Things That Suck: Racism And Churches Ran By Non-Christians

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?

28 thoughts on “Things That Suck: Racism And Churches Ran By Non-Christians”

    1. Columbia, SC. I would imagine it’s been a while since he heard that, but if it was recent I wouldn’t be too surprised. Unfortunately, we still have a Confederate flag flying at our state house and at least enough loud people to keep it there. In 2012.

  1. I hate it when people hate hateful people. Sorry it just sounds ironic. I agree with you Brandon. How did racism ever penetrate the walls of the church; aka our hearts? Some say even Luther was a racist against Jews. I think the reality is that we are all prejudice. Some choose race, some choose denomination, some choose alcohol, and some choose clothing/fashion. We say racism is disgusting, but we also turn around and worship the pastor of our local church, or go even further we criticize the Pope. And already some of you are trying to argue why the Pope is bad, so just stop. The point is we are all sinners. We all have something theological that we are wrong (or just not exactly right) about. And yet we all have this sense of pride, that we are some how okay; and even more okay than others, who are less okay in our eyes. We think we have the authority to judge as if we were God himself, because we have this “correct understanding” of the Gospel. And we often only have grace for those that, for the most part, share in our understanding of “truth”. So let me confess, I am prejudice towards church planters and mega churches. I am skeptical of worship leaders who act like rock stars. 

    What are your prejudices? 

    1. I can always count on you for a good conversation David!

      First off, I think you have some worthwhile points. I agree that we all have some sort of prejudices (that’s what I meant by we all have varying levels of tolerance for specific things). However, we do have Scripture, so we do have an authority to call out things as sinful and cannot remain silent because we all have some sort of prejudice. We can do both–call out sin & repent of our prejudices too. You always seem to be on the side of pointing the finger back at ourselves, and I appreciate the humility in that.

      Also, I’m prejudiced against guys with a lot of tattoos. It’s just so unbiblical:)

      1. Brandon, 
        I agree. Let’s call sin “sin”. I am definitely not saying don’t call sin into the light. We must hold each other accountable. I just want to make sure we have grace for sinners, who may not have everything together, but still trust in Christ for salvation. Grace would look less like stabbing racist and more like correcting someone in love. Grace doesn’t mean splitting the church or abandoning tradition because we want to distance ourselves from unrepentant pastors. I love these discussions because most of us see the obvious prejudices, but I wonder how much we want to really dive into the elephants painted to match the wall paper. I am an arrogant fool that loves his ideas. I want to love others despite their bad ideas. I failed therefore the gospel matters even more. 
        *The following is for Brandon only……
        And based on who’s authoritative interpretation of the bible do you stand on the premiss that tattoos are unbiblical? See how we could easily misuse biblical authority on calling out sin? I love you, brother! 

        1. Yeah man, I hope you know I was being facetious about the ice pick:)

          And as far as tattoos go, I heard a preacher on Youtube say it once so I just assumed it was infallible truth, you know?

          Love you too bro.

  2. Two amazing things: That this kind of thing happens…and that they hadn’t given up on wanting to go to church after being treated that way!

    When this kind of thing happens it reminds me of the parable of the mustard seed, the church grew into a monstrosity of a tree that lets unbelievers run the show (not every church, obviously, just enough places that this story isn’t uncommon enough)

  3. This ticks me off just reading it. Coming from a small town and many family members who are racist, I can’t stand to see it. Thanks for sharing this truth. Have you read Scott Williams’ “Church Diversity?”

  4. This blows my mind. It reminds me of the passage in the Bible where Jesus says there will be those who consider themselves to be His sheep, to whom He will say, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” I think we’re going to be surprised, one day, to see how many supposedly “upstanding” church leaders are separated from the flock. Very sad. 

    Glad to see you are leading your particular flock in love. 🙂

  5. Sadly this sort of thing comes as no surprise.  I have only recently heard the same expression used in a totally different area of society.
    Still cannot understand the arrogance of those who consider themselves to be above the next person and it be their right to call someone names or afflict pain on others in some form.  Where does that come from?
    We are spending all our energies fighting for those who endure this type of situation and other equally disgusting atrocities in society.  Thankfully there are far more good people around than these ignorant folk. 

  6. so much discrimination… even to the point of needing to ‘dress up’ for church. Too many people are being subtly driven away for not being the ‘right’ colour, having the ‘right’ social status or bank account thus not being able to give ‘generously’ enough. it all truly makes my spirit weep in disappointment at what we have turned Christianity into

    1. There is defintely too much of that in the church, even today. Thankfully though, there are many fighting against this very thing. I’m grateful to be a part of one. Gives me a lot of hope. 

  7. I think my greatest intolerance is for legalism. I think I’m in good company, too…

    The only people that Jesus got *really* ticked at were the “religious” folks who felt like they had figured out what God’s righteousness was supposed to look like, so they wrote into their own version of God’s Word all the rules-for-righteousness that God evidently *forgot* to include.

    It is not the desire to live according to God’s will that was a problem (even Paul called himself a Pharisee!), but the belief that it was somehow appropriate to create rules that God Himself didn’t consider important enough to give us.

    This human tendency, however, affects us all, and it is only be constant vigilance and repeated reexamination of our list of “rules” that we can make sure that the rules on our own list doesn’t have any that aren’t on God’s!

    David Martin

  8. My sins top the list of intolerable.  Because I have the ability to do the right thing: the knowledge (Bible), the example (Jesus). and the power (Holy Spirit).
    Yet I fall short.  Thank God for Grace.
    I have the most patience for ignorant sin. Forgive them Father for they know not what they do sin.  
    I have no tolerance for malicious, willful, joyful, thoughtless, evil. And I pray to be a love beam:)

  9. I just read in the news today about an African American couple I’m Mississippi who had been attending a baptist church and were preparing to be wed there, but the day before the scheduled ceremony the pastor told them that they couldn’t be married in that church. Some of the members told the pastor that they would vote him out if he married the couple in their church. Unbelievable! What must Jesus think about stuff like that?

    1. Shocking – the pastor should have done the wedding and submitted his resignation before they could pull a vote together…why would you want to lead a church like that?!

  10. I have issues with the so called Christians who relentlessly vilify gay people.  I work with a beautiful soul who happens to be gay.  He is a joy to be with and has a strong sense of right and wrong and dreams to have a committed marriage with the right person just like the rest of us.  He claims he is atheist and he hates religious types, Christians in particular because of the way he has been treated by them.  Yet, I have caught him playing the same spiritual youtube video over and over again and heard him sniffing back tears.  I know the poem that was being read touched him deeply and that he is ripe for the picking if he can ever find someone he trusts to bring him to God, not to change him or how God made him, but to show him how loved he is.  I have made a vow to myself that I can never belong to a church who does not love him as I do. If we believe that God doesn’t make mistakes, then we have to believe that like all other sinners, homosexuals are beloved, precious children of God.

  11. I hate racism also…among many other sins…I would have to say right now that the sin I find most offensive and that I have the least tolerance for is the sin of finger pointing and sin naming.  Too many Christians point their fingers at other’s sins and judge, judge, judge…”C’mon people now, smile on your brother,everybody get together, try to love one another right now”!

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