I used to be an evangelical Christian. I helped lead people in worship, or “ushered them into the presence of God,” as we used to say. I traveled the world crooning out the message of the gospel at conferences hosted by my church, a mostly white evangelical megachurch in the suburbs of Chicago. On the weekends I sang for as many as 16,000 people. It was a lofty thing to be part of, a “calling” I believed in wholeheartedly. During the years that I served in this congregation, before I walked away from the religion I’d grown up with and embraced even more intensely in college, racial reconciliation as a ministry focus became more prevalent in my church. This term—”racial reconciliation”—may be most familiar to those in religious communities. Back then, I understood it to be a kind of evangelical model for tackling racism in the church, one that emphasized diversity, relationships, and the need to address systemic causes fueling racism in society. However, these same ideals and goals are also embodied in more widely known terms like racial justice and social justice.
When the leadership team decided to do a series of services focused on this topic, I was drafted to tell a piece of my story. As a biracial woman — and usually the only woman of color singing on stage — it seemed my time had come. I wrote a brief account, summarizing in one minute a personal experience with racism. The memory I chose to relate involved a family in that church, though I didn’t reveal that detail. I told the congregation about how a former white boyfriend’s parents, particularly his mother, persuaded him to end our relationship because they were uncomfortable with my blackness. I said the fact that they were all Christians undermined my confidence in God’s love for me; it made me wonder if He loved white Christians more than black ones. I sang a song about love and unity and building bridges.
People came up to me afterwards, some weeping, apologizing for random things. Looking for absolution that I could not give. Seeing in me — at least for a moment — the entire black community, because for better or worse, we are never singular, always plural. I soaked it up. In that era of my life, I wanted to believe I was like Esther and had been called “‘for such a time as this’ (NIV, Esther 4:14).” I was inspired and hopeful. Maybe the church could help bridge that space between black and white. Maybe because I’d come from both places, I was uniquely equipped to be part of that healing. I love my family—black and white. But there had been a rift long ago, and I’d grown up occupying the expanse between them. It was lonely and I was sick of it. I wanted healing for myself and, on a larger scale, for all of us.
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