Haunted Hearts

A Baptist pastor contacted me with an emergency plea for prayer. The deacons at his church in Georgia were ready to vote him out of the pulpit because they disliked his preference for freestyle worship during Sunday morning services. But their most serious objection was that this Spirit-filled pastor was encouraging African Americans to join his all-white congregation.

No, this scenario did not happen in 1960. I talked with my friend just two months ago! A few weeks after we prayed together on the phone he was forced to step down. His deacons are hell-bent on keeping their church locked in a segregated past.

You may think this could happen only in the most backward of Southern communities, but the truth is that the ghosts of racism still haunt churches throughout this nation. Just two years ago a friend of mine in California had to address racism from his pulpit after someone from the church used a racial slur to harass the church's African American secretary.

Here at Charisma we occasionally receive letters from readers who use crude language aimed at blacks. One of my own African American staff members received an offensive call last year from a white man who wanted to complain about "those people."

Of course, racism works both ways. In many black churches today, preachers paint all white people with the same broad brush--just because they don't agree with the actions of a white politician. I can assure you that President Bush does not represent all of my opinions any more than Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton speak for all blacks.

I think it's time we all passed through God's security checkpoint and put our hearts and attitudes on the table. We need to allow His X-ray to expose any racism. Here are three steps to take:

Search your own heart. Do you harbor subtle feelings of racial superiority? Do you avoid a certain doctor because you don't like his foreign-sounding name? Are you bothered when Hispanics can't speak perfect English in your presence? If so, repent of racial pride and embrace Christ's love for all people.

Let me probe deeper. Are you afraid your children will marry outside of your race? I've assured my four daughters I don't care what color husbands they choose as long as the guys love Jesus.

Take an honest look at your church. Do people of other ethnic backgrounds visit your congregation once and then never return? Find out why. Study your church's past and learn how people responded during the Civil Rights era. If blacks were turned away, racist attitudes may still haunt the place.

In the early 1960s, my father was asked to stand at the door of his church in Alabama to keep blacks out. Thankfully he refused to participate in such foolishness, and his openness to change is probably the reason I grew up in the South with an open heart toward my African American brothers.

Study your denomination's history. Did your church ever support slavery or segregation? Apologies may be necessary. Unless we're willing to make a clean break from the past, gererational sins will keep visiting us. Let's cast out the ghosts so God's people will reflect His heart.

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