When the White Girl Says “Amen!” in a Black Church (My Beef with Black Christians in America)

A Different Kind of Introduction

I do not apologize, this time, for what’s written on the page. Fair warning: This post did not intend to be a rant, but that’s what it turned into. The kind of rant I hope will start a conversation, one that won’t end up fading into whispers in the back of church congregations over the clash of cymbals and the daggers of drumsticks. This is my beef with the Church, the Black Church specifically.

Racial Division in the Church: The Role Tradition Plays

As the song in most Black churches goes, “Let the Church say amen. Let the Church say amen. God has spoken, let the Church say amen.”

That seems to be the general consensus around Black churches: Let the church say amen and stand in agreement to what the pastor is saying or when the Holy Spirit moves. After all, we are known, as a people, for being loud and expressive in church, if nowhere else. (Can I get an Amen, somebody?)

But what happens when the White girl says “Amen!” in the midst of a Holy Spirit-filled, pastor preaching Hell down, congregates speaking in tongues kind of service? Will her voice be silenced with even louder shouts from voices that secretly wish she was absent? Will her praise be judged because she’s not speaking in tongues with the rest of the congregation or not getting slain in the Spirit? Will looks of “Gurl, who she think she is coming up in here like that?” be thrown her way just because of the lack of melanin in her pigmentation?

There is, in the Black church, a lot of traditional happenings that occur. Don’t sit in the front row of the church, that’s for the deacons and elders. Don’t sit down during praise and worship (even if it does last an hour and a half—don’t do it!). Don’t play “white people music” aka Christian contemporary music (unless it’s been covered and Gospelified by a Black artist, then it’s fine). And this, the unforgivable sin on a Sunday morning: Do not, under any circumstances, wear jeans on a Sunday! (Unless you want to be seen as a “heathen” or accused of not “giving God your best”.)

Just because you have been doing things a certain way for an extended time, does not mean that it is right or even conducive to growth.

Us Versus Them

It is my opinion that part of the reason why the Church is more divided on Sunday than any other day of the week is because of tradition—even in the Black church. Worship styles are different between Black and White Christian brothers and sisters, and what is different is, most often, rejected. Or at the very least, questioned.

Where raised hands can be seen and loud praises of “Hallelujah!” and “Thank you, Father!” can be heard from the parking lot of the Black church, (with a mix of speaking in tongues to prove that you are, indeed, holy), the Spirit-filled Christians with lighter complexions worship in a different, less flamboyant way (often, but not always). Neither is wrong, and both are valid, but I can’t help but wonder if, instead of separation and a sense of “otherness”, we can worship, grow, and learn together?

This is my personal opinion, so take it with a grain of salt: I think there’s a major problem here. Contemporary Christianity, in both songs and sermons, seem to talk more about the love and grace of God than anything else. Whereas, Gospel-flinging preachers preach from the heavens, with raspy voices that sound more like an asthma attack than a move of the Holy Spirit, about God’s wrath, justice, and the dire consequences of sin. Both are important separately, but taught and practiced together? They are essential to a correct view of God.

A Lack of Logic and Apologetics

Where many Black churches lack in teaching on apologetics and why Christianity is a solid, logical worldview to actively engage in and hold dear, they make up for with passionate public and private worship displays, quieting the emerging, wondering minds of their youth, and resting comfortably in the realm of blind faith. A faith that says “Trust God because the Bible says so and should you have any questions, open the Bible, have faith, and rebuke the devil.” This is important to note because this is the opposite of what I have found being taught and practiced in other non-Black churches, in my experience.

It makes me wonder, why are Black Christians so opposed (or is it afraid?) to actually obey 1 Peter 3:15, especially when the questions are coming from within the church? Or give resources that could potentially help that aren’t the Bible (i.e. books like Desiring God by John Piper or The Pursuit of God by A. W. Tozer)? I think part of the reason why is because we still have this tendency to “stick to our own”, believing that no one else (that is, no one different from us) is qualified to help us because nobody knows us like our own group/clique/hood does.

Learning From Each Other

One of my favorite Christian bands is Shane & Shane, a duo based in Texas for their contemporary worship. I am not the first, nor the last, to say that I hate most Christian music—and yes, that includes Gospel music. I have my reasons but that’s another post for another day. Both Shane and Shane are white. They are also full of the Holy Spirit and believe in the same Jesus I do. Their music is a reminder of the grace and love of God, the depravity of human nature, and a testament that God saves. All that to say, there is much we can learn from each other.

Galatians 3:26-28 sums this up perfectly. In his letter, Paul writes:

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28. There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you all are one in Christ Jesus. (HCBS)

Personally, I find it interesting that most of my spiritual advisors, and longtime friends, are less pigmented and ivory-skinned males of varying ages and backgrounds. Two are college professors, one is a pastor, and another is an undergraduate student. There are others as well, both Black and White males and females.

We discuss our lives, but more importantly, we discuss the reasons why we believe what we believe, and disagree with each other sometimes. We pray together, and I notice our different ways of addressing God, and we worship together, some with hands raised, some laying prostrate on the floor in quiet tears. And that is beautiful. If the Church as a whole is going to grow, then we would be wise to cling to the God that connects us, rather than let tradition and other nonsense separate us.

 

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