The fear of a black church, from many whites’ viewpoint, is likely not even racial so much as it is economic. Having an investor's mindset, many whites view the arrival of blacks at their church in terms of value depreciation. The very best sense of multi-culturalism never needs to be announced. A truly multicultural church never has to actually call itself “multicultural.” A truly multicultural church will be all things to all people, that all visitors might find something of themselves there in your worship, in your smile, in your love. And they’ll know they’ve come home. Meanwhile, the black church whites should fear is the black church of Martin Luther King. The black church of Rosa Parks and James Meredith. But that black church is long gone now.
It all starts with the music.
We may believe white folks go to white churches because there
are white people there. I don't think that's the case. I believe
white people go to white churches because there is white
music there. Or, more accurately, there is white culture, or
a culture that is familiar and comforting to them, there. What I
am discovering along my way is white folk, in general, can't
abide black music. Oh, sure, they'll invite us over every once
and again for a time of "special" music where we perform like
circus animals and everybody gets a kick out of the good ol'
Gospel hollering. But after we pack up, they go right back to
the Mormon Tabernacle Choir or Jars of Clay or whatever their
thing is. The segregation of God's church certainly does not end
with music, but it surely begins there. I get restless and
squirrely at white churches not because of the white people so
much as the white music. Music sets the tone and creates the
atmosphere of worship. It's been the exceedingly rare church
I've visited that played successfully to both sides of the
aisle. Usually the closest we can manage is Joel Osteen, whose
Israel Haughton-led praise team sounds like, well, Israel
Haughton—white music sung by black people. I've known precious
few blacks who could sing white folks' music with any real
authority or vice versa. We usually get overly soulful
renditions of Third Day or anemic and embarrassing stabs at Fred
I do not believe this to be a race war so much a clash of cultures. We just use skin color as a shortcut, figuring, accurately, that most white churches are going to appeal to this crowd and most black churches to this other crowd. Whites who enjoy a charismatic Gospel experience will, theoretically, feel just as at home in a black church as a white one. Blacks who are into Sandi Patti will likewise feel comfortable at a white church. There is a tribal awkwardness when someone new wanders into our midst. New black folk can often fly under the radar at a black church, but new white folk at a black church will glow like sea plankton. The reverse is also true, with white folks swarming to me, I suppose, in a misguided effort to make me feel comfortable (think about that—bum rushed by a bunch of white folks. Yeah. That'll make me feel comfortable). In one church, these folks spoke to me slowly, like I didn't understand English, and loudly, like I was deaf. ARE—YOU—HAVING—A—GOOD—TIME?
It was okay, I wasn't part of their tribe. And, next week, I was back in my tribe and life went on in theirs and that was that. Only, here's the difference: blacks aren't threatened by white folks coming to their church. We doubt very many whites will want to stay. In fact, many black churches would, frankly, love to have more whites join. But, in my experience, there's been an undercurrent of hostility present in white churches. Like, make yourself comfortable. But not too comfortable. There's this forked tongue thing going on: a cold welcome. An odd tension that seems present at any white church I visit. A paranoia that I might just take them up on their invitation and actually stay.
Which leads me to wonder what, exactly, are they afraid of. CONTINUED