I met Antoine Edmondson at the Mt. Hermon Christian Writers Conference last spring and asked him to write something for TCGW from his point of view. After a few phone conversations, we had nailed down the subject: Church. I waited for the right time to post this special piece.
During our sermon “#MandelaEffect: My Jesus Ain’t White” by Clayton Hentzel this weekend, the Holy Spirit moved me to post Antoine’s relevant message now.
TCGW is pleased to present “The True Cost Of Diversity.”
It’s 2018 and most of our churches still aren’t as diverse as we want them to be. I used to find it extremely frustrating as a black man to walk into a church in an urban context and there is no one who looks like me. (I mean urban as a way to describe a densely-populated area, not just a city with mostly people of color.)
When I say someone that looks like me, I don’t mean that I expect to see black people at churches in the city, what I am saying is that I am hoping to discover that this particular church has created an environment where other people of color feel valued, seen, and heard.
Now, if you were to ask any person on staff at any predominantly white middle class church if they wanted a diverse church, I am confident that 90-100% of them would say that they want a diverse community of people to make up their church.
For context, my wife and I spent 11 months driving from coast to coast in the U.S. visiting churches. Most of the churches that we went to were non-denominational and met in the city or in its outskirts. One big takeaway that I gathered from that experience is that there are literally churches for every type of community in America.
I also noticed that the church will reflect it’s leadership. If the church leadership is white, middle class, drives Harley’s, and are outspoken vegans, you can bet that at least 40% of the church will be comprised of the same type of people.
Why does this happen?
You attract who you are. Most of us do not have diverse friend groups. We like to think that we do, but when we get down to the truth, we know that we actually have a diverse group of acquaintances that, in today’s social media world of digital relationships, we call “Friends.”
A few years ago, I realized that while I knew a lot of people, my most intimate relationships were with people of color. This makes sense to most black people in the U.S. Who else is going to understand our struggle like we do?
The fact that I was constantly surrounding myself with people who knew my struggle was the problem.
All I was hearing about was MY struggle.
Granted, most safe spaces of color in the U.S. have been created out of necessity to maintain sanity in a country that seems hell-bent on assassinating character and invalidating experience. But I knew that God was calling me to open my life to my other siblings in the family of faith that don’t LOOK like me, ACT like me, DRESS like me, or TALK like me.
Like many churches who seek ethnic diversity, finding people who are not like you and becoming friends is not a political campaign… at least it shouldn’t be. Intimate relationships take time and effort to cultivate.
I’ve also learned that no matter how hard I try, I just won’t develop an intimate relationship with some people because our values and interests are very different. With that in mind, I prayed about it and asked God to help me to develop intimate relationships with people who aren’t like me.
I can’t lie. This journey has been très difficile.
I have had to constantly confront
my internalized issues for white America.
I have to constantly remind myself that
ignorance is not synonymous with racism,
that my perspective matters,
and so does theirs.
I have had to come face to face with the fact
and remember that
That’s the thing about diversity. True diversity shows you who you really are. Being a leader of a church of many economic backgrounds in South Central Los Angeles taught me that the gospel that I preach is for the middle class.
Growing in relationship with white Americans has taught me that sharing my experience as a black man in America is important for the world at large.
Being in relationship with the Latinx community taught me that the struggle of black people isn’t the only struggle. Having friendships with people from the LGBTQ+ community taught me that sexuality and gender aren’t as black and white as I once believed.
Diversity exposes us and it shows us our blind spots. Usually, we become defensive when someone calls out our blind spots. That’s why men argue with the woman who call us sexist. That’s why we dismiss the person calling us racist. That’s why we don’t understand why gay people want to get married. We’re too busy defending our beliefs instead of learning about their experience.
So, I’m warning you. If you pray that God makes your church diverse without first praying that God makes your personal friend group diverse, I would say that you’re putting the cart before the horse. If I may, I suggest that you first pray for God to help you to welcome people of all walks of life – in ethnicity, age, or sexuality, and culturally or economically- into your friend circle.
Then, invite those people to church!
Love people up close and often. Trade origin stories and extend forgiveness over age-old arguments. Don’t say that you want diversity if you don’t want to do the messy work of relating to people you don’t understand.
My wife and I now attend a predominantly white church in the middle of downtown in our city where I am on staff as the Creative Pastor. It’s not always easy being the only young black guy on staff. God has shown me that I need to learn to love everyone, because if not, how can I ever love Him?
Think of earth as a television screen and every person is a pixel. When we are connected, we make a 4K picture of who God is. To see a full 4K picture of the image of God is going to cost us our pride. But that’s okay; our ability to see that image cost Him His life.
Antoine Edmonson is a Hip Hop Artist*Husband*Father who creates music that explores the challenges, triumphs, and the mundane of balancing big dreams of touching the world with his music, being an intentional husband, and present father.
His goal is that people in similar situations would use his story as motivation and inspiration to continue to fight for what they believe.
However, fighting for what you believe comes with enemies. His podcast Destined For Greatness: Work In Progress is an extension of his music, providing bite-sized messages to help you start the day with the mindset that you need to overcome the biggest threat to your success….your attitude.
Follow him on Instagram at @antoineedmonson and join the community of people who are working towards their goals using the #DFGWIP hashtag.
He currently resides in Dayton, Ohio where he is the Creative Pastor at City Church Dayton.
Visit his website: www.AntoineEdmonson.com