I’ve often mentioned that I was born in the wrong decade. I absolutely love studying and reading about the civil rights’ movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s. I’ve pictured myself at sit-ins and marches, singing in churches awaiting a speech by Rev. Dr. King. I am fascinated with the non-violent movement, proud of those within the Church who stepped up against injustice and deeply saddened by the forces of people who used the Christian faith to justify their own comforts and a sinful status quo.
The emotions I feel about our history are perhaps what fuel my shock about our present complacency both culturally (in our wider secular context) and within the Church. Segregation is more prevalent today than it was right before the civil rights movement. I lead a workshop of high school freshmen and they could very well attest. Their school and neighborhood are “dominated” by Hispanics while the next town over “is all white people”. They are also quick to respond that it’s different today than it was in Rosa Parks’ era of civil disobedience. When asked why, students respond that it is because it is their choice. They choose to stay in their particular town and not move to the next town over. Nobody is forced. There are no signs to determine which race or ethnicity can live where.
It’s our choice. Equality is now the law. Separation is our choice. My response was, “so we’re essentially separate… but equal”.
The kids could recognize the phrase that carries a heavy connotation to anyone who has studied the civil rights movement, but it rings true today. Here are some thoughts on our current complacency that justifies separation and blinds us to our responsibility…
Separation limits our choices. I love being Puerto Rican. I really do. We’re an odd bunch and I love it. But there are some things I do not like about my culture. It’s prideful and stupid of me to accept things of my culture that are ineffective, irrelevant or, worse, damaging (although this happens all the time). There are things about the Asian culture (as a random example) that I love and incorporate in my life. Things that are solid, sound, and biblical. If I choose to separate myself, I limit my exposure—securing ignorance, delaying growth, stunting progress and exposingdisobedience. Freedom is based on a freedom to choose. Just as sin enslaves, thus giving the illusion of freedom but forcing us to live under its consequences, the sin of intentional separation gives the illusion of freedom but limits rather than liberates.
Separation erodes our understanding of one another. I confess: I love shortcuts. I like spending less time to get to exactly where I need to go. Stereotypes often seem like shortcuts to genuine community. I’m guilty of this one all the time. I don’t need to ask her, I know she’ll say no because she’s like this… It leads me to believe that I know others when I really don’t. This essentially deceives us into believing we’ve taken a shortcut when it’s only deviated us from genuine community. This has only gotten worse through the polarization of our politics. There is no need to have a conversation with anyone who votes Democratic or Republican because, well, we already know what they will say. People become static; a caricature, even.
I don’t want to go into the dangers of caricatures, stereotypes, segregation and hate but instead speak with the Church. I do see a direct link between willing separation and facilitating stereotypes, even subtle ones. And while I like groups with similar interests in background because of the support they can often provide, I’m bothered when these are more common than (or even replace) our explicit efforts of integration.
So what, then, shall we do? We, the Church, need to lead efforts of explicit integration by incorporating diversity not only in policies but in preaching, teaching, mission statements, and outreach. Encourage conversation with like and unlike-minded people. Remind each other that Jesus ate with known liberal types and sat down with conservative judges and was willing to compromise his reputation with some without compromising his character.
We often watch television, look at our bi-racial president and believe Jim Crow is dead when he’s quietly making a living in our churches, social circles and implicit belief systems. Intentional separation, like any other sin, is to be fought with repentance and empowered by grace. We shouldn’t be okay with separate fellowships based solely on race. We shouldn’t be okay with distinguishing our worship styles based on ethnicity. And we shouldn’t be okay with not addressing these issues simply because we want to avoid difficult theological conversations that expose our desperate need for grace.
Itamar lives in Central Mass and is a campus minister in the Worcester area. She describers herself as a petite Puerto Rican with not so petite thoughts. This post, which was used with her permission, originally appeared on her blog, which can be read at:https://itamah.wordpress.com/2011/05/21/separation-equality-and-the-church/