As Deacon of Multicultural Ministry in a well-established Charlotte church, I take my mission very seriously. Yet as a Christian traumatized by the overt racism in my land, I often don’t know where to begin.
One year ago I could envision a Christian community in which we could truly experience the Kingdom of God, that realm in which racism and hate gives way to greater understanding and mutual respect.
We had just appointed our first four Latino deacons, two husband and wife teams, themselves first-generation immigrants as well as dedicated followers of Jesus. We had extended our concept of multi-cultural outreach beyond our efforts to embrace the Hispanic communities with the love of Jesus. We were ready to envision what we as a church might have been, had the segregation of southern churches never occurred.
In a year of protests in our city, it clearly was the time to speak openly of race. One of our African-American brothers, a long-time member of our church, was invited to share previously non-confided acts of racism that he had experienced in the last few years.
Even against the background of one man’s presidential campaign based on fear and degradation of the Hispanic and other peoples, I had a sense of sanctuary in my church. We would, I thought, move forward with our grand enterprise, in spite of the negative voices on the outside.
Surely, I thought, this capitulation toward overt racism would not rule the day. Besides, this was not a Republican or Democratic issue, and one could vote Republican and not vote for Trump. After all, were we not a nation of immigrants and their descendants, joined by the descendants of enslaved black laborers?
Had we learned nothing from previous “removal efforts” which had once targeted Chinese laborers, sent eastern Native American tribes to Oklahoma, placed Japanese-Americans in camps, and repeatedly forced HispanicAmerican citizens out of the country? Wouldn’t our history resist any attempt to buy votes with the cheap currency of racial animus?
Then came the election. – then the demographic statistics of USAmerican voters. According to the PEW Research Center, “fully eight-in-ten self-identified white, born-again/evangelical Christians say they voted for Trump.”
How reflective was this of my church? I can’t say. And what does this statistic communicate to the brown and black folk in our church? I can only imagine. And what of those millennials and others who were not reflected in the 80% demographic? Do they feel abandoned?
My hope lay smoldering in the ashes of my apparent naivete, my confidence suddenly in the ruins of despair. One of our Latino deacons told me, “How do I know if my church really wants me.” Another, “I haven’t felt what I feel since 9-11”.
For the first time ever, I faced my Wednesday night bilingual Bible class, my Hispanic brothers and sisters, when they could only respond with silence, when asked for peticiones – prayer requests.
In the words of scripture, “they knew not what to ask.” So I prayed. “This is your time, Lord.”
From the ashes of despair has come hope. Church elders began sending me useful links to articles about embracing a multicultural vision and mission. Wise African-American members are beginning to find voice. Constructive conversations about race are beginning to emerge. Admittedly on uncharted ground, we are carefully stepping forward on the path to greater understanding and sensitivity, while acknowledging the landmines of distrust and reaction.
Regardless of who we voted for and why, we are still a family of multiple cultures, languages and ethnic backgrounds. The kingdom of God lives!
The grand experiment continues …