As a missionary with a vital stake in the trends that periodically sweep the Western theological and ecclesiastical landscape, I have been following with interest the growth of a “woke” or “diversity” or “critical race” discussion that has taken place over the past several years. If I can be allowed to summarize a very complex issue, “woke theology” consists of at least two basic assumptions: 1) that past social injustices (racial and otherwise) must be actively atoned for and reversed in the present, and 2) that aggressively promoting diversity, listening to “minority voices”, and submitting to “minority leadership” are concrete ways that said injustices can begin to be dealt with.
There is more to it than that, obviously, but I want to focus on these two commonly expressed views for one reason: it dawned on me not too long ago that Ebenezer Regular Baptist Church, the ministry we have been laboring to plant since 2012, is the kind of church the these contemporary theologians dream about – by the above metrics, anyway.
Skeptical? The facts don’t lie.
To begin with, Ebenezer has a diversity of racial makeup that would make the wokest of the woke sit up and take notice. Our congregation consists of a pretty even mix of people of European and African descent, with some indigenous ancestry thrown in for good measure. Better yet, we have two pastors, and both of them are married to a spouse of a different race.
But our diversity is not only racial. Our membership is spread over an impressive economic spectrum as well. We have middle-to-upper income professionals, and people who depend on public assistance. In our Sunday School the children of well-off families sit under the spiritual tutelage of teachers who live in the poor sections of town. And vice versa. It doesn’t get any more woke than that.
Or…maybe it does. You see, the founding missionary (yours truly), as white and Anglo as they come, just this year turned the pastoral care of the church over to the afro-descendent associate pastor. Now I sit under his spiritual leadership. When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper it is he that is leading the church in the celebration while I serve the elements to the congregation.
At this point, the theological movers and shakers who are reading this (because you know that they consistently visit this site) are duly impressed. They may even be making space for me to speak at their next conference. A book deal and nationwide speaking tour might be in the works.
Before that kind of investment is made, I should probably say something about how we achieved this pinnacle of wokeness. I’ll explain it all here. You might want to take notes.
So what did we do to make sure our church was so racially and economically diverse?
Should I elaborate? Nada. Zilch. Zero.
That can’t be true, can it? After all, such racial reconciliation takes work!
Well yes…we did work hard. Very hard. But not at racial reconciliation. We worked hard at proclaiming the gospel to (and this is the important part) everybody who God brought across our path.
It just so happens that we live in a racially and economically diverse area, and the people God brought to our congregation reflect that demographic. No push to include more minorities, no agonizing over ratios. Just preaching the Gospel and discipling believers.
Disappointing, right? From where I am sitting I can feel the conference invitations being rescinded and the publishing contract torn up.
But wait…what about turning your leadership over to a POC (Person of Color, for the uninitiated)? someone may ask. That was certainly based on a desire to right historic wrongs…right?
Sorry to let you down twice in a row, but no. The decision to call Pastor Francivaldo to be the lead pastor of the Ebenezer Regular Baptist Church was made because he was qualified for that position, willing to serve, and, in the estimation of the congregation, the right man for the job. Radical, I know. Turns out, there’s an entire list of qualifications in the Bible for the pastorate, and neither race nor economic background are on it.
By now there is no chance of a conference invitation. But were I given such a platform, my advice to church planters would be simple: preach the Gospel to all, minister to your community, and develop biblical, godly leadership. “Whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.”
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