I belong to a multicultural, inter-ethnic, non-denominational church in Chicago. The history of racism and segregation in Chicago is so deeply rooted that even in the 21st century our church’s existence is quite the aberration. The mission of the church is even more of an anomaly. The mission and vision of my church is to become a multi-ethnic community that transforms our city through worship, reconciliation and neighborhood development. separately each one of these could be a sound mission of a church, yet my church has decided to take on all three.
Both the leadership and the membership are dedicated to this mission. We often have cultural events that span a month and range from sharing cultural foods and differing worship styles to examining the deep history and struggles of each particular group. I have only been at this church a short time and have experienced only two cultural month celebrations. But that being said, I have heard that in the past the more in-depth events have become heated.
The knowledge of that actually gives me hope. I found the few events I have attended have been in exercise in futility. Whenever the tough questions are asked they are consistently avoided. What’s more, often those most apt to answer the questions are usually those that have, in my opinion, demonstrated the least amount of self-reflection and acceptance in terms of their own race and cultural identity.
The last event was focused on two differing ethnic groups that have a bitter history in this country despite both being minority groups. The event was well marketed as a highly provocative, highly sensitive and controversal event that would require open-mindedness and a willingness to be challenged. Unfortunately, I didn’t experience any of that. I thought the outcome was an extremely watered-down version of a potentially cathartic experience for everyone including and especially those who belong to the two people groups in question.
I thought about why it is that these events continue to be a source of disappointment for me as someone who is actually seeking healing and reconciliation. It was revealed to me that the reason the members of this church never really go beyond the stock answers about race and culture is due to fear of offending others particularly the Caucasian church members. This immediately brought me to the scripture about Jesus and the temple tax. I won’t go into depth about the details of this particular story, but what I will say is I ascertained that Jesus saw that there was a discrepancy in who was being held responsible for paying the temple tax. Yet, he chose not to be intentionally offensive or difficult for difficult’s sake so he made arrangements for the taxes to be paid through miraculous means.
I can understand the difficulty of discussing race, class and gender especially in a city as hyper-segregated as Chicago. And I can appreciate the intentional way that my fellow church members show love to one another by being considerate of each others feelings by deliberately avoiding topics that could hurt or offend others. Through this story Jesus demonstrates when and how to be considerate and agreeable with others regardless of how personally offensive the situation might be. As someone who is guilty of saying petty, disagreeable things meant to rile people up or even offend their sensibilities, I admire those on the other end of the spectrum that take other people’s feelings into deep consideration.
However, when a church takes on a mission of reconciliation they must do so fully aware of the tension that exists between consideration and truth. After doing some thinking about this situation I was led to another directional from Christ. Earlier in the book of Matthew, Jesus gave a litany, starting with the Beatitudes, about how to engage one another. In Matthew 5: 37, Jesus said something I think my church may have forgotten. “Simply let your yes be yes and your no be no”.
If we are to have an open dialogue about race, class and gender we need to understand and embrace the fact that “yes” some people will be offended and others will be hurt; not because of lack of consideration, but because often, the truth hurts. “No” no one likes to be associated with the cause of anyone else’s pain. But that cannot be the boundary at which we discontinue the discussion.
The bible is frequently referred to as the sword of the spirit. Hebrews depicts the word of God as “sharper than any two-edged sword”. My God nor His word are impotent which means that if there is racism, classism or gender bias that exists in us, the truth of the Gospel will cut it out and separate it from our Spirit. I have never heard of cutting whether spiritual or physical ever not hurt. If we are going to be honest about the pain that minorities in this country and in this city have endured we are going to have to talk about the oppressive nature of the dominant culture. The word dominant is used for a reason. Of all the words in the English language with similar connotation, the word “dominant” is ascribed to Caucasian culture in America. Dominant means overpowering to the point of subversion and suffocation of others. If we cannot be honest about even that than we are not living up to our mission of dedication to reconciliation. If we do not live up to the mission than our yes is “sort of” and our “no” is “maybe not”.
God has not called us to be luke-warm about anything including our dedication to reconciliation. I love my church. I pray for my church. I support my church and will be here until such time as God sees it fit to move me from this city. I pray that we will become a church that not only sees reconciliation as a vision, but lives it as a reality through the necessary, painful discourse through to the healing balm of truth.