Friday, November 30, 2007

question of segregation

Last night, I went with some friends to Louisville to catch Rob Bell on his current teaching tour, "The God's Aren't Angry".

It was very good. As always, I absolutely loved his background stuff...placing well-known Biblical stories into their lesser-known sociological contexts. He is extremely intelligent and has a knack for making people say, "I've never heard that before..."

Bell's popularity has grown rapidly over the last few years thanks in large part to his video series titled Nooma. He is smart, hip, funny and looks like an indie rock-star.

Basically, if you are a Christian under the age of 35, own a Mac, and drink Starbucks are going to love Rob Bell.

Well, as long as you're white.

Now, my intention in saying that is not to be shocking. The simple truth is that last night there was somewhere around 1,400 people sitting inside The Brown Theater.

I saw two African Americans.

And I looked. A lot. I was curious. There may have more, but it could not have been many. It was pretty much just a bunch of hip, white kids.

Driving home, two questions stuck in my mind:

Question #1. Why?

Why is there such segregation amongst followers of Jesus? Because the black-white ratio last night inside The Brown Theater was NOT an aberration. Just the opposite, actually. My guess is that very few people even noticed. That kind of segregation is absolutely the norm in my experience with the church. Its either all black or all white. Why?

Question #2. Is that a bad thing?

My first instinct is to say, "Well, of course it is a bad thing. We are supposed to be unified in Christ..."

My second instinct says, "Yeah, but that is just the culture we live in. Birds of a feather flock together. And as long as people are coming to Jesus..."

But then I think, "But we are supposed to be counter-cultural in our approach to faith. We should be bringing God's Kingdom to earth through our love and our community..."

Honestly, I go back and forth on just how big of a deal this all is. I just don't know.

And I realize that this is a very touchy subject. I am in no way trying to be controversial. I'm just asking the questions and looking for some wisdom on this subject.

Any thoughts?


Dustin said...

"As always, I absolutely loved his background stuff...placing well-known Biblical stories into their lesser-known sociological contexts. He is extremely intelligent and has a knack for making people say, "I've never heard that before..."

Sometimes this worries me a bit. The fact that someone is teaching the Bible and a crowd of a few thousand are all thinking, "i've never heard that before" makes me a little concerned. I wonder WHY we've never heard that before. I would like to see some of his sources because sometimes I feel like he's just making stuff up to try to be more interesting.

That's not really on your topic however so excuse me for butting in.

bill said...

no. its not on topic, dustin. but thats fine cause that absolutely worries me too. he has created a situation in which people expect him to have something that they "have never heard before" every time he speaks. that has to be a huge have some new, earth-shattering information every time you get in front of people.

i often wonder the same thing, " where is he getting this stuff and why has no one else come up with that yet?"

but with that said, i have yet to hear anyone seriously refute the historical accuracy of anything he has taught. so...i don't know.

The Anonymous Human said...

The "Brown" Theater


greg said...

It's a good thing you weren't at the Catalyst convention in Atlanta. There were 11,000 people there and I've never seen so many goatee sporting, starbucks drinking, indie rock t-shirt wearing, invisible children in their top-8 spaces, white-headphone listening, hair product using, mute math loving, white boys in my life. I thought I was at a freaking Decemberists concert when I walked in the door.

One scene I witnessed wrapped up in a nutshell for me the 20-30 year old white suburban Christian in the year 2007. There was a fair trade coffee booth. In front of it they had a couple of macs where you could add them to your myspace and "digg" their site. They also had stickers and free coffee samples. I stood there watching for about 15 minutes. There was a huge line of hip dudes waiting in line to use the macs and get a free sample. Know how many people actually bought any? Zero. Not a one.

I'm off topic, I know. About Bell, yeah, I'm not a big fan of his crowd, probably because I don't feel cool enough to be a part of it, but I really like him a lot. To say that just because he's saying something you've never heard means he might be making it up seems the slightest big arrogant to me... it would seem to me that if he wasn't on the level, as popular as he is, somebody would call BS.

A final thought... I know of a church in Knoxville that is about 60 % white and 40 % black. The reason? They are staffed that way... that's what I believe anyway. They have 3 teaching pastors, two white guys, one black guy. They have said that they want to be diverse and so they have hired that way which is pretty huge. It's a fairly large church too... around 500 people so it's not a fluke. It can be done, but it's tough. Especially in a place like Knoxville. I would imagine that in a big city it would be easier, although I have no experience to back that up.

