What if Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman went to the same church? What if the two of them were placed in a small group together, where they shared countless meals and engaged one another in meaningful dialog? Do you think the outcome would have been different? I do. Okay, take Trayvon out of the small group. Instead, let’s say Zimmerman went to a church where he was in constant contact with young black teenage men who wore hoodies from the other side of the tracks. What if they trusted each other enough to share their different sociological worldviews, while at the same time reveling in the common ground that they hold in Christ? Do you think Zimmerman would’ve pulled out his gun and shot a young man because of fear fed by stereotypes? I don’t think he would have. Trayvon would’ve kept on eating his skittles that evening, all because of the power of the multi-ethnic church to dismantle fear and prejudice.
The danger of homogeneity is that it isolates us from the other and serves as a silent accomplice to perpetuate our generalizations and suspicions of the other. When we don’t know one another we become susceptible to saying things like:
“Yeh, but black preachers are just emotional, they don’t really deal with the text.”
“They don’t work hard enough.”
“White people are racist’s.”
“But if they (interracial couple) get married, what about the kids?”
“When will they just get over it?”
Like any other black man I know what it’s like to have white people walk faster when I happen to walk behind them. Sometimes I get frustrated by this, but I also laugh. If they only knew me. Outside of the pack of Kool Aid I stole when I was like eight, I’ve never stolen anything in my life. I live in the suburbs, am married to a girl from Scottsdale, Arizona, pastor a church that’s 65% white and haven’t been in a fight since I was like nineteen. And…can I be real? I am often times just as afraid of certain black people as the white person I’m walking behind is afraid of me! If they only knew me. If I only knew them.
Just the other day I walked into a store at night. And as you can imagine, as it just so happened I scared the white woman in front of me so that she clenched her purse and doubled her gait. As I was about to shake my head in frustration, one of my members called out loudly from like fifty feet away, “Pastor Bryan!" Her greeting was so loud it left me a little embarrassed. She ran over and we had a great conversation, a black man and a white woman in the middle of Target. No fear. We knew each other.
If the social structures of our lives- church, neighborhoods, schools, etc- are homogenous, and we have no meaningful exchanges with the other around dinner tables and outings, then we are bound to perpetuate stereotypes and live in fear and suspicion of the other. One of the glorious residual benefits of the multi-ethnic church is that it forces you to deconstruct your perception of the other, and come out of your fear. If only we had more multi-ethnic churches, Trayvon Martin might still be alive today.