Shadow Racism

"A Public Religion Research Institute study found that in a 100-friend scenario, white people had just one black friend, one Hispanic friend and one Asian friend. The other 97 were white. Black people didn’t do much better. Out of 100 friends, they had 8 white friends, two Hispanic friends and no Asian friends." - Church Leaders

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TylerR's picture

Editor

I have very, very few friends. I don't care what color they are. I am surrounded by people I manage at work, some of whom are eager to criticize and gossip about me behind their backs to senior management on the annual employee survey - all while remaining anonymous. Like many pastors, I also have to endure complaints and criticisms from people in the congregation, who inevitably contribute nothing to the life of the church but their sour dispositions.

  • My favorite was this past Saturday, as an older man shook in rage and criticized me because we don't have more men as members in the church. My response, "do you want me to wave a wand and conjure some up?"
  • Another from the same man was about a woman who gossiped to him about someone else in the congregation. I had no knowledge this had happened, but the man was clearly irate and this was somehow all my fault. He said, "you should have stopped it! It's happening!" My response, "what do you want me to do - buy some duct tape?" 

I generally don't like people; especially lately as criticisms from both work and church are piling on at the same time. I personally feel Paul's thorn in the flesh was an angry church member.

Now, I read about alleged "shadow racism." The one true Christian friend I have is white. I suppose this is somehow racist. Whatever.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

WallyMorris's picture

What this article is trying to imply is somewhat insulting - "You may be racist if you don't have enough friends who are not the same race/ethnic background as you are". What number would be appropriate and who decides? Quite frankly, I am tired of people telling other people they are racist if they don't meet subjective standards of personal relationships. Seems somewhat self-righteous and judgmental.

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

Bert Perry's picture

I would agree that we ought not simply infer a problem simply on the basis of raw proportions, but on the flip side, if a church's proportion of "minority x" is wildly out of proportion to the proportion in the general population, then you might ask "why isn't the church reaching this group?".  No?

Using my own area as a picture, my church isn't doing terribly well among Somalis and Bosnians because they're Muslim.  OK, no worries about that--it'll take time.  OK, what about Hispanics and US-born African-Americans?  OK, they might want to keep to themselves, or we might have sent them a signal that they're not welcome.  Oops.

Think you might want to figure that one out?  I sure would.  And as we learn to interact better with blacks and Hispanics....hey, we might have found some of the way to reach Somalis and Bosnians, no?  Maybe it could be as simple as this "Babylon Bee" ; our music could be completely turning them off, or reminding them of an age when the very musical choices told them they weren't welcome.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

WallyMorris's picture

"why isn't the church reaching this group?" - Our town is a small town, declining population about 17,000, mostly white with some people from other racial/ethnic backgrounds. Not much we can do about that population demographic. Sometimes an individual church's racial composition has nothing whatsover to do with racism, evangelism errors, music, or a "not welcome" impression. Just plain demographics.

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

Bert Perry's picture

Wally, yes, Huntington is 96.4% white, but that simultaneously means 3.6% minority.  If I run (remember, I do stats for a living) the confidence range on this for a church of 200 "units" (people or families, whichever is appropriate), the 95% confidence range is 3 to 12 units who should be "non-white".  

If we work with Olympia WA or Rochester MN, about 17-18% minority, that range goes to 24-44 "units" in a church of 200 people or families.  I can work the numbers for "your size" church, too--and I'm leaning towards a number of families represented more than just the number of people.

So even in pretty "white" environments, the statistics can tell you a lot about where you are vs. your environment.  You might be surprised.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

If your church does evangelism by asking what color people are, you're doing it wrong.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

TylerR wrote:

If your church does evangelism by asking what color people are, you're doing it wrong.

Amen.  And if it picks the music based on what appeals to groups of people it's supposedly not reaching, it's doing that wrong too.

Dave Barnhart

WallyMorris's picture

I don't care one little bit about whether our church corresponds with the racial/ethnic composition of my town, nor do I care whether other churches do or not correspond with the racial/ethnic composition of their town. I give the gospel to people regardless of who they are: racial, social, financial, whatever criteria you want to use. Doesn't matter to me. I try to follow Biblical principle in the practices of our church. And those are the only principles I am concerned about. Racial percentages are irrelevant to me. I am not aware of any Biblical principle or teaching that a church must correspond to the racial/ethnic composition of its community. Sounds like a Christianized version of racial quotas. Last time I looked, the Lord was in control of saving people, not me.

