For two weeks now, a political firestorm has been raging over the tragically racist and anti-American statements uttered by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Wright, as everyone knows, was Barack Obama’s pastor for some 20 years. Trying to quell the storm, Senator Obama delivered a speech on the state of race relations in America.
No matter what you think of Senator Obama, his politics, or his speech, the senator was right to cite the old adage that Sunday morning is the most segregated day of the week.
That truism ought to be a painful reminder to every Christian that we are far from being one in Christ. I am always uncomfortable every time I hear some media pundit refer to “the Black church,” or “the White church.”
Can any good come from this political storm? Yes, if what is happening among Louisiana churches is any indication. There, in the aftermath of a different storm—Hurricane Katrina—several churches began making Sunday mornings the most unified time of the week.
After Katrina ripped through Louisiana, displacing hundreds of thousands and demolishing hundreds of church buildings, many congregations disintegrated. But others began joining together with other congregations who did not lose their buildings in the storm.
This meant not simply worshipping in a new sanctuary, but worshipping across racial and cultural lines.
After the hurricane, the members of the predominantly black Grace United Methodist Church were scattered. The church building was missing an entire wall. Well, that is when First United Methodist Church, a predominantly white church just a mile down the road, asked them if they would consider joining together as one church.
Now, on Sunday mornings, blacks, whites, and Hispanics come together for a lively combination of traditional and contemporary worship at the newly formed First Grace United Methodist Church.
Reverend Shawn Anglim, head pastor of the newly merged congregation, says that the church is not trying to put two identities together, but instead form a new identity. As Reverend Anglim notes, the congregants have joined together to hear “a new voice, in a new language”—the language of oneness in Christ.
Other Louisiana churches are doing the same thing. The historically black Hopeview Baptist Church merged with the traditionally white Suburban Baptist Church. The predominantly white St. Matthew United Church of Christ joined together with the largely black Central Congregational United Church of Christ.
Another example of this racial unity is a choir called Shades of Praise that was actually formed five years before Katrina hit. The choir brought blacks and whites together around a common love for gospel music. After the storm, choir members spent weeks searching for one another and caring for those in the group who had lost their homes. Together, the choir members raised $55,000 to help those who had been uprooted!
What marvelous examples of the Church being the Church, throwing aside racial differences so that there is “no Greek or Jew . . . no slave or free, but Christ is all and is in all” (Colossians 3:10-12).
We can pray that the politicians in the campaign this year will be stirred by these examples, not by those who spew racist rhetoric.