Mandy was about as different from me as a child could be. Blond hair. Blue eyes. Skin that looked like strawberry milk. Her mommy looked exactly the same. I looked like my mommy, too, only we had skin the color of fresh almonds, big, brown eyes, and hair that didn’t move in the wind. Nevertheless, Mandy was my best friend—at least as much as I knew about friendship at three years old. She was most likely my second friend ever. My first was another brown child who lived next door and with whom I rode Big Wheels on Saturday afternoons. No, Mandy was my school friend—the one I shared my three-year-old soul with during the hours between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. at our day care.
Mandy and I held hands at the playground and played tag with the others. We made sure our cots were next to each other during nap time so we could whisper our little girl secrets until our cheese and crackers finally settled in our bellies.
We didn’t know that according to the world in which we lived, we weren’t supposed to be friends. We didn’t know that our mommies would probably never be friends . . . except maybe at work where they had to be. We just bonded, drawn to each other by something altogether different, something higher and more special than the differences that, in 1978, should have kept us far apart.
I would not know Mandy in middle school, high school, or college. Too much would separate us. Our music. Our loves. Our church. All of it would fill the distance that would grow between her world and mine. Thankfully, I only knew her when I was three, and at three, she was my friend.
I wrote this when I found myself trying to remember a time when race didn’t matter. I searched my memories for a period in my life when the true spirit of a person was the only factor that determined how I would relate to him or her and whether or not he or she would be a part of my world. Sadly, I had to reach back to three, and even then there was, however slight, this acute awareness of the cultural differences between my friend and me that would inevitably only magnify as we got older.
I wish I could say that things were different at the church of my childhood, that there was some great spiritual equalizer that took effect as soon as one stepped into the vestibule of the house we said belonged to God. Yet, even there, I was inadvertently taught that God had different houses for the different kinds of people he created and that I just belonged to his black, Baptist house.
The issue of diversity as it relates to the body of Christ is one that is often met with either subtle skepticism or total denial. On the one hand, you have those who believe that because people are naturally more likely to gather in places with people who look, talk, and walk like them, churches will inherently follow suit. This leads to an almost Darwinist justification (as in the theory of natural selection) for the labels such as black church, white church, Hispanic church, and so on. We have succumbed to an “only the strong survive” reasoning for the self-imposed segregation of our worship experiences. Juxtaposed with this belief are those who are totally blind to the segregated nature of the body of Christ, claiming that color is most certainly not a factor while continuing to attend places of worship that are one-dimensional at best. This color-blind approach denies fully the awesomely powerful traditions of various cultures and how these can add to the work of the kingdom.
Unfortunately, both sides ignore the truth of what is happening during our services on Sunday morning, often quoted as the most segregated hours of the week, and what can happen if the church would relinquish the mistakes of its past and overcome the spirit of fear that seems to be at the root of many of our divisions. Simply put, we must align ourselves fully with the will of God. Christ is returning for a church that is without spot, wrinkle, or blemish (Eph. 5:27), and that church is dynamically multicultural, multiracial, and subsequently, multidimensional. It will take a church that looks this way to accomplish the will of God on the earth.
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