The Church as a Safe Place for People of Color

On Wednesday, October 26th, Mercy Hill held it’s “Living Room Conversations: A Gospel-centered Conversation on Race” between a panel of pastors, staff, and church members of varied backgrounds. This post is a part of our Continuing the Conversation blog series that seeks to keep Mercy Hill thinking and talking about issues of race.

The American story and its daily reinforcements set a weight of worth and identity on the shoulders of people of color that only the Gospel was made to carry. This story includes a narrative of African Americans as second class citizens whose way of life, cultural values, and contributions are inferior to those of European descent. History has openly displayed this narrative, and though time has progressed, culture still reinforces many of these ideas. Men and women of color have worked to combat these biases and stereotypes, but the impact has influenced the way many see and engage with the world around them.

My Daily Experience

I have seen in my own life how the response against culture’s narrative has affected my decision making, and how I interact with predominantly Anglo (i.e. white) environments. The burden of assimilation can look like questioning my choice of hairstyle, my choice of music in public areas, my subjects of conversation, my word choice, my volume of conversations, and all out suppression of my cultural norms. The American narrative also means I can never be “colorblind” or culture blind in any setting. For example, it means I notice how many black people are in same room as me, I notice when I walk into a local private university’s dining area and everyone behind the counter looks like me. It means I notice when a song that would be common in my cultural soundscape plays outside that setting. It means that while I’m in a room of mostly Anglo community group leaders and people I have come to call family, I notice that the man serving our table looks like me—seemingly reinforcing culture’s narrative. It also means that when bodies with bullet holes are lying in the streets that have the same hue as me, the image is easily replaceable with my own. My awareness feeds into the notion that assimilation is the best defense mechanism to protect the value of self, when in actuality, it hurts Gospel witness because we are called to a unified diversity in Christ.

My Safe Place Experience

There is a vulnerability that comes with being yourself in culturally different settings, but the church can be a safe place. I have seen individuals care for me by creating thoughtful environments free from the world’s story. This simply looks like not assuming cultural norms or stereotypes about me, and not presenting their own culture as the right way. Individuals took the time to see the world through my eyes and empathized when they honestly could not. They displaced themselves and stepped into my world with eagerness to learn with a realization that I have been existing in theirs. In short, they took a position of humility with every car ride, Caribbean- American graduation party, HBCU campus visit, family dinner, and late night conversation. Engaging together starts with conversations about who we are as people in this world without a judgment of value or status given to those experiences.

The church is a community of sinful people, freely redeemed and of equal value because the Gospel is the great equalizer. Only the Gospel can reinforce the true identity of people of color, and its narrative should be louder than the one in culture as a witness to what Christ has done. I believe as the church begins to walk in humility, side by side, with people that are different and embracing their culture as equal, it will become more of a safe, God-glorifying place.

-Vania Claiborne (2 Year College Resident)