From Sundown to Selma
The sign said, “Whites only within city limits after dark.” It hung in what is commonly called a “sundown town.”
Have you ever heard of a “sundown town”? A sundown town is a community that was planned to be exclusively white. The idea is “any non-white folks should be out of the city by sundown.” Sociologist James Loewen wrote a book detailing the history of sundown towns in 2005, calling them the “hidden dimension of American racism.” I don’t have to read it because I grew up in one.
Growing up in a predominantly white community with a history of racist activity. I can still remember the first black student I interacted with in school. I lived in a town of about twenty thousand people and I can remember the talk around school when Greg moved in. But my father was a half-Puerto Rican pastor at a predominantly white Baptist church. He would occasionally lead our people to worship with predominantly black churches on Sunday nights and we would host them on other nights. I remember thinking three things:
Why are we going into their churches?
Why are their services so long?
Why aren’t our services as exciting as theirs?
A few years ago, I cried in a movie theater. Sitting next to my friend watching the opening scenes of Selma, I thought about every conversation I’ve had in which I was silent in the face of hate. My hometown had long seen its days of upfront and intentional racism fade away, but I had unintentionally imbibed the passive indifference and spite in its waters. I would never have advocated for segregation, but if it happened naturally, then why fight for diversity? Why try to seek out interaction with people unlike myself? Maybe you have asked yourself these same questions.
We often talk about how diversity in our church helps us look like the kingdom. God has promised that he is redeeming a people from every tribe, tongue, and nation; a people who will one day be fully gathered together in the New Heavens and New Earth. But diversity doesn’t just make us look like the kingdom. When the church brings diversity together in unity under the banner of the gospel and the Lordship of Christ, we more fully image God.
Our God is triune, meaning He is three distinct persons in one substance. When we intentionally seek out interactions with people who are different from us, we mirror the way God enjoys fellowship within the Trinity between the Father, Son, and Spirit.
When my dad packed his people in vans to shuttle them over to the black neighborhoods so we could worship together, he was looking back at the eternal fellowship of the three distinct persons in the Godhead and he was looking forward to the eternal fellowship of believers from every tribe, tongue, and nation.
Don’t live a monochromatic life — dream in kingdom color. It’s better, I promise.