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

Andrew K's picture

Let's say I'm a black guy with a family, but without any particularly strong doctrinal convictions.

I can go to your church, where there are few to no black people. Very white, over-friendly, regularly apologizing for racism, and desperately wanting me to stay to improve their diversity and/or community impact...

Or I can go to a black church down the road where most everybody "gets" me, my life experiences, my food and entertainment choices, and my kids and I can fit right in.

Which one do you think I'm going to choose? How do you make me stay?

This is the challenge that I don't think is being properly acknowledged by those who like to take swipes at the perceived lack of diversity in our churches.

WallyMorris's picture

Andrew has an excellent point. Before we came to our present ministry over 25 years ago, the church I worked in (unpaid position with youth, Athens, GA area) had wonderful joint services (twice) with a fundamental black church in our area. Excellent preaching and music (Not hard to figure out where some black entertainers received their first performing experiences). Yet neither church tried to bring people from the other church into their church in order to be more racially diverse. And both churches did well. Racial quotas stink, whether secular or Christian versions.

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

Joeb's picture

Wally I concur with you.  One can't be worried about the demographics when sharing the gospel and doing out reach.  The results will come on their own.  
 

The Church I used to attend in NJ now is totally flip flobbed in its demographics.  Once an area like Wally's is now almost half Asian and Indian.  
 

The church is a Evangelical Free Church led by a Bob Jones graduate who was led to the Lord by Hal Jordon's father.   The church was struggling and now the church has grown by conversions and is headed in a better direction.

I have brought up this church before on SI and some of the advise Bert gave me I passed along to my best friend that dealt with reaching a diverse community  My best friend was one of the elders at the time.  Bottom line is though the Pastor stayed on message and basically did what Wally is saying while making some adjustments in their out reach to the community.  

Ken S's picture

I'll go against the grain on this one. In an attempt to reflect Ephesians 2 and other passages, our church is intentionally multi-ethnic. Granted, I live in a city where whites only make up 59%, so it is relatively easy to do this (I imagine this would not be possible in an area like Wally's). Our church roughly reflects the demographics of our city, and we would rethink our approach to ministry if it became mostly white. A key part of this is the relationships we choose to build with people and organizations in our city. They allow us to minister to a diverse group of people and that is reflected in our congregation.

WallyMorris's picture

I suggest that Ephesians 2 relates very little to racial background but more with the Jewish/Gentile identification - those who had the Law and those who didn't have the Law. Yes, a racial component is present, but that is not the main identification factor. Eph 2:11-12 highlight this difference and point. Perhaps we read a racial component into certain passages that basically are not focusing on race or ethnic background. Nothing wrong with planning to bring the gospel to specific groups in order to "minister to a diverse group of people", as long as that doesn't become some kind of "Christian quota".

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

Joel Shaffer's picture

Now, I read about alleged "shadow racism." The one true Christian friend I have is white. I suppose this is somehow racist. Whatever.

Tyler, the author gave 5 examples of shadow-racism: 

1. Employment

2.  Dating and Marriage

3. Assumptions

4. Psuedo-Acceptance

5. Family Life

Then the author explained why these 5 examples of shadow-racism exist, which was that White people and Black people don't really know each other and nor have deep relationships with each other.  That's just a fact of life and a hurdle that both whites and blacks have to cross in order to improve race relations with each other. 

I'm puzzled why you think the author is labeling you a racist because all you have is one white friend. That's a lot of spent emotional energy getting worked up and defensive for no reason.  The author gave 5 broad examples of shadow racism and warned his audience that the shadow of racism can enter into anyone's life, no matter what skin color they have. If he made racism a one-way street (that only whites can be racists) or if he pointed the finger at those who have no relationships with another race/ethnic group and said, "the shadow of racism will enter their lives," I'd understand your frustration better.  

WallyMorris's picture

The author of the article uses the situation with Moses (Numbers 12) as an example of racism from his family. But the issue in the account is not racism but jealousy and envy. Cushites were not necessarily a different skin color. People with that name lived in the Arabian region as well. Moses' wife was a threat to Miriam. The wife wasn't the issue, only the convenient excuse to hide the real issue.

This is one of the problems with discussions about racism - reading into the text a racial component and making assumptions, partly influenced by our culture.

