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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  • onefuriousllama

    Christians man. They’re all freaking crazy.

  • 3lemenope

    [reads first half of article]
    [sees picture of Pastor Pennycooke]

    *blink* *blink*

    [head asplode]

  • Richard Wade

    Good article, Bridget.

    I was white once when I was really sick. Most of the time I’m definitely pink, but
    Rev. Pennycooke would probably approve of me as a front door greeter. I’d love to stand there and say to all the newcomers, whatever color they are,

    “Hi. Are you new here? These people are completely nuts. You should get outa here as fast as you can. Yeah, I’m serious. Yeah, go before it’s too late. Bye…

    …Hi. Are you new here? These people are completely nuts. You should get…”

  • captain_picard

    “We are continuing to work to bring our racial demographic pendulum back to mid-line” is so vague; sounds like “we have too many minorities and want to balance that out.”

  • JohnnieCanuck

    Executive pastor? What’s next Chief Executive Pastor (CEP)?

    If the church is so successful that it needs a hierarchy of pastors, then what’s with the explanation that the motive was to get richer sheep to shear?

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    This is the year 2013, right?

  • revyloution

    CEP, or in other words, the Pope.

  • scipio1

    Religion has kept American blacks in a slave state of mind 100+ years after slavery was abolished. The sooner we recognize that fact, the better.

  • anniewhoo

    One thing I have noticed about most churches in the South is that they are rather homogenous. It’s pretty obvious when driving by on a Sunday which are “white” churches and which are “black” churches, solely by observing who is entering the doors. In my city, we even have a Korean Christian church. If I were a Christian, the name alone would make me choose another church, as I am not Korean.

    The fact that the Executive Pastor (whatever that means) was so quick to offer a solid apology, and the fact that she herself is a woman of color, leads me to believe her intentions were strictly to draw more diversity to her church. Maybe she sincerely wants her church to be one where everyone feels welcome and doesn’t want her church identified as a “black” church or a “white” church. But if this is truly the case, I’ll gladly offer her some marketing advice: have a diverse group of greeters at your door- nothing says diversity like seeing both men and women of all colors and shades greeting newcomers together. This isn’t rocket science.

    Thanks for a great post, Bridget.

  • Smiles

    Whoa…did you just say “PR Firm”?! The church…needs…a PR Firm… Ok, how did no one find that odd?

  • Paula M Smolik

    And her name is Makeda. Silly name. Maybe she was trying to get more diversity by attracting white people because her church is 80% black. That would make sense.

  • Paula M Smolik

    So they have a minority majority moral majority?

  • Paula M Smolik

    *sigh* I’m a woman of color. Beige or some kind of rosy yellow.

  • sam

    Is this like when the Republican National Convention puts their three black members in the front row close to the TV cameras?

  • The Other Weirdo

    Language police arrival in 3… 2… 1…

  • required

    Christian MEN…you can’t go from singular to plural.

  • Carpinions

    GAH! F@#k! What IS it? How do grown adults do this??

    Ya know, most racism stories are the kind that piss you off; this one makes me laugh.

    A black person.
    Telling blacks they’re not good enough.
    Putting whites at the front door to put on the best face.

    Makeda Pennycooke = Clayton Bigsby, and she’s not even blind.

    Note the time and date when truth officially became stranger than fiction…

  • Carpinions

    Correction: It’s 2113, so it’s at least a century worse than you thought.

  • jeffj900

    It seems like the idea is premised on the assumption that white people are too racist to attend a church if they see non-white greeters, which is somewhat offensive. It may also be true to a very large and racially uncomfortable degree. To situate my opinion, for what it is worth, I’m white and do not attend church.

    It could also be reasonable to assume that white people might not feel comfortable if they think they might be the only whites in the church. If whites are a minority at that church, the idea of white greeters to encourage white participation doesn’t seem all that different conceptually than affirmative action based on racial quotas, except it isn’t really righting a historical wrong or providing access to an essential ingredient of prosperity whites would otherwise be excluded from.

    What she proposed doesn’t bother me all that much as long as there is some defensible reason why encouraging more white attendance is justified. On the other hand, if she thinks it is just to encourage larger donations because whites tend to have more money, again there is something creepy about that, even if it is entirely true (and true for reasons relating to very real historical racial equality and opportunity gaps).

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    No. the count was fine, but a comma is needed.

    “Christians, man.”

  • Nancy Shrew

    Please don’t.

  • Anathema

    If whites are a minority at that church, the idea of white greeters to encourage white participation doesn’t seem all that different conceptually than affirmative action based on racial quotas, except it isn’t really righting a historical wrong or providing access to an essential ingredient of prosperity whites would otherwise be excluded from.

