Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Most Segregated Day In North America

Today is Sunday and it is indeed the most segregated day in North America. Whites will go to their churches, and black to theirs, and never the two shall meet. Each will preach sermons of uplift directed at their specific congregations and nothing will be said about the one sidedness of the message.

I was raised in the Pentecostal and Seventh Day Adventist faith (Parents couldn't agree on a family religion) and both were largely black denominations.

God is love and colour blind; I have heard this over and over again.  If that were truly the case, why do we feel the need to segregate ourselves to worship her/him? (yes I am going to use a gender neutral approach) When people close their eyes to pray they don't envision a God that is without race, they envision a God that either reflects them, or a God that is white because western society has made whiteness representative of Divinity. Think about how many mainstream black Jesus', or black virgin Mary's you have seen?  There is a good deal of evidence that Jesus was a man of colour, and in fact in early Christian imagery he was not depicted as the blonde haired blue eyed Jesus that we recognize today.

The white Jesus is reflective of the white power structure. Creating a God that is white empowers whites to act on her/his behalf because of course they are his "chosen people".  Whites have skillfully used Christianity to keep blacks docile in hopes of reward in the great hereafter.  Slavery, one of the greatest crimes against humanity was justified by religion.  Whether this is a perversion of the original message, or a signal of the inequality that is inherent to Christianity I cannot say. It could simply be a matter of the ways in which racial stereotypes and power dynamics have been attached to theology.

What I do know, is that until society becomes cognizant of ways in which race is divisive there can be no unity on Sunday.  Fellowship will remain segregated because we don't truly believe that the person standing beside us is our equal. This is true in terms of race, class and gender.  The platitudes that we pay lip service to on Sunday have no real meaning in the larger world, as we daily engage in acts that contradict the very messages we claim to embrace on Sunday. 

Worship is more about division than solidarity.  Those of upper class standing do not attend churches in poor neighbourhoods.  Though Jesus was a poor man, mixing with different class elements even to praise his name is a rare phenomenon.  Ask yourself why we must dress in our Sunday best to commune with God.  I remember one church I attended that was more like a fashion show for Oscar de la Renta than a gathering together of like minded beings.  I quickly realized that I did not make enough money to be able to practice my faith (now I am agnostic) there.  Each week there would hushed whispers about what people were wearing. Those that did not meet the appropriate standard were dutifully shamed.

As this post is already long enough I won't get into the gender issues that come along with Christianity but sufficed it to say there are many.  I simply want people to think as they head off to their respective places of worship today, about why they have chosen the church that they have and what it says about their connection to God. Are your intentions as pure as you think they are, or are you simply repeating racist/classist/sexist behaviour that has become commonplace in western society?

H/T Stuff White People Do for The Youtube Video


19 comments:

lyndorr said...

I picture Jesus with light brown skin, brown hair and brown eyes. I don't remember ever seeing a picture of him with blond hair.
I used to experiment with churches. My decisions were based on which were easiest to get to by bus so I went downtown. I don't know how most people decide. Most people probably stick with their parents' religion or become agnostic.

Coolred38 said...

Ive accepted the fact that religion (all religions) are set up to divide and conquer...not to unite and unify.

White Trash Academic said...

I also grew up Penecostal and Baptist. I used to refer to aforementioned Jesus as "Italian Jesus" because that is where those images came from, Italian artists. Jesus would have looked like a Middle Eastern man, of course, because he lived in the Middle East (duh, Grandma!).

I did attend several black churches growing up the US South (because I had friends who attended and we often stayed the night with one another and went to church the next day) and I found that the black congregations were much more welcoming of me and my brother than some of the white churches were of my black friends. And, I personally always felt that it was OUR responsibility (the white folks) to reach out to them, rather than them welcome us (even though they did).

This very issue was one of the reaons I left the church as a teen and never looked back (the gender issue was another). Of course, I am from a state where are still a few churches that handle snakes :)

mycolorfulheart said...