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

Bert Perry's picture

Wally, if Biblically speaking, the "Cushite" is not necessarily what we'd call "black" or "African-American", exactly what is Jeremiah 13:23 referring to?  We can also note that a current stereotype about Ethiopians--being great runners--is hinted at with the name "Cushi" in 2 Samuel 18.  One can quibble over whether the issue is that the wife is not Jewish, or whether she's black, but the context of Scripture makes it pretty clear that Ethiopians were recognized as very different by Israelites.  

And if we're not meant to try to interact with other cultures, precisely what is meant by "Take, Peter, Kill and Eat" in Acts 10:13, and precisely why did Paul rebuke Peter for refusing to eat with Gentiles?  Precisely what does it mean when Paul becomes "Jew to the Jews" and "Greek to the Greeks" in 1 Corinthians 9:20-22?  Wouldn't we assume that this means that Paul and Peter took some pains to at least avoid needless offense to other cultures?  That they learned to enjoy their foods, sing a few of their songs?  Maybe wear some clothes in a cut from where they were ministering?

Is that so much?  

If you think it is too much, perhaps I ought to take you on a tour of a few cities littered with the (often charred) husks of church buildings where the leadership also thought they were doing just fine without reaching out to newcomers.  I grew up 20 miles from Gary and an hour's drive from Chicago, went to college 90 miles from Detroit.  "We're doing just fine" is a great song to whistle on your church's way to the graveyard.  For something closer to home for many of us, what about this?

Keep arguing you have no need to pay attention to demographics or culture if you want, I guess, but for my part, I simply can't square that with Scripture.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

WallyMorris's picture

Bert: As you sometimes do, you read too much into my comments.

Check several commentaries on Numbers 12, and you will find that "Cushite" can refer to more than just African groups. So a racial component of Numbers 12 is not certain. The issue in Numbers 12 is not about race. The Israelites recognized EVERYONE as different from themselves.

I never said we shouldn't interact with other cultures, races, etc or not try to reach new people. You won't find that in anyting I said. Demographics are interesting and can be helpful, but do not determine everything. And if we use demographics to establish some type of "Christian quota" for how our churches MUST look, we've gone beyond Scripture.

Of course there was a racial component in Peter's earlier attitudes, but his concern was more theological than racial. Too many today read race into almost everything. Not necessary. Paul's correction of Peter was more theological than racial.

"avoid needless offense to other cultures" - Of course.

"learned to enjoy their foods, sing a few of their songs?  Maybe wear some clothes in a cut from where they were ministering" - Nice Try, but assumes more than the text will bear. Paul specifically mentions "under the Law" and "not under the Law". Race wasn't the issue. The issue was how far to conform to the OT Law with certain groups.

This discussion thread has been interesting. Shows a genuine concern to bring the gospel to many different people. Perhaps we need to be more careful with our Biblical exegesis.

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

Andrew K's picture

"Now, I read about alleged "shadow racism." The one true Christian friend I have is white. I suppose this is somehow racist. Whatever."

If it makes you feel any better, Tyler, I have more Asian and black friends than I have white. True story. (Though to be fair, that's more a reflection of being a longterm expat rather than my taking any initiative.) Also my wife is Asian. And I'm half-hispanic.

...and I'd still be considered racist in some circles for my opinions and policy positions. ;) 

Bert Perry's picture

Wally, regarding the word "Ethiopian", I'm going to have to suggest going back to word definitions, the consistent witness of Bible translation (as "Ethiopian"), and even the very etamology of the word as rendered in Greek (and in the Septuagint).  The Greek word (from which we get ours) literally means "burned face", so if your commentaries are arguing it doesn't necessarily mean someone's black, I think you need some better commentaries.  There is certainly no Biblical evidence of this.  Yes, part of the issue with Moses' wife was that she was easily recognized as not a Hebrew--e.g. black.

Regarding the notion that it's not a gimme that the Apostles were eating Gentile food and learning Gentile customs, precisely what do you think "kill and eat" refers to with a cloth covered with unclean animals?  Precisely what do you think it means when God says "do not call impure anything that God has made clean" in Acts 10:15?  And when Paul rebukes Peter for refusing to eat with Gentiles, in the context of Galatians and showing that the demands of the law are satisfied in Christ, can we seriously believe that part of Peter's reluctance to eat with Gentiles didn't have something to do with the fact that the food they were eating was probably not kosher?

