I would love to tell you that I planned this. That I was smart enough to conduct a social experiment of epic proportions. But I didn’t plan anything about the last 2 years of my life. When I moved to suburban Atlanta I was faced with a choice. Either my family would attend a neighborhood church or we would travel to one of the well known established predominantly black churches in Atlanta. Our final decision was to place our membership in a congregation in our community. I wasn’t going to flee 45 minutes away from my neighborhood. I was going to place roots with the people of God in my community, even if they didn’t worship in the style of worship I was accustomed to and even if they didn’t have my world views.
It’s been HARD. Not because the congregants are mean spirited or unwelcoming, but because it was different. I was often the subject of, or subject to many awkward and racially insensitive conversations. Throw social media in the mix of trying to get to know people in this “post-racial” (read sarcasm) Obama presidency, and you get some really interesting insights as to how people who aren’t like you think and feel about a whole range of political and social issues. When one well meaning sister engaged me, out of nowhere, in a “race talk” I found myself attempting to explain the collective grief caused by social injustice and why I was vocal via social media. In attempting to use a well known case of injustice as an example, I was told Trayvon Martin played a role in his death. TO MY FACE. The lack of empathy was so painful. That school of thought had never been personified by anyone other than an Internet troll, and definitely not by a sister in Christ.
The thing about fellowship is it is intimate. It is supposed to be, at its best, a way to be vulnerable and to develop relationship with believers. What I found was that after 2 years I was unable to breakthrough. No matter how many potlucks, Bible Classes, or positive one on one encounters I had, I never felt accepted. So for months my husband and I prayed. We prayed for God to give us compassion, understanding, and patience to continue on in that church, because we knew no church is perfect. We are all imperfect. But eventually God revealed that we just didn’t belong there.
When my family finally made the decision to change congregations my husband expressed his heart about our concerns and experiences to someone in leadership. He was then told that we should just beware when transitioning to another congregation, because wherever we went, my “views are off putting”. When my husband told me this I was so overwhelmed. All I could think was the effort I had put into building relationships those two years had not counted. Simply because I was vocal about injustice with my Facebook account. It WAS me.
And maybe it was me. But fellowship is not refuge if you are asked to change who you are to be accepted.
What had kept us in a place that was ultimately not conducive to our spiritual growth was fear. We were afraid that indeed, it would be the same no matter where we went. That our passion for social justice could not be reconciled in fellowship with people that didn’t look like us and share our experiences. But the devil is indeed a liar. Our prayer was answered, and God showed us where our family needed to be. We are already planted at another church, one that has social justice in it’s mission statement. I know that social justice and racial reconciliation are uncomfortable and difficult missions, but I am thankful to God for revealing to me that there are Christians that are striving for them.
Our kids are transitioning well, and we are confident that we will be accepted. We know that being different will still be challenging, but we now have a renewed spirit and a mission affirmed by Christ. Most importantly, we have continued on with our original plan to be planted in a congregation near our home, so that ultimately we can serve in our community.