PLEASE (don't) SHUT UP
In my view, one of the problems with our Euro-American church model is that we have too many sleepy heads nodding in the affirmative on a Sunday morning! Most of us have probably experienced what almost amounted to a Sunday morning sleep-in that seemingly only got interrupted by the sound of someone who suddenly had a sneezing fit. Rarely does the preacher upset the place with thinking that triggers spirited conversations among members, and I think in the end, that’s probably not a good thing. Jesus routinely upset both religious and non-religious folk with propositions that required conversation. Most of us know the Word well enough to immediately think of instances when folk got down right upset over something Jesus said.
On a recent cool December day, NorthStar’s Annandale site filled up with preachers and lay leaders who were there for a symposium on Race, and not long after it started, the temperature started rising because beautiful members of the body of Christ started verbalizing differing perspectives. In summary, the issue was this: one perspective was that Racism is actually a social and secular construct and the church ought not buy into how the world defines racism because racism is actually only a symptom of SIN (and ultimately, sin is the real issue that needs to be addressed). The other perspective was that we should not quickly bottom line sin, but instead people need to be called out for their racist behavior even though they may not see or understand the sin angle. Furthermore, a conversation needs to specifically address the hurt, pain and injustices that accompany racists' behavior and attitudes that frankly also raise their gnarly, ugly heads in churches just as they do in other venues in life.
I completely loved the spirited conversation, first because we so seldom allow ourselves to have spirited debate because we often don’t understand that unity doesn’t need to insist on total agreement. Secondly, I loved the spirited conversation that ricocheted around the four walls of NorthStar’s conference space because those who were in the minority by way of their perspective, felt they were free to express it and they were heard. While there were moments I felt the perspectives could fit an ocean between them, at other moments I felt we just might be closer to a point of fundamental agreement than we may have realized.
Some years ago when God summoned me to plant a church, one of our leaders came up with the idea of doing a post service debrief (to start 5 minutes after service ended) with everybody who wanted to comment on the sermon (pro or con) and/or desired to ask me questions about it. I did it for a couple of Sundays, but then it petered out. The reason I felt bad that it quickly petered out was because (in my view) it either signified that my sermons were not kicking up quite enough dust to warrant further analysis and conversation, or perhaps people were not yet at the level where they felt comfortable challenging or asking the pastor to further explain a sermonic comment or thought.
Sometime talking takes courage, but it also encourages a needed exchange of listening and contemplation. Let’s not be afraid of tough conversations, because when we’re afraid, it necessarily means we perpetuate “rug sweeping,” and stuff that gets swept under the rug rarely gets to see the light of day and the possibility of revelation. So we should ask, “Are we a people who have chicken hearts that are afraid to have earnest conversations where there may be differing perspectives? Do we care enough about the BIG issues to invest exploration that could possibly lead us to enough of a unified front to actually do something? Will we sit in the spoiled diaper of inaction and DO NOTHING to address the very important issue of how minorities and other disenfranchised people are treated in the world and in our churches? Will we look away, and stubbornly accept the status quo of Sunday morning being the most segregated hour of the week? Can---- We---- Talk?" Email me at to join me in the conversation.
Randy Haynes is a consultant on staff with NorthStar Church Network, focusing on issues of racism, diversity, and reconciliation.