Seriously?  When the whole point of Galatians is that the believer is FREE from the demands of the law?  After Mark 7:19?  Sorry, but the clear witness of Scripture is indeed that the Apostles were called to go beyond their own culture, and they significantly reached those Gentile cultures in doing so.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Bert Perry wrote:

And when Paul rebukes Peter for refusing to eat with Gentiles, in the context of Galatians and showing that the demands of the law are satisfied in Christ, can we seriously believe that part of Peter's reluctance to eat with Gentiles didn't have something to do with the fact that the food they were eating was probably not kosher?

Seriously?  When the whole point of Galatians is that the believer is FREE from the demands of the law?  After Mark 7:19?  Sorry, but the clear witness of Scripture is indeed that the Apostles were called to go beyond their own culture, and they significantly reached those Gentile cultures in doing so.  

There's a big difference between being willing to work with other cultures, worship with them, eat their food, get to know and befriend them, etc., and somehow seeing it as a necessity to import elements of another culture into one's own church.  I very much enjoy visiting believers and churches in other cultures, hearing their music, seeing the ways they do things different from us in America, etc.  I also enjoy having missionaries visit our church, hearing their language, sometimes their music, etc.  Under no circumstances would I refuse any true Christians Christian fellowship, no matter how different they are from me.

None of that means I would necessarily agree with them on every point regarding worship or music, and it certainly doesn't mean our churches need to change our worship to match what is done in other cultures.  In our area, one almost doesn't need to visit other countries to hear many different languages spoken, meet people who have come from other countries, etc.  I regularly enjoy eating *real* ethnic food, made by or recommended by those who know first-hand what it should be like.  I love meeting people not from the U.S., visiting them in our homes, and having them visit us.  And yet, unless our church all of a sudden had a very large membership contingent from a particular culture, I wouldn't support the idea of changing any of our worship and music to match what others do in order to reach them at our church.

Dave Barnhart

Bert Perry's picture

It's because it's the Biblical example.  It is really that simple.  In the Old Testament, you've got "Sing unto the Lord a new song" (Psalm 96:1), and if you look closely at the Psalms and other passages of lyric poetry/song in the Old Testament, you'll find any number of genre there, from near-couplets like Psalm 117 to acrostics like Psalm 119.  You've got authors over the span of centuries.

In the New Testament, you've got a really neat thing going on not only in Acts, where the Grecian Jews were assigned the original deacons to make sure their widows weren't being allowed to stave, but also in 1 Corinthians 14:26-39, especially in verse 26.  "Each of you has a hymn...." implies that there were some fairly active musicians among the largely Gentile population of the church.  In other words, the door was wide open to new musical innovations--bound them with the truths of Scripture, to be sure, but the reason we have separate Greek, Coptic, and many other musical traditions in the church is precisely because they took the admonition "Sing to the Lord a new song" seriously.  You also have Ephesians 5:19; again, a Gentile church is given three different genre of song to praise God and commit His Word to memory in lyric form.

On the practical side, you've also got a lot of reasons to be very careful about what music one excludes.  Top on my list is that from CCM all the way to Majesty Music and other conservative outlets, white peoples' church music generally isn't very good.  It's a hodge-podge of "adding musicians instead of musicality", useless arpeggios, flashy but not musical performance, medleys that "change the subject" to another song just as soon as you get one in your mind, "musicians" using their instruments like a metronome, and the like.  We desperately need an infusion from outside our own circles, musically speaking.

Next on the list is that many minorities simply understand the lyric/poetic form far better than most whites simply because they come from oral societies.  Having not learned to read until relatively recently, they simply have a far better idea of how to communicate concepts orally in such a way as to have it be remembered--and you'll see this in the genre of song and preaching that one experiences.  

It doesn't mean minorities are perfect, or that every tool in their toolboxes ought to be adopted any more than we ought to use every tool in ours, but we ignore what they've learned at our peril, and that includes in the church.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

If you form friendships based on color, you're doing it wrong.

If you do church based on color, you're doing it wrong.

If you do evangelism based on color, you're doing it wrong.

If you do anything to distract God's people from Him, to pivot to the color of His current and prospective children, you're doing it wrong.

If you don't trust God to gather His elect from every people group on the planet, you're doing it wrong.

Basically, if color is ever a factor in anything you do for Christ's church, you're doing it wrong.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Ken S's picture

TylerR wrote:

If you form friendships based on color, you're doing it wrong.

