Monday, July 04, 2005

Burnt Burger Extravaganza!

I spent a few minutes of my Independence Day sitting on the grass next to a softball field, eating a hamburger. The hamburgers and softball were both part of my church's annual Independence Day Softball Game and Fireworks-Watching Extravaganza, which I must say is one of our best social events of the year. The only one better is the Abilene Idol Karaoke Fest, which is nothing less than spectacular. The singing and softball aren't so great - in fact they're often amusingly bad - but both events manage to unite the two main socioeconomic groups in our congregation, and that, in a word, is spectacular.

My church is sometimes called an inner-city church, although Abilene really doesn't have an inner city. It just has a few poor neighborhoods that most of the churches in the city try to ignore, and the people who live in those neighborhoods are the ones we pay attention to.

We also attract lots of students from one of the local Christian universities; I'm not really sure why. Maybe it's because they read the Bible in one of their courses and realize that the church at large is doing a crummy job of caring for the poor. Maybe it's because we're fairly free-and-easy about our doctrine; maybe it's because we expect our members to actually do something other than sit in a pew. Maybe it's because we have a darn good preacher.

Whatever the reason, we've ended up with these two major groups in our church: "community people", who come from the socioeconomically depressed neigborhoods around Abilene, and "college people", who are going to the local university and, on the whole, come from middle and upper-class families. As you might expect, bridging this gap is difficult, and always a work in progress. But it's a work that needs to continue.

A few weeks ago, I asked the following question:

Is there significant racism in the Christian church?

I got a few interesting responses, including this comment from Paul:

As to prejudice in the church, the only thing I have to note in my limited church-going experience is that the churches I've happened to belong to or visit have been basically all black or all white.

As Paul implies, this is not racism per se, and it does not prove that most church members are racially prejudiced. The segregation of the American church could be a historical accident, or it could even be that certain cultures prefer certain forms of worship.

But integrating our churches racially and socioeconomically is much more important than simply teaching people the errors that arise from racial prejudice: As my preacher uncle recently reminded me, one of the church's main tasks is to model a peaceable kingdom to the rest of the world. Where the world is bigoted, the church must show acceptance. Where the world is merciless, the church must show mercy. And where the world is frenetic, the church must show peace.

So practically, it doesn't really matter whether the segregated church or its members can be called "racist". What matters is that the church is continuing to allow a kind of segregation that Jesus disdained. (Consider how Samaritans are treated throughout the gospels.) Not only does this segregation make the church less than unified, it also makes Christians look ridiculous to the outside world, ultimately diluting their witness to the power of Jesus.


Matthew's Wife said...

We should have traded burgers. Mine was undercooked.

The best thing about the burgers, though, was that they were flipped by one of our "community" men, rather than our pastor. Giving him that important job to do was another great way to bridge the racial gap.

That's why I ate it anyway...and enjoyed it!

Matthew's Wife said...

By the way, I wasn't implying that the burgers were under or over-cooked because a community person did them...I'm sure many of us would have had the same problem.

Matthew said...

Yep. That grill is a bit tricky.

Paul said...

Good. Now I see that your wife as well as your mother sometimes look at this blog.

Without being able to know for certain, I have to wonder whether either of them would approve of the excessive drollness of your comment to my blog that has unleashed a torrent of thoughts relating to limes. People are now not only commenting about limes, but about each others' statements concerning limes and possible reactions and feelings over one anothers lime-related comments.

I don't really know if you can do anything to atone. Perhaps a post titled, "Beyond Figs and Fronds: Fruit Garnishes and Christian Metaphor."