Because You Can Never Have Too Many White People in Your Church…

Makeda Pennycooke, executive pastor of operations at Freedom House Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, sent an email to church members this week introducing a new policy regarding which people she wanted to welcome newcomers at the front door.

White people.

Only white people.”

Carmen Thomas, a volunteer at the church for two years, couldn’t believe it:

“I was floored. Like it was a jaw dropper. You can put a white face all over the front door. But when you come through those doors, you’re going to see African Americans, you’re gonna see Asians. You’re going to see people of color.”

The justification for Pennycooke’s new policy was that “first impressions matter.” Her email explained that she wanted “the best of the best on the front doors.”

Apparently the non-white parishioners didn’t make that cut. One has to wonder if skin color was the only criteria for being “the best.” What about attendance levels? Volunteer frequency? Personality traits?

Complicating this story even more is the fact that Pennycooke herself is black.

Pastor Pennycooke

“We are continuing to work to bring our racial demographic pendulum back to mid-line,” Pennycooke wrote. “So we would like to ask that only white people be on the front doors.”

While I admire her attempt to encourage more diversity in the congregation, it seems obvious that this should not be done at the expense of the racial minorities that would also like to serve as front door greeters. How would using “only white people” emphasize diversity? Maybe that goal of achieving greater diversity would be more quickly reached by — and I’m just throwing this out there — having a diverse group of greeters at the front door?

The church issued a statement of regret over the pastor’s word choice but I don’t think it helped their case much:

One of our longtime pastors, in keeping with our church’s desire to be inclusive and intentionally reach out to all races, noticed our front door greeting team was no longer reflecting the racial diversity of our entire congregation, and she wanted potential visitors to see people like themselves upon entering our church. However, she made an error in judgment in requesting all white greeters at the front door, going overboard in placing emphasis on any one race over another in trying to highlight diversity within the greeting team. She admits this was a grave lapse in judgment and is sincerely sorry for her actions. She immediately apologized and has asked our forgiveness.

Thomas believes one of the reasons for the “error in judgment” is being swept under the rug: She speculated that there may have been a financial reason for the white greeters and it wasn’t just about encouraging racial diversity: “Perhaps, you believe that with a certain congregation, that your finances are eventually going to run out because maybe we aren’t the moneymakers.” Ironically, Thomas was bothered by the pastor using deception to bring people to church even though it’s also key to keeping people in church.

If that were true, it wouldn’t be very surprising to me. As an atheist in North Carolina, I’m used to seeing churches resort to deception and deceit to propagate their beliefs. That’s the very essence of “church,” after all. So I’m not “floored” as Thomas was. This seems to be par for the course.

Thomas says she’ll no longer be attending the church.

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About Bridget R. Gaudette

Bridget R. Gaudette is the Executive Director of the Humanists of Florida Association and the Marketing & Grants Manager for Foundation Beyond Belief. Bridget was a contributor to the book, BlackNones, a book highlighting black atheist conversion stories and is currently writing a book, Grieving for the Living: Effects of Disownment in Adulthood.

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