If you do church based on color, you're doing it wrong.

If you do evangelism based on color, you're doing it wrong.

If you do anything to distract God's people from Him, to pivot to the color of His current and prospective children, you're doing it wrong.

If you don't trust God to gather His elect from every people group on the planet, you're doing it wrong.

Basically, if color is ever a factor in anything you do for Christ's church, you're doing it wrong.

Well, I guess we see it differently. I'd say that if my church is completely white in a city where the white population is less than 60%, we're probably doing it wrong.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Unless you're deliberately evangelizing only white people, I don't see how you could possibly be doing it wrong. We're doing an evangelism and Q&A event at our local library in three weeks. We're advertising for it heavily on FaceBook in our community. I don't care about the color of the people who show up. I also don't care about the color of anyone who eventually comes to faith. It's meaningless!

How am I responsible for the color of people who come to a church?

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

Trick here is that nobody's proposing "doing evangelism based on color."  Rather, what's being suggested is that church leaders pay attention to the demographics of their cities and do a "gut check" (per Ken) if church demographics aren't (loosely speaking) representative of those city demographics.  

Part of that is taking a look at the "dominant church culture" (which in most fundagelical churches is quite different even from the dominant caucasian culture) and asking "do we need to make some adjustments to avoid offending our neighbors?" and also "are there some things we can learn from our neighbors which might work really well here?"  Just like those composing Psalms did, and just like Paul noted the Corinthians (presumably other churches in the Gentile world as well) were doing.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Ken S's picture

TylerR wrote:

Unless you're deliberately evangelizing only white people, I don't see how you could possibly be doing it wrong. We're doing an evangelism and Q&A event at our local library in three weeks. We're advertising for it heavily on FaceBook in our community. I don't care about the color of the people who show up. I also don't care about the color of anyone who eventually comes to faith. It's meaningless!

How am I responsible for the color of people who come to a church?

Tyler, I'm mainly pushing back a little on this line from your previous post: Basically, if color is ever a factor in anything you do for Christ's church, you're doing it wrong.

There are absolutely things that we do in our relationships at our church because of color. The culture of some people in our church is different than the culture that I'm familiar with, and the experience of life in my city has been different for me than it has for some others because of their ethnicity. If we value those people, we are going to have an interest in the things that interest them, and we're going to want to know how and why their experience in our city is different and what issues are important to them. One example is we that recently did a quinceanera with one of our Peurto Rican families. It's not what I'm used to, but it was important to them.

We could not do any of this, and we'd just be a white church in a multi-ethnic city. In our case at least, I think God expects more than that.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Your comments are one of the reasons why so many pastors feel despair. Nothing is ever good enough. What on earth do you want pastors to do!? How much time, blood, sweat and energy is there to give? Now we have to make sure the things we do represent the ethnic flavor of our communities!? What does that even mean. Our schedule for the week:

  • Sunday: church
  • Wed: prayer
  • Misc: evening bible study 2x per month; theology class 2x per month; in the process of "adopting" a local school to serve the community and build bridges

In the midst of all that, I am now expected to analyze my community to make sure our congregational activities reflect that. I live 30 minutes away from my church because housing was too expensive in the city. I also work fulltime. I DON'T HAVE TIME to do everything everybody says I need to do in order to be "successful."

Why can't we just preach the Gospel, love one another and teach each other? When did that not become good enough? These unrealistic expectations will drive any number of pastors to throw in the towel. It's just never enough.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Ken S's picture

I'm truly sorry that my comments added to your burden. They definitely weren't intended to.

TylerR's picture

Editor

They didn't. I just think we can be unrealistic, sometimes. Take the school thing; it's a good way to connect with the community. The color factor just doesn't matter to me; there are all sorts of kids there. This is an insanely diverse area. I just think we have to be talking past each other. I don't know why.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

Tyler, if you're noticing that the area is insanely diverse, you've really done most of the work you would need to do to make adjustments to encourage those minorities to come.  You get a rudimentary "feel" for their culture, how your culture does or does not work well with that, make adjustments, make apologies for when you get it wrong, rinse and repeat.

Given the amount of energy I see on this site and elsewhere spent on defending "standard evangelical culture", I'd actually suggest that it's easier to work to reach out other cultures because that effort "defending standard white evangelical culture" can go to zero.  I know you're not a strong advocate of evangelical culture, but you might find it pops up, even in your family or church, in the most unexpected places.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.