Originally published Tuesday, 21 May 2013.
I was 17 years old, pregnant, and homeless. All of my dreams had been shattered. I had scholarships to go to colleges across the country. Yet, here I stood, alone and hopeless. The next several years presented unspeakable hardships. I barely had enough money to make ends meet. I found myself pregnant again only a few short months after giving birth to my first child. I was at the lowest of lows - no money and very little family or friend support. I was drowning. I was crying out in agony nightly, as it seemed my life couldn't get much worse. It was in this very low moment that I made a decision to give the local church a try again.
I had been raised in church and although I had not been in quite some time, I knew I needed to try to get back. I was desperate. The embarrassment of having two children outside of marriage was almost more than I could bear. But then, the question arose, what church would I attend? You see, my two children were biracial - half African-American, half Caucasian. There were no integrated churches in my area. Where would I fit in? How would my children be accepted?
Those may be odd questions for some of you. Perhaps you have never experienced such a thing in your world. But prior to giving birth to my first child seventeen years ago, I don't even remember having seen a biracial baby. The months and years that passed after his birth presented huge racial hurdles for me. It seemed that both the black and white communities had plenty to say in the way of unacceptance. Some were outright racial slurs cast upon myself and my children. Some even went so far as to ask us to leave restaurants and malls. But other racism presented itself in more unique ways. Perhaps I was at work and a coworker talked about "them", or maybe I attended a church service and overheard whispers of "them", quickly realizing that my children and I were the "them" they spoke of.
For years I struggled with demons from a past I had created and yearned for genuine connection in my local church. And while I grew to love the congregants at the church where I attended, I knew that my boyfriend (at that time) or any of my black friends would probably not be welcomed warmly. I eventually relocated with my company a few hours away into a more metropolitan area and found, to my delight, that many churches worshipped freely with all races. In fact, I walked into a church my first Sunday in town and there were hundreds of flags hanging from their ceiling, representing the people of all nations. Tears streamed down my face. Finally, oh finally, I found a place where I could worship with brothers and sisters of all races, and my children would know they were just perfect the way God made them.
I am happy to report that on a recent visit back to my hometown, I found that many of the churches are now integrated. Some are not. Honestly, this article sat locked away in my drawer for a long time, as racism in my world doesn't present itself very often anymore. But I knew that today I must share my experience with you. Perhaps it is to shed light on the topic. Maybe it is to challenge you to search your own heart. Maybe this article was written just for you......or maybe it was written just for me.
I realize that some of you live in communities that are dominant in one race; therefore, your congregation is not as diverse. This article really isn't about how diverse your congregation is. This article is more about the heart of your church, your congregants, and you. A few points to ponder:
- Are all races welcomed warmly in your congregation?
- Are a variety of races invited to speak at your church?
- Do you reach out in all communities, not just to serve them a meal, but to embrace their attendance in your services?
- Do you find yourself saying things like, "Oh, I have plenty of friends from various races. I'm okay as long as my daughter doesn't want to marry outside her race?"
20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. 1 John 4:20-21
Jennifer Maggio is a critically-acclaimed and award-winning author/speaker who is committed to seeing people live life in total freedom. She is founder of The Life of a Single Mom Ministries. She is a regular on radio and television. For more information, visit http://www.jennifermaggio.com .