Thursday, November 29, 2007

Race, Mainline and Emergent, Part One

Growing up as a young black man in the seventies and eighties, my parents always reminded me that it was a rough world out there for African Americans. My especially, grew up in the Jim Crow South, so he knew racism upfront in the form of segregated schools, restaurants and hotels. My mom, who grew up in Puerto Rico, didn't face as much racism back home, but did get noticed for her accent once she hit the mainland.

As a kid growing up in the aftermath of the civil rights movement, I didn't always take heed to my parents warnings. Outright segregation had been outlawed and blacks and whites were getting along for the most part. Racism was something of the past, or so I thought.

These days, I am not so sure. Oh, I still believe that outright racism is dead and buried, but the ghosts still linger on, and I think I've found a place where those ghosts reside:

The church.

I don't make this assumption lightly, but I've wondered at times that as I move about in a largely white denomination, if race gets in the way of my advancing. I have seen some of my colleagues find positions with little ease, while at times I feel that I have to jump several hoops to even be considered. For example, I've known a few people who have found interim positions without having interim training, and yet when I ask about positions, I am told more often than not that I need training. Now, in most cases my colleagues are in different denominations, but the fact is, they tend to have an easier entry into pastoral positions than I do.

A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with a Lutheran pastor friend of mine. She was surprised that I haven't been "snapped up" because I am African American and because I preach well. I couldn't answer why that hasn't been the case. I know that I am not perfect and have things to work on, but I also know that I have skills and have been ignored when opportunities come calling.

I then start to think about the wider church. Look around, especially in mainline bodies and you will find that persons of color seldom pastor churches that are majority white. It just doesn't happen that much.

I don't think that there is some conspiracy against me. I don't think there are people sitting in some denominational office saying "We've got to keep this black man away from our white Christians." What I think is happening is more unintentional and based on assumptions more than anything else. I think a lot of people from those sitting in the pews to those in middle judicatories think they know black people and think they know their congregation. I tend to think some people see a black guy like me and think I will want to be among my own kind in some inner city church, instead of out in the burbs. They also think that congregations are not so welcoming to people like me, so they steer me away from such churches. They assume the parishioners will be racist and make my life a living hell. I also think some people in those churches are afraid that they will say something that will be construed as racist and that I will get mad...yada, yada, yada.

The thing is, I just want to be a pastor. I like urban churches, but I would settle for a suburban church. I just want to frickn' preach the gospel. I just want to do ministry with people. I wish people would stop looking at my skin and just see Dennis frickin' Sanders.

I think one the problems with living in Minnesota is that white people are really scared of dealing with race. They think they are so "progressive" that they don't want to admit they might have some issues to work on. At least in the South people are honest. The thing is, I don't really care about all the hangups. I mean, none of us are perfect and yes, even black people have racial and ethnic issues to deal with. Maybe we should just deal with them as the broken people that we are and stop trying being so perfect.

I don't know if the people who have to deal with calling a pastor can ever get over themselves. And I don't know how long I can wait. I would love to do ministry here in Minnesota, but if I keep hitting the same locked doors, then maybe it's time to "shake the dust off my feet" and move on to greener pastures.

I majored in journalism when I was in college. One day a friend of mine said there were jobs available as copy editors at the college newspaper. I was excitied and went to the newspaper where the editor told me there were no openings. My friend was amazed since she had heard her boss say they needed more people.

It's been nearly twenty years since that happened and I can still remember it. I hope that this isn't history repeating itself.

All I want to be is be a pastor. That's all.

No comments: