10.03.13

“Why Focus on African-American Churches?”

When Tony, Lou and I began The Front Porch, we knew we would be asked this question: “Why focus on African-American churches?” We knew some people would ask a correlating question as well: “Are you being exclusionary or unwelcoming to persons of other ethnic backgrounds?” We asked ourselves these questions, and our answer was simple — we’re focusing on Black churches because few others do. Who else will focus on this part of God’s kingdom? And no, we have no interest in being exclusionary but welcoming to all.  Our answers find expression in our slogan, “conversations about biblical faithfulness in African-American churches and beyond.”

Each of us invests considerable energy studying and engaging broader evangelicalism. Tony and I sit on the council of The Gospel Coalition. We speak at major evangelical gatherings like Together for the Gospel, Ligonier Ministries, Together for Adoption, and others. We’ve been blessed by God with the privilege of serving the Church in international contexts as well. All that to say, we love the “big-C” Church. We are catholic Christians. We are ecumenical in the best sense of the word.

Yet, despite these investments, we suspected some would have the question, “Why focus on African-American churches?” I suspect people ask the question with different motives and assumptions. And we’re inviting all Christians to join us because we recognize ourselves and the Black Church to be parts of the larger body of Christ. So we want to address the different types of people who ask the question.

Some Ask Out of Curiosity

We recognize that many people know very little about the historic Black Church. It’s a world with which they’ve had little contact. They’re not asking with an agenda other than to know more about the expression of Christian faith in that context. We’re glad such folks have joined us on the porch, and we trust their time here will at least provide glimpses of a neighboring part of God’s vineyard.

“We’re focusing on Black churches because few others do.”

Some Ask with a Longing

There are also those who raise the same question because they long to see the Lord’s Church reflect more and more of its true multi-ethnic nature. They’re drawn and compelled by Revelation 5 and 7. They long to hear all the nations worship the Lamb together. They lament the ethnic separation that impeaches the church’s love and weakens her witness. We share this same longing. We each pastor churches with significant diversity.

But we’re also children of the Black church, the womb and cradle of our spiritual birth, and still the home of the vast majority of African-American Christians. Just as the evangelical (read, “white”) church remains the spiritual home of the vast majority of white Christians. Yet we believe we can be “apostles to the Gentiles” (as we are in diverse congregations) and simultaneously yearn for “our kinsmen according to the flesh” to be grafted in and strengthened. We believe longing for both things reflects the Scripture’s fullest longing for all nations. We believe that those outside the African-American church who long for a multi-ethnic church should consider joining African-American churches just as many African-Americans, Asians, Africans, and Hispanics die to self to join predominantly white churches.

Some Ask in Willful Ignorance

Finally, there are those who question the primary focus of The Front Porch not because they are innocently unaware of the church, nor because they long for a multi-ethnic experience, but because they question the legitimacy of a “Black church.” They do not believe Black churches have a right to exist. They believe attaching the adjective “Black” to any effort is tantamount to racism.

Yet, they appear to assume the legitimacy of their own congregations, congregations that are likely mono-ethnic and willfully unaware that predominantly white congregations produce and perpetuate cultural identities and perspectives of their own. You can see examples of what I mean in some of the Facebook comments left in response to The Christian Post’s kind article covering The Front Porch.

Our response to such folks is simple — we don’t need to legitimize our love for African-American Christians or the Black Church. It’s the white church that created the Black church. There would be no Black Church if predominantly white churches had established their own legitimacy by rejecting the racism that made independent Black congregations necessary. There would be no Black church if our white brothers and sisters had not been complacent with segregated sanctuaries. It’s the illegitimacy of historical white Christian racism that establishes the legitimacy of Black independent worship. It would seem that the appropriate response to that historical sin would be repentance rather than repudiation of the survivors.

But the Black Church commends herself in the historical preaching of the gospel, the faithful service of disenfranchised communities, the long fight for the country to live up to her best ideals, and the gift of great preachers and orators to the entire church world. Such an institution not only has a legitimate existence, she ought to be treasured by all and studied by all. She is Christ’s church—incomplete, imperfect and in progress, but part of Christ’s bride nonetheless.

Conclusion

We’re so grateful for the great many of our white brothers and sisters who have indicated they’re “right there with us.” We feel and appreciate your prayers. We see your retweets, blog posts and emails. We know that the bulk of our brethren outside the African-American experience look to be sensitive to that experience. We know we’re closer to reconciliation than any generation before our own. We know the loud and sometimes racist comments do not represent our white brethren. And we long and pray and work for the day when we experience more fully the reality that there is no longer any Jew or Greek, but one new man in Christ Jesus. We say, “Maranatha!”

Thabiti Anyabwile
Thabiti Anyabwile serves as a pastor of Anacostia River Church (Washington DC). He is the happy husband of Kristie and the adoring father of two daughters and one son. Holler at him on Twitter: @ThabitiAnyabwil

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