The thing about separate gatherings

For the past week or so, I’ve watched the internet ablaze over a special gathering of women of color  sponsored by Legacy at the TGCW18 conference. (see their write up about it here.) The meeting is for women to come together to discuss their shared experiences (a phrase I will definitely be coming back to) and encourage one another. Why? Well, because being a minority, where minorities are very much the minority, trying to navigate through predominantly white spaces can be tricky and trying. If you don’t understand that, try talking to some minority women in those circumstances. But the upshot is that some women feel the need to retreat and gather among themselves apart from those who don’t really understand what it is like. They have a shared experience.

Of course, I get that there are varying degrees of sensitivity. Especially in these times of heightened racial awareness, I can see how those who are quick to racialize every aspect of every environment and interaction might feel the need for separate spaces. But let’s not be too quick to make those assumptions that explains what is going on here. And let’s not be too quick to attribute this acute awareness only among racial lines. Consider those who experience being a very small minority representation of whatever is the majority group: parents of small children in a church full of older couples; singles in the midst of married people; men in the company of a majority of women and vice versa. It’s not that you’re repudiating the majority group but there is a heightened sense of awareness that you kind of stand out and open to varying degrees of misunderstandings, misperceptions and prejudices.

This special gathering has spawned a bit of an uproar with charges of gospel-denying racism. I have even heard that the noise has caused the FBI to make some inquiries. Some folks are concerned that this kind of segregation has no place in the body of Christ. I do understand and appreciate the sentiment that oneness in Christ should preclude any kind of racial or ethnic superiority or exclusivity. As I wrote about in Some Questions I’m Asking While Off to my White Evangelical Church, I too have concerns that racial animus is creating a divide in the body of Christ. After all, Christ broke down the walls of ethnic hostility so that we can hold our identity in him first and foremost, bearing with one another and learning to love each other in spite of the extensive legacy of racial hostility. We do have to be cautious of creating unnecessary divides in the body of Christ, resisting the urge to retreat into separate enclaves because working out our salvation with fear and trembling is simply too intolerable.

So I hear what folks are saying: let’s make sure we don’t revert back to “separate but equal.”  Let’s not create hostilities where they shouldn’t be. Let’s not exclude others lest pure fellowship be hindered because of special interests.

Except there’s one small problem: the church is full of separate affinity groups, whether it be for singles, married couples, seniors, youth, etc.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:28 ESV)

Now I don’t know about Gentile groups, but we definitely groups specific to Jewish Christians. And we have separate male and female formalized fellowships. If we are one in Christ, why is this even necessary? Jewish Christians recognize there are concerns specific to their identity as Christians. Why do we have separate men and women fellowships? Because men and women have unique concerns that get most effectively addressed when there is comfortable space for honesty and vulnerability. We acknowledge that sometimes it is beneficial to create such spaces so brothers and sisters in Christ can be free to share their struggles that are unique to being in a particular sub-group within Christianity. We do this with singles. We do this for married people. We do this for people experiencing addictions. We do this for Christians who have lost loved ones and grieve. We do this for mothers with toddlers. We do this for infertile couples. We do this for people who have experienced abuse…and the list goes on. I also imagine that Christians serving in other countries might feel the need to gather with those from their home country from time to time. This is a natural inclination.

Let’s be clear, when such gatherings are advertised they are directed towards that particular group. It doesn’t necessarily mean other people can’t come or are uninvited but that the meeting is targeting people who have those experiences. In the case of the special gathering for women, I can see where the language directed at white sisters might warrant concerns. However, the  main point of sub-groups gathering is that there can be open dialogue and encouragement without the intrusion of explaining to others why this particular experience impacts them they way it does. If people want to create a space for that dialogue without such intrusions, why is that necessarily a bad thing? And if we’re going to insist that minorities who want to gather among themselves are transgressing the gospel through segregation, then we have to apply that same standard to other groups as well.

At the end of the day, I’m all for striving for gospel unity. Yes, let’s gather as the body and learn to love each other, empathize and bear each other’s burdens. We really can’t do that in separate groups. I personally have felt increasingly less inclined to participate in any kind of affinity group. But does a gathering for a group of women who want to come together to pray and encourage each other rise to the level of hysteria and charges of racism? I think not. The attention people are giving this to a watching world does more disservice than the actual event itself. Besides, there are bigger fish to fry in a world gone mad and godless.

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On kingdom seeking and stuff: a personal reflection

If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you’ll know at times I’ve felt the pangs of singleness and wondered if the Lord would be so gracious to grant a simple prayer I prayed back in Fall 2004, a few months after my husband passed away. The prayer was that when it came to relationships, I had pretty much only known wrong and I desired to know something right. By right, I mean first and foremost a Christ-centered relationship, followed by mutual respect and shared values. Though I was married, it’s not something I’ve known and I’ll just leave it at that.

Recently, the Lord has been so gracious to bring a wonderful man into my life. Funny thing is that the prayers I had prayed for a godly mate had a diminished a bit as other areas in my life rose to the forefront and which occupied more of my prayers than this long-standing request. To be honest, I was getting to the point of wondering if God just wanted me to stay single and praying that I be content with that. Needless to say, this latest development kind of took me by surprise.