I'm a Christian, and whenever discussions about Christianity come up I feel obliged to say that the sexism, homophobia and racism that is widespread in churches is very truly a perversion of Christianity and the Bible. To tell you the truth it angers me like nothing else that people have taken this religion, which is all about love, and made it about hate. Some of the sickest, most hateful things are put out there by 'Christians' who wouldn't know what Christianity was if it splooged in their eye.

With all the fearmongering and open hatred of Arab people, it's ironic that the actual Jesus Christ would have looked like Osama bin Laden and not Joe McWhiteboy.

Lindsay said...

When imagining Jesus, most white Americans (esp. Protestants) are influenced by Warner Sallman's Head of Christ.

(http://images.google.com/images?q=head of christ)

For some people, it's somewhat stunning to try and think of Jesus in any other way. If Christian doctrine says that humans are made in the image of God, then God should look like me and you and everyone. Privilege allows some to assume they're the only ones in the image of God, and unfortunately, they've been the ones in power for centuries.

Feminist theologian Mary Daly once said, "If God is male, then the male is God." It applies to racial/ethnic understandings of God as well: If God is white, then whites are God.

Relax Max said...

I don't remember God herself ever saying She was love or color-blind; She simply goes about being love and color-blind.

Please accept that it is YOU who have a problem with being loving and color-blind, not God. I love your blog. I do. But it is filled with such hate every day. I hope it helps you drain off some of your pent-up feelings, and that by doing so you will find peace.

Yes, I am white. Yes, I have hated blindly and stupidly. No, I don't do that anymore.

Please don't stop writing.

Renee said...

@Relax Max...your post leaves me confused. You say that my blog is filled with hate and then implore me to not stop writing. The issues I deal with are difficult and they do illicit anger in me, injustice should do that. Mostly I want to initiate conversations about issues that we are not talking about.

Jewelry Rockstar said...

I grew up Seventh Day Adventist too. Interestingly enough I attended a predominantly white church for many years. Then an all black church. Now I attend a non-denominational church, I think God is a spirit, and I am a follower of Jesus, who is a man.

I understand being raised up in a religious environment that casts judgement on everything and everybody. I try to flow and grow in the spirit now, and I attend my all black church on Sundays.

I encourage you to explore your religious upbringing and to find your own path. Pentecostals and Seventh-Day Adventists are very rigid. I more understand you as a writer.

Macon D said...

Coolred38, how does Buddhism divide and conquer? It's always struck me as an exception in that regard.

Great post, Renee, thank you. It clarifies several things for me.

AR said...

I'm a Christian, and whenever discussions about Christianity come up I feel obliged to say that the sexism, homophobia and racism that is widespread in churches is very truly a perversion of Christianity and the Bible.

You must have read a different Bible than me, because my Bible is all for that sort of thing, mainly in the Old Testament, and then in the New Testament Jesus says, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished" (Matthew 5:17-18)

So, no. Any morality possessed by Christians is despite their religion, not because of it

Relax Max said...

Hi Renee. I'm sorry I confused you: I implore you to not stop writing because writing about the frustrations you feel inside will eventually drain the hate from your system. Then we can all move forward together in a more positive and effectual manner, finding solutions. Right now you are mostly simply making a list of bad things that are happening. Tell us, for example, why you think it would be more desirable for all races to go to church together? I have always thought that black people went to church separately because church is a deep cultural thing to them, and much more is discussed there than religion. They simply don't feel comfortable doing that in front of white people. We don't have to have all cultural aspects in common, or go to all meetings together, for us to love one another and get along with one another. Surely it is not a sin for black people to want to commune together within their own culture at certain times. I don't think white churches hold the same cultural significance as black churches do to their members. This particular example of separation of the races doesn't necessarily prove a lack of love. Especially on God's part.

