I attended the First Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa,Alabama from the time I was 4 until the time until I was about 11 or 12. That year, we were sitting in the sanctuary waiting for the morning service to start when there was mild disturbance at the back of the sanctuary (which would have been the front entrance of the church). We would later learn that an African-American couple had come to the church to worship, but they were turned away at the door by some of the greeters. My parents were appalled and we left the church shortly after that.
My parents were good like that, though our family was not perfect at all. While all people were welcome in our home, racial jokes still slipped into our conversations from time to time and there were some very well-meaning comments about “those people”. While imperfect, there was a stark contrast between my family and some of the others in our area. We had hateful and threatening notes tacked to our door by a neighbor when my parents invited ALL students from local schools to Youth for Christ meetings in our home. My mom was hesitant when I wanted to invite my friend, Henry Pickens, home from elementary school because there were still those that openly and actively sought to segregate our society and who responded with anger and hatred. On this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I am grateful that things are not as they were.
Because of my experiences as a child, I am so pleased when I see a growing mix of race in my current congregation in Nashville (First Baptist Church). I am also sure that things are not the same at the First Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa as they were in the 70’s. I love that it is a person’s desire to be present in church and their desire to worship God rather than anything else that makes them welcome in our buildings. I realize that the dream of Dr. King has not yet been fully accomplished. Our churches are still predominately segregated by color. Racism has gone underground and become more hushed. People realize that it is not acceptable to hate out loud, so they do it quietly behind closed doors and in their hearts. Sometimes I hear people say, “I’m not a racist. I just think…” Whatever comes out next is almost always a racist statement. People have not yet owned all of their biases and we have not come to place where all people are truly seen as being created equal. We keep finding new groups of “others” to alienate and segregate. However, I know it is not as it was when I was a child. I continue to pray for a day when our children will be judged not by the color of their skin (or their nationality, or any other external quality), but by the content of their character.