The Least Segregated Hour of the Weak

GradyHosp“I will show you, come with me. . . ” said a smiling Middle-Eastern immigrant woman in a hijab as she led me down a fluorescent-lit hallway through a secure door pressing the button of an air phone for admittance to a secure area. She was friendly, I was responded in kind, and was frankly excited for the opportunity to interact with someone whose culture sets up many barriers to interact with someone like me and my culture builds walls preventing congenial interaction with people like her. The setting was a hospital. I was visiting a church member in a trauma ICU and she was the receptionist at the desk. In the room, my eyes awoke from prayer to see an African American nurse who was expecting a child. My wife and I are also expecting. The nurse and I began to share with each other our joys and fears about the expectation of a new birth and the gift of life, as we also shared our faith and joy in the New Birth we have in Christ. When I exited the room, my eyes roamed up and down the hallway. I saw prim and proper city dwellers and laid back ball capped and camouflaged country folk.  My ears listened to conversations. In English I heard country twang and mid-western plain.  I also detected Spanish, Korean, Arabic, and Mandarin. I boarded an elevator full of people who did not look like me, and we smiled and shared jokes and encouragement.

I was filled with joy and awe at the experience of so many different people interacting on so many levels and was subsequently prompted to ponder: So many of us through our social media avenues, neighborhoods, shopping choices, and social gatherings voluntarily choose to isolate ourselves from others not like us. In a hospital we do not have such a choice. We have to interact. We need each other.

Martin Luther King, Jr. famously stated an oft repeated observation, “Eleven o’ clock on Sunday is the most segregated hour of the week.”[1] Fifty years after his untimely death, this unfortunately remains predominately unchanged. We need to ask ourselves why this is. At a time when many minorities are exiting predominately white evangelical churches it is time to take our pulse.[2] What is the medicine we are offering? What is the care we are providing? What is the encouragement we have?  When those who call themselves followers of Christ find any major identity in any other source than the Source of Life (Acts 3:15) we are violating the dictum to “do no harm.”[3] We are certainly not good Samaritans, and we have not put others’ interests above our own (Phil. 2:4). Instead of honoring a spiritual “Hippocratic Oath” like good doctors, we are instead committing malpractice as hypocrites. One reason we have this problem is because too many of us think we are too healthy for our own good.  Jesus reminded us it is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick (Mark 2:17). Essentially, once we have forgotten we are all sick (Jer. 17:9), we have decided we no longer need Jesus, and if we don’t need Jesus then we don’t need the body of Jesus – we don’t need each other. The reality however is this: There is none healthy, no not one.

If our churches were more like hospitals and Christians interacted more like the soul-sick people we are then we would begin to make unprecedented progress. Grady Hospital, where I was visiting, was officially integrated in 1966. The scene I experienced would have been unheard of in 1965 Atlanta.  As one of the picketer’s signs proclaimed, “Disease and death know no race.” For Christians, let us continue to strive for, long for, and pray for the day that “health” and life in the church will also know no race.

[1] King’s original wording was “it is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.”

[2] Campbell Robertson, “A Quiet Exodus: Why Black Worshippers are Leaving White Evangelical Churches” in the New York Times, March 9, 2018.

[3] See the Hippocratic oath.



The Color of Bravery

halfstaffrespect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed – Romans 13:7

Recently while walking on one of those picturesque Southern courthouse squares, I was troubled while looking upon the granite memorials sitting atop the Saint Augustine carpet. On both the World War I and World War II monuments in this small southern town, there were not one, but two alphabetical lists of men who died in their country’s service. On one monument there were two sides, “Colored” and “White”. On the other monument the “Colored” list came after the first list (presumably the “white” list).

It is one thing to be divided in life, it is quite another to be divided in memoriam. I know the history. I know units were desegregated in 1948. But these monuments are not military rosters, they are monuments dedicated by a small town to honor their local heroes (both monuments were erected in the 50’s).  To add insult to injury, there is not one, but three Confederate monuments on this same lawn (not to say having one is inappropriate).  I am not necessarily advocating the removal of any monument or even necessarily the replacing of present monuments, I am simply reflecting on the sad state of a community that differentiates its heroes in such a graven way. I am not an advocate of erasing history, but I do hope for the day of an equalizing of history. We may also note not in this town, but in other towns, there are courthouses built of red clay bricks bearing the thumb prints of the slaves who made them and laid them while the granite cornerstones give credit to white architects, civic leaders, and financial contributors. Acknowledgement is due to all who built and contributed to communities regardless of their lineage or heritage. Every man and woman who lived, loved, and died in these communities loved freedom and is an indelible part of the American fabric – a quilt woven together by the lives given to hold her together.  The artificial division of those lives on a stone monument is a travesty. What differentiates the men on these monuments is not their color but their courage, not their status but their sacrifice.

The colors that matter are the red that ran through their blue veins and the white in their determined eyes. On this Memorial Day, let us be grateful for all of America’s true heroes with no distinction but the bravery with which they fought.