    There’s also another important difference. If a college uses affirmative action in its admissions process, that simply means that if they have to choose between accepting a qualified minority student and a qualified white student, they’ll accept the minority student. It does not mean that all white students will be automatically rejected or that the college wants only people of color in its student body.

    But the church isn’t saying that if they have to choose between a qualified white greeter and a qualified minority greeter, then they’ll give preference to the white greeter. They said they wanted only white people as greeters. They are automatically rejecting anyone who isn’t white and they want only white people serving as greeters.

  • jeffj900

    “They said they wanted only white people as greeters. They are automatically rejecting anyone who isn’t white and they want only white people serving as greeters.”

    But it seems pretty clear that is not because of animosity or hatred toward non-whites, but rather as a temporary policy to see if it can boost white attendance.

    If the intention were sincere, for example, to really foster new and meaningful relationships based on church fellowship between whites and blacks, especially in the South where, as Annie Whoo mentioned in another post, churches are mostly all white or all black, then if that is what it takes to get more whites to at least break the ice by trying the church, why not try it?

    As a temporary measure for such pragmatic and well intentioned reasons I would think the policy need not be vetoed on such a small localized scale in favor of a more abstractly correct racial diversity among greeters that is numerically perfectly proportional to the congregation’s racial composition.

    I would think something is wrong if there ended up being a permanent absolute dogmatic adherence to such a policy. It bothers me, but doesn’t surprise me, that such a policy might really be needed to draw whites in through the door. As one who spent eight months traveling in Africa, and becoming used to being the only white person in public places and depending on the kindness if Africans to get by, I’ve become a lot more sensitive to the fear many whites have, even if they deny any racist feelings, of not being in a comfortable majority of white people.

    Anything that helps to break down such barriers has some real good in it.

  • ShoeUnited

    I apologize in advance for the image and the source and the name of the image and the possible youtube comments, but this is addressed to all who are surprised this kind of thing could happen. I’m not saying this is right or I support it.

    What I want to say is that, well, it’s not exactly the first time:

  • ShoeUnited

    Oh, c’mon. I wanna see Paula Dean there worm her way out of this one.

  • Robster

    As a fundraising measure, that’s important for jesus/god/spook/virgin as he’s/they are always stony broke, why not put turnstiles at the front door and place a charge on entry to the temple? As turnstiles are non gender and racially non-specific there’d be no need for the pastor to express her strangely racist request. They’d be able to fleece the customers a bit more than at present while appearing to be all tolerant and nice. Even better, why not get the actor who voiced HAL9000 in the movie to record an electronic welcome. There’d have to be a charge for that too, more dosh for jesus.

  • ron

    I remember when Martin luther King would have floored you if you had called him a black man. The correct name was negro which is short for Negroid now renamed Congoid by some idiots) .KIngs wrioted looking for ways around outright plagiarism found in many of his speeches was intermental in negros being called blacks today. This term was original used by british troops when referring to Africans as “doirty black bastards” evidently they liked th esound of it and it is still on them today.

  • LesterBallard

    I’m glad I don’t go to church, other than weddings and funerals. I’m glad I’m not religious; I’d be even more fucked up than I am.

  • Cafeeine

    Presumably, they need to maintain the influx of monies so they can maintain the hierarchy of pastors. Executive pastor limos don’t come cheap, even if they were tax exempt.

  • Rob McClain

    The reporter in the video makes me laugh. The expression on her face makes me believe she is ready to say “Over at Freedom House Church, shit jus’ about to get real.” There should be a high school class once each school year, all over America, called “How to think before you speak: a guide to NOT broadcasting your idiocy”.

    In one place I worked, the conference room had a prominently posted sign with the quote “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt”.

  • Jessica Cramer Rogers

    Wow…just wow. I just LOVE how the church officials are trying to just sweep this under the carpet. How is it that the pastor didn’t get the boot? I mean, come on, she has a brain, right? Even if her true attempt was to gain “diversity” in the congregation, did she not read her memo in her head before publicizing it and say, “wait, this sounds terrible and people are going to be POed?” The blatant racism aside, it’s just plain stupid.

  • Jansen Waddell

    Is this The Onion??

  • iamfantastikate

    I’m sure Pastor Pennycooke will love you.

  • Sven2547

    The correct name was negro which is short for Negroid

    “Negro” comes directly from the Spanish “negro” which means… “black”. “Negroid” is a much newer, derivative term.

  • LizBert

    Why is it that racism and the inability to construct sentences often go hand in hand?

  • Spuddie

    Racism makes you progressively illiterate?

  • Gerry Mooney

    My wife and I tried Charlotte for two years, coming from New York. There is a lot of this sort of twisting-oneself-into-a-pretzel over both race and religion. I don’t know how else to explain it, it was very disorienting.