You are not going to believe this.
Sunday night I was sitting on the steps of the church before our 5:00 gathering talking to someone. An African-American man in his forties walked by with a woman about the same age, smiling and nodding. When I smiled and waved back, he stopped for a minute and looked up at me.
“That’s a real nice church you got there,” he said, very genuinely.
“Thanks,” I said, “it’s not our building, but we’re really thankful to get to meet here on Sunday nights.”
He then shuffled a little awkwardly and braced himself for a question.
“I hope you don’t mind me asking this,” he started. “But do y’all allow colored people in your church?”
I told you you wouldn’t believe it.
I was honestly momentarily speechless.
Thankfully, I bounced back quickly. “Are you kidding me? Of course! We would love to have you guys! Will you come on in right now? Our service starts in about twenty minutes.”
He very kindly declined, saying that they needed to change clothes. I assured him that they did not need to, but he insisted, so I invited them back for the 7:00 service and he said they would definitely be back.
I introduced myself to them, James and Beverly, and James told me, “I just like to make sure, you know. I’ve heard ‘Nigger get out of here’ one too many times, so I just wanted to ask.”
I cringed so hard.
“I am so, so sorry,” I said. “That is incredibly messed up. Jesus died for everyone and you are more than welcome here.”
“Yes He did,” he said, smiling, then assured me that they would be back for the 7:00 gathering.
I walked away completely staggered that James has actually heard “Nigger get out of here” at a freaking church more than once in his lifetime. The place that is supposed to be a witness of the wall-smashing, hostility defeating love of Jesus had on multiple occasions erected completely asinine, unbiblical, anti-gospel walls, all with the intention of keeping my friend James out.
And I was once again reminded that racism, as ugly as it truly is, is at the root a failure to understand the gospel of Jesus that puts us all on the same exact footing and robs us of any sense of superiority.
I’m heartbroken that this is actually a real story. And I have a few thoughts:
1) Racism sucks. What a tragedy of human brokenness and the devastation of sin.
2) It sucks when non-Christians who wouldn’t know the gospel if it hit smacked them in the face are the ones running a church (or at least being a very vocal influence). I wish those churches would either quickly repent or quickly die. Option #1 would be best, but option #2 is a close second.
(And I’m not saying that anyone who struggles with the sin of racism is definitely not a believer. But I am saying it’s a big red flag that they may have completely missed the gospel in favor of works or stature-based righteousness. What is racism except the Pharisee in Luke 18, whom Jesus says is not justified?)
3) It’s probably good that Jesus has more patience than I do with churches. Because if it were up to me, I’d have a sore throat from blowing out so many lampstands (if that is confusing read Revelation 2.5).
4) It’s interesting how different Christians have different levels of grace and patience with different kinds of sins. For example, some Christians just cannot stomach irreligious sins (if they see a Christian drink too much they are blacklisted forever). Some Christians have zero tolerance for religious sins (if they see someone being hypocritical or judgmental they are scarlet-lettered immediately).
I think this is really fascinating, and that it tells us a lot about ourselves and our backgrounds.
I certainly have far less tolerance for religious sins than I do for irreligious ones. Racism may top my list of intolerance, though. I’m ready to stab someone in the eye with an icepick when I see it.
Anyways, enough of my ranting.
The important thing is that James and Beverly did come back that night for the 7:00 Gathering. And they were quickly greeted by members of all colors.
It made me so happy that a) church scars from the past hopefully began to heal and b) that God has blessed our church family with diversity that just screams the gospel.
“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” -Galatians 3.28
What about you?
Do you have less tolerance for religious sins or for irreligious ones? What sin tops your list of intolerance?