Renee, just try to give us an occasional solution or goal rather than simply listing things that are wrong. My opinion comes from reading your blog for several weeks. I do not intend to insult you. Truly I don't. If I didn't think you had something important to say, and were saying it well, I wouldn't bother writing to you. I think you care. I only offer an outsider's observations for your consideration. And you are coming across as being militantly hateful. Sorry.

Danny said...

The situation you describe about the black church vs. the white church is part of the reason I am agnostic now.

I grew tired of seeing people twist religion to their own ends (but if you say something to them they immediately counter with, "Judge lest ye shall be judged"). Not dressing the part, not donating enough, not doing enough for the church, passing gossip, etc... The phrase "holier than thou." exists for a reason.

I never liked the fact that children are pretty much forced into the church instead of just being shown and allowing them to embrace it or not (and I see this A LOT in black church communities). My parents will always have my thanks for letting me choose for myself.

In my opinion the religion one practices should have principles they can follow with good conscience. Without that you end up with people who pick and choose the parts they like while dismissing the rest. Let's call them Convinent Christians. This was one of my dad's biggest flaws.

Coolred38, how does Buddhism divide and conquer? It's always struck me as an exception in that regard.
I think coolred is talking about the very concept of religion. If you look one of the main principles of most of them (not sure of Buddhism is that way) is that they are the correct religion and all others are wrong. How can people of different faiths come together when one of their first lessons is that any who do not practice as they do is wrong?

lee said...

for all the sunday christians, how many will still be going to their segregated church if jesus was portrayed as a black man? white churches- a pillar of discrimination

Jana said...

Relax Max,

You said..."I have always thought that black people went to church separately because church is a deep cultural thing to them, and much more is discussed there than religion."

Thoughts are great, find legitmate sources to back them up. Have you done your own research on this? Don't be comfortable in your ignorance if you haven't.

"They simply don't feel comfortable doing that in front of white people. We don't have to have all cultural aspects in common, or go to all meetings together, for us to love one another and get along with one another."

How do you know they don't feel comfortable? Again, research from legitimate sources. Don't speak for other people. Ever.

Additionally, what are you doing as an ally to help the problems that Black people face that they have to speak about in church. Offer us some suggestions. There are places where people of all colors have sought to worship and been turned away or at the very least not given a warm welcome. Culture is on of the last refuges of color blind racists. We need to start looking for things we have in common, and acknowledging the injustices that prevent people from fully participating in a just society.

flewellyn said...

Hi Renee. I'm sorry I confused you: I implore you to not stop writing because writing about the frustrations you feel inside will eventually drain the hate from your system. Then we can all move forward together in a more positive and effectual manner, finding solutions.

By who or what do you find yourself entitled to judge Renee to be hateful, rather than righteously angry? From where do you determine that her blogging about things that are wrong, is an exercise in venting hate, rather than performing the duty of all righteous people who see injustice to cry out against it? In what way is witnessing to the world, and articulating clearly and eloquently about, the issues she sees in our culture, not positive or effective?

Little arouses my ire more than the whinge of the privileged, when confronted with the anger the oppressed feel, that they'd be more sympathetic and would surely help out "if only you wouldn't be so hateful!" That you think your delicate sensibilities are worth more than the harm done to the people Renee is trying to help by speaking out, says only that while you may have stopped actively hating minorities, you haven't stopped clinging to the privilege your whiteness gives you.

pizzadiavola said...

If that were truly the case, why do we feel the need to segregate ourselves to worship her/him? (yes I am going to use a gender neutral approach) When people close their eyes to pray they don't envision a God that is without race, they envision a God that either reflects them, or a God that is white because western society has made whiteness representative of Divinity.

I grew up attending a Protestant church that was predominantly Korean (maybe...two people were there who weren't Korean?), and it was largely self-segregating because it also functioned as a community center for the immigrant community and had services in Korean as well as in English. Even so, all the images of Jesus and God were of white men. In retrospect, I find it odd that a POC church would buy so readily into the "Jesus was WHITE!" line of thought.

