Today I respond to Michael J. Forbes and his article entitled, The Doors of the Church are Open – But for Whom. While I understand his tone and even his frustration with the church, particularly the Black Church, I would urge Michael to keep searching for the kind of church that will meet his needs. Yes the church, particularly the black church has much in its history and even presently to repent, a need to seek forgiveness in many areas of its corporate life. That church is present though, is still our community’s greatest advocate in many areas of black life. The voices within the black church are not a monolithic voice when it comes to issues of inclusion. We all don’t think the same when it comes to offering radical welcome to all, regardless of any human barriers that society may contrive.
In the wide black church, there are some churches that take seriously what it means to welcome all, no matter who or where they are on or in the journey of life. A thoughtful theological rational for welcoming all, for saying yes to all rather than no, is still illusive in many places in today’s black church. No matter what society might deposit in our thinking, to be welcoming to all, is clearly in line with the biblical text.
Unfortunately, some that holds fast to practices that they believe faithful to scripture, but in fact fosters exclusion are in many places today. Sometimes theology gets confused with traditions in the church. Many have wrongly used scripture as a weapon to exclude, thus maintaining traditions. The historic values and practices of the black church community in every place of worship are under constant change as it is in the rest of society. The church cannot be exempt from change as the world spins. We don’t always get it right. But it is no time to jettison the black church, but exactly the time to embrace the black church and be agents of change within it.
I agree that many churches and including churches in the black community, many say a hearty “come as you are,” but few really and at the core really mean it. It is hard work to truly include all. In these challenging days many churches are not easily willing to deviate to new thinking or emerging interpretation of scripture that is open to embrace a fresh word from God. God may not change, but we do as part of society and the church. Change in the church is slow, too slow often. The view of humanity changes and struggles to change in the church is difficult work too. Being open to new reality and new ways of being church is the challenge of the church of our age as in ages and generations past.
I use for example, the scourge of HIV/Aids that went rampant in our community a few short years ago. While it is still a concern, it was the black church that struggled mightily to embrace the need to pull its collective head out of the sand and help persons and family through the ministries and mission of the black church. It didn’t happen overnight, but the black church has become a leader and partner with the wider community, helping in this area of our society. Black churches woke up to the need to change and did, and are changing, being of more help. Hopefully people living with HIV are more welcome today in our churches than just a few years ago. Clearly, African Americans are the racial ethnic group most affected by HIV in our nation. The church began to understand and act with compassion. The black church began to understand that Black folks accounted for 45% of the HIV diagnoses, though we are only 12% of the US population, according to a 2015 study. It was clear that the black church had to embrace the changes that were present in our society and become a proactive support to those living with HIV and their family or miss an important mandate of the church to “love one another,” as Jesus taught and instructed. Our response is still a work in progress.
Welcoming all is a mandate that the black church of our day is with baby steps trying to take seriously, and will continue to do so. In many places, it is happening. I urge you to be part of the solution needed in the black church, roll up your sleeves and make a difference in a church that needs the voice of those like yours, those who need to be embraced in our society. Let’s together make the notion of “come as you are,” to mean we embrace all, bar none. Every person’s relationship with God matters. Undeniably each person’s faith is a personal matter, but given the struggle many have had to find a community to embrace or one that embraces, I would remind you and anyone who feels excluded that there is a place for you too. Be bold enough would be my plea, to change the identity of the black church to move more closely to being the church that you and many believe that Jesus intended.
By the way, you and everyone would always be welcome at Faith Church and affirmed for who you or they are!
Rev. Stephen W. Camp, Faith Congregational Church
2030 Main Street Hartford, CT. Worship Sundays, 10am