Okay, I will shut up now.

ragamuffinminister said...

I went to see Bell tonight in downtown Indy. You described my crowd to a 't'.

I have issues with the segregation of things too. I think Greg is on to something about staffing for what you want. It is weird when everyone I like to go hear and see only attracts white people. That's bizarre and simply...well..just bizarre. I don't get it.

Rob is glad to tell you where he gets his stuff. I've emailed him a couple times and he gave me books, people, sources, things to read. Although, I think maybe that's an administrator writing back to me, but who knows, it could've been him.

Yeah, I think someone would've called his BS if were truly BS. And honestly, he hasn't said too much that I didn't learn in some history class or bible class, except he applied it the way we're supposed to. The reason a normal listener says, "I've never heard that before" is because they haven't studied the gods of the ancient sumarian as intensely as he has, if at all.

Bill, did you like how he told the story of Abraham? Just curious.

bill said...

yeah. i LOVED the abraham story. i think that was my favorite part.

and that would be a good example of his application being what i hadn't heard before, not his information.

Dustin said...

arrogant? uh, ok. thanks man.

ragamuffinminister said...

Greg's got his "I hate LSU" face on right now, that's all.

greg said...

Jeph, I always have an "I hate LSU" face on so that's not it.

The real problem is that I have no filter and just come off as a big jerk sometimes. Sorry about that Dustin... I don't know you so obviously I can't say that you're arrogant or anything else. That was a stupid thing to say on my part.

- greg

Dustin said...

no prob Greg. I'm definitely not saying I know everything, far from it. But after hearing hundreds of sermons (like I think all of us have that are in this discussion), after Bible College and halfway through my MDiv, I'm surprised that this guy could consistently have insights and nuances I've never heard before. I enjoy it, but I still want to have a healthy critical ear to what he says as well.

"The reason a normal listener says, "I've never heard that before" is because they haven't studied the gods of the ancient sumarian as intensely as he has, if at all."

-True enough. By the way, i would love to see that list of resources if you would post it. thanks man.

bill said...

lets all play nice, guys.

greg...dustin is a really great dude.

dustin...greg is a really nice guy.

jeph...jake is just okay.

The Anonymous Human said...

Wait what?

Am I supposed to be mad at Jeph?

(p.s. bill, remember what I said about what Teddy said? I think he has a point. So, how many black staff members does crossings have?)

matt said...

Christian under 35 - Check
Drink Starbucks Coffee - Check
Own a Mac - Check

Litmus test failed. I don't enjoy Rob Bell. I have listened to 3 Rob Bell sermons that I thought were phenomenal (most notably his first sermon in his series, "The New Exodus". One of these days I will bring myself to finish Velvet Elvis without cursing (note: only the Purpose Driven Life has made me curse more).

I found Justin Buzzard's review of the God's aren't angry to represent my problems. Even my buddy Bob, who generally loves most things Emergent noted an issue with the lack of explaining God's anger toward sin in Rob's message.

Betsy said...

You know, the brilliant film "hairspray" had me thinking about this too. It's not just church. I mean, look at the college where I work . Look at tv shows (especially sitcoms) and movies. Do you think it's just where we live or what we participate in or is this a national trend? It would be great to get past this.

J dub said...

I think there are a lot more African Americans that like Rob Bell than you guys give credit...It's just that Kanye West is on tour too and usually his show winds up on the same night.

I can see why someone would choose Kanye over ever heard that song Jesus Walks? Thats what all the trendy kids are listening to on their white headphones...

Anonymous said...

If we don't see many African Americans around, then where are they all going? I mean, seriously, what are these people doing? Something doesn't make sense here.

Actually being serious now, birds of a feather...

The Anonymous Human said...

J dub, thank you for shedding light on the subject.

Betsy, thank you for bringing the topic back to the forfront of this discussion. Because the truth is, we are segregated people. The fact that we would ACTIVELY pursue a way (by the way we hire staff, by who we put in leadership) to try to combat this proves the very nature of our segregation. But the question isn't "are we segregated" but "is this segregation (or separation since no law is forcing this) a bad thing".

