A White Guy Visits a Black Church

My visit to Bayview Baptist Church started on a whim. It came about after black football players began protesting the National Anthem in greater numbers, to include entire teams after President Trump issued his disruptive comments on September 22, 2017. My heart sank and I started thinking that maybe the American racial problem had no fix.

Furthermore, I had a sneaking suspicion that we were just as divided in the church as Americans were outside the walls of our sanctuaries. On Martin Luther King Jr day, I think it’s fitting to look at our continued racial problem from a spiritual context. I will begin with a statement: We are just as segregated in the church as we are in the rest of the country. MLK said as much in 1958: “it is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” Sadly, this is still the case for the majority of churches.

Now, let me be clear, no one is forcing our churches to be segregated (to my knowledge). There is no great conspiracy here, like there have been in many times in our history. Instead, we are struggling with the sin of comfort and a resolute desire not to rock the boat or have ours rocked.

I had another reason for wanting to visit a black church. I wanted to know what it would be like to stick out like a sore thumb. While Bayview Baptist Church in San Diego claimed to be a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic church, I had my suspicions that they were just like the churches in which I’ve held membership. I believed I would find myself one of the only white people in the church. I’m not saying that because I want to make them out to be liars. Like white churches, the goal is multi-ethnic makeup. I don’t think anyone is trying to keep white people out of that church any more than I think that my last church tried to keep black people out.

Another thing to keep in mind when considering what “multi-ethnic” means is that our racial categories contain many ethnicities. So, while the church might be mostly black, or even all black, it may include ethnicities such as Hispanic (from the Caribbean and South America), Africa (and the ethnicities contained therein), as well as ethnicities contained in America itself. The Root website lists 46 ethnic groups in Africa alone, from which American slaves took their original ethnicity. Modern advances in DNA research have shed a lot of light on this, but I digress.

Still Segregated

Simply put, my understanding that the American church was as segregated as ever was reinforced with my visit to Bayview. Please don’t read into this statement that Bayview is doing something wrong or should be trying harder to include other races. I cannot know that answer based on one visit. What I’m trying to say is this: All of our churches are still struggling with the issue of integration. We’ve separated ourselves along race and, to at least a slightly lesser degree, ethnic lines.

I don’t know that we can expect this to change wholesale. The fact is that, regarding worship styles, everyone has a style (or range of styles) that they are comfortable with. This is something that will be very difficult to overcome, even if it should be overcome.

However, a more problematic issue revolves around the birds of a feather concept. If I go to a predominantly white church because I like that style of worship, then maybe that’s ok (although I have some doubts). However, if I only go to white churches because that’s the TYPE OF PERSON I FEEL COMFORTABLE AROUND, then I’ve got a lot of changing to do. It is up to each person to seek the answer to their situation and deal with it, because God will deal with you when judgement comes. Part of visiting Bayview was to help answer that question for myself.

The short and long of it is that I learned that I have some work to do.

Parting Thoughts

It didn’t occur to me until after I was back on Interstate 15 North headed home that I may have caused the members of Bayview Baptist Church some consternation. Here was a large white man walking into church while all around the country, race issues were reaching cataclysmic stages. Did anyone wonder if I had a gun? Should I…could I…have been more sensitive to their situation? Am I completely overthinking the entire episode? Does anyone even remember that I existed?

As you might suspect, I’ve settled nicely into a mostly white church in my mostly white neighborhood in San Diego. I feel comfortable there because the preaching style is what I enjoy and the music is what I want to sing and hear. I will happily welcome any person of any race into our church and defend them should I discover any inappropriateness, but I doubt we’ll see many of them for the same two reasons I listed for my being there. My visit to Bayview and my membership at Legacy all point to the same simple fact: We’ve got some work to do in America’s church.

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