Worship is more about division than solidarity.

That was true at my church, as well. Although there were people from all different classes, among the adults there was definitely pressure to drive status symbol cars to church, that sort of thing. The church should have been an anti-classist institution, but the group as a whole reflected the classist prejudices of wider society. Who can tithe the most, etc.

spartakos said...

Renee:

Thank you for the thought-provoking post...even if you and I disagree on some points, I think you make an excellent point about the problems of divisive religiosity and self-segregation.
For the record...I've never seen any art depicting Jesus as blond/blue-eyed. I've seen him mostly portrayed as a Hebrew...though I suppose the Isrealites were probably closer to modern-day Arabs than modern day Israelis.

Some responses to other commenters:

CoolRed:

"Ive accepted the fact that religion (all religions) are set up to divide and conquer...not to unite and unify."

So...you've accepted as fact something that isn't a fact? Hardly a good use of the old brain cells.

Relax Max:

"Tell us, for example, why you think it would be more desirable for all races to go to church together?"

I'm not the OP, but I can tell you why I think it would be good for all races to go to church together...1.) it'd mean more people having exposure to people who are different than they are, and (most likely) finding out how very similar they are, and 2.) it'd probably only happen AFTER people start to realize the foolishness and counterproductiveness of racial segregation (even voluntary). IMO, desegregated churches are (will be) an effect of good social change, rather than a cause of it.

"Renee, just try to give us an occasional solution or goal rather than simply listing things that are wrong."

I'm all for solutions too...but do you honestly believe that unless you have a solution, you should never complain about anything? Sometimes the only way to get people thinking about solutions is simply to point out that there is, in fact, a problem.

"I only offer an outsider's observations for your consideration. And you are coming across as being militantly hateful. Sorry."

1.) I would agree you are an outsider, but would add you don't seem to have much intention of coming inside.
2.) I do not think she is being either militant or hateful.
3.) Your apology strikes me as a tad insincere. Sorry.

Danny:

"How can people of different faiths come together when one of their first lessons is that any who do not practice as they do is wrong?"

Because people can change their minds? Because people can agree to disagree on some points, and find common ground on others? Because even if most religions are founded on the principles of "I'm right, you're wrong", I think most intelligent religious people know that black-white dichotomies are seldom useful?
It's not that religions don't want unity...they do. They just each want unity on THEIR terms...and I'd say the same is true of most ideological groups, religious or secular. I don't know why the idea of "compromise" is so foreign to people sometimes.
With religion as with other ideologies, the issue becomes on what points you are willing to compromise and on what points you aren't. But in the end, just because I disagree with people doesn't mean I can't still love and respect them...especially their right to disagree with me. Let's take unity where we can find it, neh?

Lee:

I wouldn't call my church "segregated", but I have to admit it, it is mostly white. That said, I'd go if Jesus was black, white, or green.

Danny said...

Great my comment got lost in the ether...
Because people can change their minds? Because people can agree to disagree on some points, and find common ground on others?
Agreed.

Because even if most religions are founded on the principles of "I'm right, you're wrong", I think most intelligent religious people know that black-white dichotomies are seldom useful?
The Crusades. The Witch Hunts. The Dark Ages. Its amazing what religion can do to otherwise intelligent people. But I do agree that black-white dichotomies are almost never useful.

It's not that religions don't want unity...they do. They just each want unity on THEIR terms...and I'd say the same is true of most ideological groups, religious or secular.
And that is what causes the "Since you said that you are this and are wrong and therefore I want nothing to do with you." situations we see today.

I don't know why the idea of "compromise" is so foreign to people sometimes.
Not only is it foreign but some are actively taught that compromise is weakness.

But in the end, just because I disagree with people doesn't mean I can't still love and respect them...especially their right to disagree with me. Let's take unity where we can find it, neh?
Agreed. That is the type of stuff I was trying to hint at but maybe I should have just said it.

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