically confess my sin.

I stood up in the silence, shaking.

The roomful of students preparing to share the Gospel in cities across the US, hostels throughout Europe, and countries in the Global South listened as I confessed my sin aloud. I had failed to understand the Gospel I proclaimed, though I did not realize that yet.

I told them I was harboring racial prejudice.

Though not intentional and not directed towards people I knew personally, because I was able see my friends as full humans, I was prejudiced towards black people. I had internalized the belief that they were less intelligent than me, a white person. I was racist.

Four years ago last night, in the dim room at that retreat center, God turned my life around again. I’d been “born again” at age five, when God rescued me from a life stuck in sin and welcomed me into his Kingdom; baptized at ten, which was a marker in my life though not particularly life-changing; and now God was saving me again from a life of racism.

Instead of rejecting me, my peers listened with respect. Some thanked me. And when I returned to campus a few days later, I jumped into a life pursuing racial conciliation.

Through sociological education, relationships with gracious people of color, the love and conversations of the Office of Multicultural Development, events put on by Solidarity, I began to fight my ignorance and racism in order to love others better.

Where I had once been afraid of protests, I joined campus demonstrations combatting racial injustice. I began to use my writing and social influence to teach other white folks about racism, however subtle, unintentional, “innocent,” systemic, or blatant it may have been.

The focus of my life had shifted completely, all thanks to God. He helped me to love my black brothers and sisters. He saved me from the miry bog of ignorance, prejudice, racism and gave me a new song.

As a white person, I still benefit from the systems of racism in the United States. That means I am still racist in a sense. Moreover, I am still ignorant: I have years of racial understanding and conversation to catch up on, and there are things I may never fully understand because I do not experience them.

But that doesn’t stop me from striving to see things from other people’s perspectives, listen to and believe their experiences, research racial justice in order to share knowledge and support communities of color, and generally live my life in a way that esteems my friends and fellow Americans who are a different race or ethnicity than me – and not out of guilt but out of love and a sense of what is right or just.

I say none of this to glorify myself but to celebrate the way God transformed my life, saving me anew, in the hopes that he might open your eyes as well, if they are closed in the way mine were. I am forever grateful to God for this.

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend.

http://www.collegescholarships.org/images/italian-student-scholarships.jpg

If I’m not Italian, what am I?

During my freshman year, my college’s group for racial (re)conciliation held an event in combination with the theater group in which we used our bodies to explore the concept of home. Through a Never-Have-I-Ever type of exercise, I discovered I was the only person out of approximately 40 in the room who had grown up surrounded by Italian Americans. At this point, I began to realize how important that is to my cultural identity.

There was only one problem: I am not Italian.

I grew up knowing this. Multiple teachers, from my kindergarten teacher through a high school Bible teacher, were Italian American. My classmate Sarah was Italian, Jordan was half Italian, Niko was fully Italian – most of my class had Italian in them, but I had none. Later on, my church was majority Italian, and I gleaned pieces of what it meant to be Italian from church family picnics, big meals together and fresh basil in the garden.

The list goes on: My neighbor Nick was Italian, the neighbors behind us were and the neighbor girls I babysat when we moved across town were also Italian. We lived in North Haven, after all. The owners of the local music store where I took lessons were Italian. My “second family” the Vecchios and half their church — many of the people I loved there, at least — were Italian as well. Again, we lived in the Havens, a very Italian area of  Connecticut. I was not bothered by being non-Italian, but I was aware of it.

I discovered I was the only person in the room who had grown up surrounded by Italian Americans.

Recently I have realized that I always study that which I am not. I think about race daily, read and speak about issues black Americans face. Most of my friends are either racial or ethnic minorities in the United States or people of any color from other countries. Yet, despite my interests and passions, I am white and American. There is value in being able to connect across racial boundaries and bring a voice to those who are not heard, but I am still conflicted about my own racial identity.

Likewise, I am conflicted about my ethnic identity. In studying Italian Americans in Connecticut for a class this past semester, I intended to study my home, my history. Yet as I study Italian Americans more and more, I realize how un-Italian I am. This culture that surrounded me and reminds me of home is not my ethnic heritage. Just as I am not black, so too I am not Italian.

What am I?

My parents did not celebrate family history, heritage and culture. I am a sixth generation American from England, Scotland, France, Ireland and (by way of probably one ancestor) Germany. I know I am white by race. I know I am American by nationality. I was born into these identities. Yet, despite knowing all this nominally, I still struggle with racial and ethnic identity.

Perhaps I am conflicted and confused because my immediate family does not find culture and heritage very significant. As an assimilated white American, I also do not feel attached to my heritage. Furthermore, my family is Christian, which means I have been socialized under the true yet often blanketing language of finding my “identity in Christ.”

While I am realizing that I might feel more stable if I secured my identity in Christ alone, I do not want to ignore the other aspects of my identity in the process. Evangelical Christian rhetoric tends to obscure or neglect the social markers that impact our lives, but I know as an evangelical Christian that my race, gender, class, sexuality and so on are too important to gloss over. I am a human being with a body and a history that impact my life — and those around me. Thus, I want to understand myself and how I fit into this country and this world.

I am a human being with a body and a history that impact my life — and those around me.

As I prepare to leave the United States for the summer, my queries take a new form: What does it mean to be a white American female in the Democratic Republic of Congo? I have yet to discover the privileges and hardships of this, and I am still working on understanding my identity appropriately in the States.

I am beginning to understand my identity more, yet as I do so, I am faced with how complex it is. I seek to understand it rightly, not only to understand myself but also to use the privileges society grants me in the best ways possible to pursue justice and mercy. Jesus Christ’s place in my life inspires this. Constantly surrounded by newfound knowledge and questions, I still ask, What or who am I, and what are the implications of that?

 

THANKS FOR VISITING KATELYNSKYEBENNETT.COM! COMMENT BELOW ABOUT YOUR RACIAL AND ETHNIC IDENTITY. HOW DID YOU COME TO UNDERSTAND IT? WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU?