Why I’m Leaving the White Church for the Black One.

Why I’m Leaving the White Church for the Black One. May 5, 2014


A few years ago, I worked for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship as a Regional Black Campus Ministries Coordinator.  That meant I was in charge of overseeing all of IV’s black chapters, black staff & non-black staff working with black students in MI, OH, W. VA & Western PA.  I’d been doing work with black students specifically -by request and calling– for over 10 years before I stepped into that role.

In short? I had a lot of black folks in my life on a regular basis.  This tempered all of the places I didn’t have any black folks in my life on a regular basis: my home, my neighborhood, my Church, etc.  To be fair, my (white husband) & I did attend a black Church for 5 years, 2000-2005.  Since then we’ve been at a growing (majority) white, hipster-ish Church.

A year after I left InterVarsity, I started to FEEEEEEEL it with all of the feels there are to be felt.  I started to question every. doggone. thang.

NUMBER ONE: Where are my black people, for crying out loud?

Why don’t I have more black friends whom I see on a regular basis?

Why aren’t I reading more black authors?

Why am I default interacting with mostly white bloggers online? (Hint: they are typically easier to find).

Why aren’t I shopping, living, interacting with more black people on a daily basis?

Where can I find some black people, cuz I’m finna lose it?!

Where are my safe spaces?  Do I  have safe spaces with black folks?  Where, God in heaven, am I safe on this planet? 2013 was SUCH a bad year for Black Americans.

In 2011, I was working with & for black students & staff.

In 2012, I was working with a multi-racial group of high school students with a black supervisor.

In 2013, I was working in an all-white office setting.

Work environment is important.

Last year, around September, I hit a major snag.  I was very angry about issues pertaining to Black Americans.

Trayvon.  Renisha.  Chicago.

I knew, instinctively knew if I didn’t get around my people —-in a healthy context, I would shrivel & die.  Shrivel. Die. Rinse. Repeat.  Though I’ve been more intentional in other ways too.

That’s why I took the plunge.  That’s why I left our White Church which is lovely, wonderful, inspiring and full of the Spirit.

That’s why I left even though my husband couldn’t come with me.  We knew he needed his relationships with his white peers, recently developed.  We knew he needed white worship music to enter in.  We knew if I heard another white worship set I was going to hang myself upside down by my pinky toes.

I need to lose myself in the repetition of Gospel music, the hootin’, the hollerin’, the breathy yells of the black preacher.  Right now, not always, I’ve needed a more welcoming entry point.

There are costs to this choice.  I’ve made a great deal of decisions lately that have tremendous cost, all of them, including moving on to a new Church have come through some level of desperation in what has been a time of grief, transition, anger, fear and mess.

Yet, the first time I took my baby boy’s the black Church they responded in a typical but sad way, letting me know this type of uncomfortable transition will serve them in the long run.

Ransom: “I’ve never been around so many black people before at once. I was scared.” Sigh.

Rhys: “I didn’t get to play very much, we had to talk about the Bible too much, Mama!” Sigh.

Keep in mind I don’t speak for all black folks, sometimes leaving is the only way to save yourself.  My leaving doesn’t diminish the worth of what I’m leaving, rather I’m pursuing the worth in something else of great value.

The rub for me is that my white neighbors, co-workers, friends, blog friends, blog readers, church members, family members will feel under-valued, under-appreciated, under-fill-in-the-blank.  It’s not that at all.  If I lived my whole life and made every decision based on what I believe would make my white peers happy no one would respect or appreciate the puppet I’d become.

I’ve been the only or one of few blacks in many, many all white settings for a very long time.  My whole life actually.  People know this, and know it hard: I can no longer burn myself at the stake to keep whites warm.

I’ve been there, I’ve jumped the hoops, I’ve written reconciliation, I’ve taught reconciliation, I’ve lived reconciliation, but in order to keep engaging reconciliation I need safe black spaces because I am dying in the current trajectory.  Escaping to a black Church is my last hope at this point.

You want me in the game?  You want me to write about race relations? You want me interacting with whites asking all manner of hurtful questions?  You want me whole?  You want me alive?  Get me to safe spaces. That is what I need.  Heal up my wounds so I can go back into battle.  Right now? I’m down for the count.

A happier, healthier me usually means taking some risks and taking care of my needs in healthy ways.  I have no inclination to deny that I’ve also taken unhealthy risks and pursued getting needs met in unhealthy ways, but here is one way I’m getting it right: I’m leaving the White Church for the Black one because I need to.

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

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  • Jonalisa

    I love this! Yelled and almost did a dance at the end because this post spoke to my soul so much. Thank you. Off to find/create my safe spaces… 😉

    • AWESOME, Jonalisa. I’m sooooooooooo glad to hear it! We all definitely need these spaces & we need to feel like it’s OKAY to admit it. It’s 100% okay to admit it.

  • May God grant you so much joy in this risk. (It is good to hear about people trusting that deep place of knowing… thank you for sharing.)

  • rrmich

    I am a white woman who was brought up in all white churches and who left a predominantly white church for a very diverse church (with an African-American pastor and music director) – I wonder whether my presence in a “black church” makes it less of a safe-feeling space for you?

    • StraightShooter

      I don’t think you really got what she is saying. Perhaps, you should reread it.

  • This was a very inspiring post, thank you. I can understand how hard it is to go to a different church than your husband. My in-laws go to a diverse church that is one of the only I’ve seen that is truly a blend of races. It’s sad to me we are so divided on Sundays. No easy answer here.

  • Mya

    My husband and I just made the decision to leave the predominantly white church in our area that we were attending together. We had decided to go there at first because when we got married we wanted to attend a church together instead of separate. I loved my church in Grand Rapids and still consider myself a member. Even while we were trying to assimilate into the new church and my husband was making friends, I was not. I tried to join the praise team though I love gospel music and more upbeat praise and worship. I was never given an audition. Instead I was placed in a different ministry that I had ranked third as a choice. We wanted to connect with other people, and for me, to connect in the women’s ministry but the first event I went to no one spoke to me and I sat alone. It was very difficult to try and fit in, facing some rejection and being put off. But I wanted us to keep going so that we could go to a church where my husband was making friends; I could do without it, I figured. I roll solo most of the time anyway. It had taken a long time to get my husband to go to church with me so I wasn’t going to rock the boat. I would suck it up. But the truth was and still is, I will not attend a church where I am treated so poorly but my husband is everybody’s best friend. This may not have anything to do with race or it may have everything to do with race. I don’t know. All I know is I missed my home church more than ever when I couldn’t find my place somewhere else (in a white church where we were breaking ground with a few others). We decided to leave when my husband noticed how cold people were treating me. He said he didn’t want his wife disrespected. I’m not happy that we couldn’t really attend there and be happy. I may not be able to attend my home church because it is so far away from where we live but we will have to move on back to an environment where we feel more at home. Sorry for such a long response but I wanted you to know we are going through the same thing. You are not alone.

    • StraightShooter

      I’m not married or even a relationship, but I have experienced the same thing going to a white church. No one spoke to me or introduced themselves. I sat alone during the service, I even filled out a contact card and no one called. I read a study a while ago that said black men are received as “cool” or positively, but black women are received as “ghetto” or negatively. I think this could have a played a role in how you were treated vs. your husband.

  • Now you know I know what you’re saying, here. Research has shown, in fact, that in order for anyone to progress along a continuum of cultural competency and growth, in order to actually do and advocate reconciliation, every single one of us needs that safe, comfortable space to which we can return from time to time. Without it (and again, this is research I’m referencing here), we do, indeed get stunted. It’s (theoretically) the reason missionaries (and I think we do ourselves good to begin to see parts of this work as mission work) go on furlough. We need to be saturated in our most familiar culture before venturing out again into other cultures. I get this. And, I support you.

  • Brenda Wash

    Hi Grace
    Enjoyed your post as I usually do, This is the second post I’ve read where you have said you are desirous of more African-American online interaction. I did inbox you after your first post asking you to point me to websites as I wanted to create my own blog. I never heard back.
    Also, I’ve had some of my most PAINFUL and joyful experiences while serving in the upper levels of the Black Church. I still remember the painful details over 15 years later. Just know it may not be a panacea. I do pray that you find the peace that you are looking for.
    Here’s to some good sangin;)

  • Good for you, my friend. I hope you find the safe space & nurturing that you need.

    (Also, I’ve been having interesting conversations online about what Church means for interracial couples. You definitely touch on some of the struggles! It’s not easy!)

    (PPS – I seek out diverse spaces online like a heat-seeking missile. Hence, my latest blog post! I wanted to help other people find POC to connect with because Lord knows it’s not as easy as it seems!)

  • Bethany Bohlen

    I 100% feel you. Thanks for sharing. I needed to find a legit multiethnic church because that’s the only space where I (as a biracial person) can really feel at home, so I left the same white-hipster-filled-Holy-Ghost-filled church that you did, for what sounds like the same reasons, haha. At least for me, being mixed means that I never feel at home with any group of people, unless that group of people is as diverse and mixed up as what I have running around inside of me. You’re a trooper – keep your chin up.

  • Jerry

    This fifty plus white male heard you. This Caucasian can’t say he understands, cause this Caucasian can’t comprehend completely the color of your skin and the content of your character. But neither can I understand completely any human person on God’s bluish-green earth. God does though. God showed up in the middle east for a reason; that crucible of colors; that clash of border lined diversity. Just ask the Samaritan woman by the well.

  • I completely understand. I appreciate how you share your motivations and your heart. I’ve been asking some questions of multicultural couples on my blog, and I’m both amazed and saddened by the struggle that is church. It is an institution that seems to play such a deeply strong role in our cultural heritage. Thank you for sharing your story!

  • “Sometimes leaving is the only way to save yourself.” And that is never giving up–no matter what anyone else says. Yes.

  • Jillie

    Just for a bit of humour here, Grace, I also left my white church 5 years ago, and I’m WHITE! I don’t know what it is, but there are divisions, cliques, class distinctions and the like happening as well between whites and whites. Cruelty knows no colour barriers where I come from. I left because I just wanted desperately to “find JESUS” and Him Only.
    I love gospel music, the hootin’ and hollerin’. I would attend a black church, if there were any around here. I’ve told my husband that on numerous occasions. He just looks at me like I’m whack. People think I’m wrong for leaving my poor husband to attend ‘our’ church alone. It is what is stifling me from finding another church.
    I understand your need for a safe place, Grace. I pray you find it.

  • Daniel Hill

    Thanks for sharing and writing this piece Grace. It’s powerful and provocative. I think that what you point to is a really important dynamic that has to be addressed. Even within a multiethnic church, many of our folks feel that loss of their home culture and the need to get around it more. We’ve been having lots of discussions as to how to create space and capacity for that so that there is enough energy to also participate in the other circles too. More questions than answers, but stuff like this is so good!

  • Courtney S

    As always, you did an amazing job of articulating your feelings. I do not articulate my feelings well at all. I am thinking that I might need to print this and show it to my husband. At times, I feel lost without a safe place to fall.

  • ebanna22

    I feel you completely, Grace. My husband and I left the church we attended for years, which was heavily African and African American and white, for a majority white church and it nearly killed us. I never knew how important feeling safe and accepted in a local congregation was until we went through that, and had to endure the breadth of 2013, as you alluded in your post, without any support and full of racist remarks. We left. Had to. Wanted to do reconciliation but you honestly can’t do that with people who are unwilling to go there and have the honest conversations and just want to silence all things black. We learned that the hard way. Now we are in a multicultural church, mostly Asian and white, and a few African immigrant families, but intentionally questioning and wrestling with race dynamics all of the time and that feels right and safe and nurturing for this season.

  • So it took me 3 reads of this post to respond. I’m so glad you have options, church-wise, where you can get the support and the comfort that you need & require to be healthy. It is hard to be the sole black person in a stifling white space for extended periods of time. For myself, I always seem the be the only one making compromises in order to do my best to keep the peace amid a hostility that I never invited nor encouraged. Yet, in the effort to ‘play nice’, I also seem to be playing solo. That game gets old right quick!

    Your questions of where the black people are? I’m starting to ask myself the same things more and more frequently. Your question about black bloggers is one that keeps me motivated to keep my own blog going… I look forward to the day when popular conferences & gatherings have more keynote speakers that look like me and music that moves my soul.

    Keep doing what you gotta do, Grace. Many blessings & prayers for you.

  • mongupp

    I wish we didnt have “black” and “white” churches. In heaven we will be from every tribe and tongue! 🙂

  • Darrell Delaney

    it’s called Caucusing Grace. The safe spaces you refer to, and the reason why you know Dave needs the white church he is now at with the relationships he is in. You need them too. Too bad you are not in Grand Rapids, because we do this every third sunday, we have a black caucus, and a white caucus that meet and then come together and discuss these things. Everyone needs safe spaces. Unfortunately you had to leave the white church to find it. Your whole post is a lament for me. And it also fans my flame in this area of race relations in the church. Prayers for you and your family as you seek healing.

  • There are times that my spirit longs for an old negro spiritual and it is in those times, that I simply go and get me SOME. I don’t ask permission. I don’t explain why. I simply go to the place where a hymn needs not a word and the song is unsung that frees my spirit and makes this heart come undone.

  • Very good read! I can’t even come close to understanding where you are coming from. I was wondering though, why go to a different church than your husband…culture aside….I go where he goes….

  • I can only briefly comprehend what you’re saying — only because I don’t live in the same context you do. But last year, I visited an African country (such BEAUTIFUL people!) and while I was wide-eyed with wonder and beauty in the culture I was in, I was suprised by the relief I felt when I found other white people to connect with — and they weren’t even from my country (they were from Europe) but there was something about not feeling alone that helped me feel more confident. I have no idea if this makes any sense to you. But I don’t think I’d understand remotely why you chose this decision based on color had I not experienced what I did. We are about to bring two beautiful, Ghanaian girls into our family and it’s important for me to understand your point of view, as a black woman, so I can better understand my black daughters when they come against struggles. Thank you.

  • HapaMama

    What a great, honest post about some of the real costs of being multiracial or in a mixed-marriage.

  • Timely comment. I decided to leave the white church because my pinky toes were sore from hearing the same music with different words! Granted, I love my white peers. I left the black folks a few years back to save myself and now, I’m headed back to the black folks to sustain myself. Funny how that works. Thanks for the post.

  • jimjimmy

    What a bunch of crap!

    • I feel the same way about your comment as well.

      • jimjimmy

        it’s just more racist black crap, there is no blacks in Gods world nor are there any whites! many different faces of the same coin, you people have issues an are racists! oh an read your bible it may not help you but it will help some!

  • ashleydark

    posting twice because im seem to have seen the same article twice? not sure but here:

    why don’t you take them to a multicultural church, there must be some
    around of the christian faith/sect .. I live in a small shitty town and
    we have many multi-colored churches, thats probably whats best for them
    (multicultural everything might be better), they may even see families
    like theirs and you and your husband can go (you made it seem like your
    husband couldn’t come to a black church?i haven’t read any of your past
    post to know)

    • as I stated in the post, I need safe black spaces. Put on your life mask, before securing others. there’s wisdom in that.

  • Revisiting your piece is helpful to me. It made me think.