My 'wisdom' would say no. No it's not and I think j dub actually makes a good point for this. This segregation isn't something that only occurs in the church world. Think about country music. I would have to say that the vast majority of people who listen to country music are white. Not that there aren't ANY black people who listen to it, but the majority are white. Is this because there are so few black performers in country music or because most black people can't identify with their dog dying or their pick-up not working? Same goes true for hip-hop. Most people who listen to hip-hop are black. Is that because most of the performers are black or because white people can't identify with having sex? (at this momment, Akon's "I wanna f%&$ you" is the first song that came to my mind. Sorry for the attempt at humor)

I guess my point is this segregation goes deeper than just the local church. I'm not sure it's so bad that "bird of a feather flock together". As long as the birds mutually respect one another and see each other as equals.

G-dawg said...

You have obviously never heard of Cowboy Troy. He truly is America's finest "Hick-Hop" artist. He plays chicken with the train ya'll. word.

Cliff said...

Rob Bell gives me some “I’ve never heard that before” moments, the same way that Mark does when he teaches or that Bill does when he leads worship … God meets us where we are and sometimes that may be a different place than the last time we met.

The past several months have found me looking at my spiritual life through an entirely different lens: Helping People Find Their Way Back to God (HPFTWBTG for those of you yet to get the t-shirt). Why? Because it is simple. Not the execution, but the understanding. That is why it is so exciting to dream about a church that meets in downtown Knoxville … in Market Square. Let’s face it, Knoxville is not the melting pot of the world, it is unlikely we will ever experience the kind of ethnic diversity that you find in Chicago, Atlanta, New York … but there are other types of diversity (economic comes to mind) and I suspect we will find many interesting opportunities and challenges downtown. Besides, even under-35, iPod listening, Starbucks drinking, hair gel using, BMW driving individuals sometimes need help finding their way back to God …

Just one man’s opinion …

v.taimani said...

i don't think that the issue is necessarily segregation. sure you'll find segregation everywhere in the world and in plenty of places in religion. speaking from experience, being a pacific islander and some how ending up at johnson bible college still floors me. i was a pastors kid that use to hate the church and religion in general. never thought id ever be involved in ministry, let alone end up in a bible college. and in knoxville, TN of all places.

its not that i wanted to surround myself around white folk in TN (though i love them and even married me a white gal) its just that god has been leading me on a path that happened to cross into TN for a few years of my life. i don't know why he does what he does some times but we have to remember that our "feathers" come from the same bird, if you will.

i went to see rob bell in san francisco last month and i actually look around too cause i was curious. there was still majority white folk but only about half the crowd i think. granted CA is way more of a melting pot than KY but there were still a lot of non-caucasian folks. in my opinion it's mainly cultural. i think it would be surprising how many people haven't even heard of rob bell, even many of my white believer buddies.

lastly, i don't think that the whole "I’ve never heard that before" is something to fear but maybe something to embrace. now i'm not saying to just blindly embrace something because its new and different, but i just find that when people see something different that doesn't come from their own understanding and comfort, they tend to question or feel threatened by it in a critical way. not always, but a lot amongst believers. i learned a valuable lesson from dave chappelle on an interview. i would highly recommend anyone to watch the whole interview ( but here is something he said at the 5 min 10 sec mark...

"the worse thing to call somebody is crazy. its dismissive. ‘I don’t understand this person. so, they’re crazy.’"

in light of all of the context of the interview, it was genius. just because we don't understand or take the time to understand someone, they must be wrong or crazy or labeled. if a person doesn't take the step to get to know the heart of a man, then it is unfair to make assumptions or judgment of their spiritual belief. if what we do as believers doesn't serve a forward moving purpose then it is meaningless and fruitless. saying something about a person's faith or way of life that leaves them questionable without any explanation of their real thoughts and feelings is like telling a bad joke about a person without say, just kidding. without that last bit of information, it can be hurtful and unjust. it's a dismissive act.

dang i think i just confused myself, but my point is that in the process of conversation, there must always be mutual respect. i'm not a rob bell worshiper but i do believe in justice in areas that believers unknowingly say or do the wrong things that sometimes serve no purpose to the body as a whole. plus, i think the issue isn't, rob bell has a lot of questionable references. thats the speck. the plank on the other hand focuses on self first then the speck. how can we become more educated about the issues rob talked about? how can i become more aware of truth?

dude sorry I wrote so much. i'm still learning how to filter my thoughts.

Anonymous said...

I think the reason you say "i've never heard that before" is becuase its twisted truth, especially coming from Rob Bell. His and all of the emerging nonsense is complete dilution of truth! even the elect will sway to false doctrine in the end