Little did I know this past Christmas eve Sunday, that tall, dark and handsome visitor to my church was there specifically to meet me. It wasn’t long after the service ended that someone came up to me and indicated this gentleman had been asking for me by name. I figured it had to do with my blog. Sure enough, I learned that he was visiting from out of town (though he used to live in the DFW area and attended another PCA church) and he was sent a link to an article I wrote. Shortly after that, his friend (playing match makers of sorts) sent him another article. Why? Because he knew the things I wrote about would resonate with this gentleman…and of course, he pointed out that I was single. Thankfully, I only knew at the time of our meeting that he had come across my blog and was very appreciative of the kinds of things I wrote about. I figured he just happened to be visiting the church and since he knew I was there, asked about me. I would come to find out several weeks later, after an initial “coffee” ask, phone communications and another trip back to Dallas, that he intentionally came to church that day to see if he could meet me. Continue reading

On being a modern day Pharisee

I came across something I wrote in a Facebook post a few years ago and wanted to post a modified and expanded version of it here. It is not uncommon to hear someone call a Christian a Pharisee because they take a firm stand on Christian faith and practice. Unfortunately, I think misconstrues a Pharisaical position with the requirements for Christian faith and practice that Scripture commands. Christians should be people of conviction and a desire for obedience. Scripture does call for repentance, to change our minds about following sin, and following Christ instead. I’ve also heard Pharisees identified as people who love law. Well, that’s insufficient because Paul says the law is good and provides us with an ethical standard. We should take God’s moral law serious. 

I think we need to consider a bit more about the rise of the Pharisees and what motivated them to take the positions they took. The Pharisee sect arose during the second temple period after the return from exile. Now let’s think for minute what was going on at this time. Israel was back in the land that God had promised but was without God’s promised leadership of a king and God’s beacon of light to the nations. Israel was operating under a kind of plan B status because of their rebellion against God, who swore to remove them from his presence. The Pharisees were a separatist group who took God’s law most serious, especially in light of the loss that Israel had experienced. They did not want to lose again, if you will, and sought to tighten the reigns to make sure that every jot and tittle of the law was obeyed. 

But in their separatist mentality, the Pharisees’ concern for righteousness before God caused them to uphold their own righteousness as the standard against which all was measured. This actually caused them to add to the law just to make sure everything was “right” before God. They were more concerned with preserving their way of life than following the giver of life, especially if it meant seeing beyond the comfort of what they had determined as righteousness. This is why Jesus rebuked them. 

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law; justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. (Matt. 23:23-26)

Continue reading

Freed for thankfulness

Photo; courtesy of the Food Network

This is a personal reflection and one that I hope is encouraging to those whose Thanksgiving, but moreover, life circumstances don’t look as we wish.

This was another year of wrestling with meat for Thanksgiving. I’m not a big fan of turkey, especially white meat and find other kinds of meats more palatable. In year’s past, I’ve done Cornish hens for Thanksgiving but there is something about have some leftover bird for days that suits the spirit of the season. Last year, I finally broke down and brought a turkey as I was motivated to attempt brining and bringing some cajun flavoring to lift the bird out of it’s flavorless doldrums. Fortunately, I was able to find one small enough for this experiment as it was for just the two of us: myself and my son.

I’ve spent Thanksgivings all kinds of ways, including one year in Jamaica with my grandparents, uncles and aunt. I’ve spent Thanksgivings with big family gatherings with my step-mother’s family for many years. I’ve spent Thanksgivings with my dad and his friends, I’ve spent Thanksgivings with my husband’s family when he was alive.

This brings me to the struggles I’ve had with Thanksgivings especially since I’ve been in Dallas these past nine years. When I moved here in 2008 to attend Dallas Theological Seminary, though I came with the intense desire to for theological training in order to help people and encourage faithful discipleship, another desire descended upon me something fierce. Having been a widow since 2004 and uttering a simple prayer a few months after my husband’s death that though I had not known “good” in the relationship/marriage department, that God would grant me this wish and prayer. Continue reading

We are all guilty

Well, it’s been a dozy of a week on social media. The allegations of sexual misconduct against Roy Moore continue to mount as does his adamant denial. Not only that, he has chalked it up as a grand political conspiracy, ‘it’s that other side.’ He will not back down. Now I can’t say for certainty these allegations are true though it is pretty hard to dismiss five separate stories. Given the seriousness of the charges, the thought of there being any truth to them gives me a chill regarding the lack of ownership. But I do recall another time a very prominent political figure was charged with inappropriate sexual behavior that initially met with the same response: “I did not have sex with that woman.” Of course we know how that story went. His adamant denials were dashed with the reality of truth. He was guilty.

This is just a small snippet of denial-defense-blame menagerie that not only has peppered the news. This happens everywhere. Incidents go down. Blame is assigned. Some will even take the opposite approach in blind support of the prominent particularly when driven by strong political or familial affiliations. Others will be quick to throw out unexamined charges of guilt especially against those on the “other side” wherever that is. Social media is rife with virtue signaling.

But here’s the thing. We might be sitting back in smug satisfaction that “these people” are morally corrupt, resting in their fame and power to hide their guilt all the while projecting innocence.  We may not be guilty of sexual misconduct, exploiting the vulnerable, or protecting prominent positions. But make no mistake, we are all capable of participating in the same kinds of charades we so easily denounce in other people. We can be guilty of wrong and project ourselves as right, hide our transgressions behind a veil of virtue, and point our fingers to the ones who can’t see all the while clouded by our own lenses. We’ll justify it because our sins are acceptable, masquerading as Christian concern–pride, self-righteousness, envy, and a lack of love. Sometimes the lies go so deep that we’ve even fooled ourselves in believing our own mess. Continue reading