In 1976 after celebrating two hundred years of independence the United States government under the leadership of President Gerald Ford decided to ” seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Ironically, after almost 240 years of independence, the church especially the evangelical church is often behind the world in terms of race relations. The saying is truer today as it was 200 years ago that on Sundays churches remain some of the most segregated places in the country. Though there are a couple of factors that contribute to this, the fact is that most evangelical churches need to really come up to speed on how to connect with other minorities, black churches included. But because this is a post on black history month, I will focus on why and how churches can take advantage of this month.
The first reason that your church, particularly those American ones should celebrate black history month is to seize the opportunity to not only to reflect on its history with blacks but also the opportunity to connect to its local black community. Today there are many churches that pay lip service to the ideal of being multicultural or diverse. Yet when it comes to acknowledging or connecting to the minorities in their midst they do nothing beyond state that they have a desire to be multicultural.
One of the easiest ways to honor and celebrate black history month is to simply inform people of its occurrence. One can easily debate over what to do and how not to look silly observing black history month, but a first step is communicating to the congregation that black history month actually is worth their attention. Often times unless someone has a child in school we can sometimes forget or be ignorant that we are in black history month. We may catch Roots, the Color Purple or some other programs on civil rights on television, or just change the channel without thinking, its black history month. You know the evangelical church has failed in its prophetic role to speak to race relations and unity when it openly announces upcoming Super Bowl games and fails to acknowledge the people living in its pews and shadows. Acknowledging black history month is a first step, but I think another step is to actually find out how your church is doing in serving the black people in the congregation or in the community.
My church has been going through the book of James, and one of the points that James makes is that it is a sin to show partiality. In context he is speaking of treating people different because of their class, but here’s a question that your church should ask itself:
Do the minorities attending the church feel that they are treated differently because of their race? There are nuances to this as well, but ultimately everyone should feel loved and welcome when they enter our church doors regardless of their class, race, looks, or sexuality.
Another question that should be asked is to what extent do we make others feel welcomed and loved? I think the church should take months like black history month to assess, how they are doing in reaching, connecting and loving the blacks and minorities in our church and in the community. I don’t think this should just be limited to African Americans, but to all minority groups. I understand that an individual church may not be able to successfully reach all people groups, but I think they should ignore the groups right around the corner simply because they are not like us. As churches begin to become more multicultural they are prone to have Acts chapter 6 problems, but some of our churches haven’t even gotten to chapter 6, we are still in Jerusalem. (Read Acts 6:1-6 and how the church encounters its first race/cultural problem)
Here’s another way to observe black history month. Why not bring a gospel choir from a black church to come and sing during praise and worship? Scriptures point out how blessed it is for brothers to dwell in unity, and worshipping under the leadership of a different choir would be an awesome chance for many in your church to experience gospel music outside of watching Sister Act.
An even greater way to honor and celebrate black history month is to invite a black preacher to preach to your congregation. I can already hear the gasping. I don’t know about that. For some pastors or leadership teams that is too far. Just think about how you feel when hearing that, some of you may have already made a racist thought that automatically presumes that there are no black preachers theologically up to par to be able to preach to your church. Your church is too good for them. Now I don’t want to rock the boat, because I know that black preachers are often identified with prosperity and Word of Faith teachings and for churches who seek to be biblically sound and reject those teachings, they simply just want to protect their congregation. Yet there are black preachers who are solid bible teachers and if you as a pastor are not familiar with solid black preachers in the area, maybe you can work on that. Here’s something else, maybe you can even develop minority leadership in your church.
One of the last ways and I think critical areas the church should observe black history month is in memory and repentance. There’s a reason that the church is one of the most segregated places on Sundays and if you check your history books you will see why. I think the church should reflect on its role whether positive or negative on the plight of black Americans beginning at slavery. One of the items that I’ve been reading and really boils my blood is The Negro Church, a report made by W.E.B Dubois. This should be required reading for every pastor. Its actually available for free on pdf online. This is an early sociological study of the history and development of the black church as it emerged out of slavery. As we know slavery was horrible, and the romantic notion that slaves just automatically converted is a lie from hell. There were many souls that were lost, because of the stubbornness and failures of the church;failures that still have repercussions today.
Celebrating Black History Month should not be a burden, but an opportunity to seize and connect with the people of color in your midst and in your community. If your church doesn’t do it, you should with your family. There is more to black history than just Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. There’s Dubois, Carter Woodson, Frederick Douglas, Washington Carver, Oladah Equiano, Lemuel Haynes, and others. Knowledge is power, while ignorance only breeds contempt. Lets stamp out ignorance and begin to learn about some important figures in our nation, our communities and our churches. Let’s celebrate black history, because its not just black history its our history.