(Please Note: For the sake of the anonymity and respect for the congregation, both church and pastor will be left unnamed)
February 25th, 2018 I was asked by a family member to attend a church in my neighborhood. After I accepted the invitation, she forewarned that the congregation was a predominantly ‘black’ and there wasn’t much diversity in the church. I was puzzled as to what the relevance of this statement was to my attending the church service, but I thought that a change of pace would be good and that as long as God remained the cornerstone of worship and scripture, I would be satisfied.
She was right about the congregation when we arrived, but I didn’t feel out of place, nor uncomfortable and we were greeted warmly. I shook a few hands and was welcomed by the ushers and fellow churchgoers. What did, however, turned my guts was what was perched on the church glass windows.
In total, there were eight windows and of four of them lay a pillar upon which a picture of former President Barack Obama. Some had a presidential portrait, while others had Obama demonstrating some kind act such as shaking hands with famous black activists, poets, and authority figures. For each picture, some had a caption stating, “Standing on the Wings of Giants.” Observing all of this left a painful feeling in my stomach and I began to question the authenticity of the churches doctrine.
As for the rest of the service, we sang praises that recognized God, but then the service transitioned from a sermon to a History lesson. One gentleman approached the podium reenacting the ‘King of Calypso’s’ Harry Belafonte’s “The Banana Boat Song.” Once he finished singing, he shared his Mr. Belafonte biography in honor of Black History Month. He received a standing ovation and I clapped out of respect as well, but I was quite confused and skeptical.
I sat there wondering, “What does this have to do with God? Granted, it’s a nice story but when are we going to dive into the Scripture? Are we putting people of black heritage on a mantel more so than God?” But I tried to suppress these questions and continued to observe. After all, it was my first time. Perhaps this renown singers life may have a connection towards today’s lesson.
But I was wrong.
The pastor began praising congregation members who wore their school sweaters to honor HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). He joked on the podium that some HBCUs were better than others. Once again I asked, “What does any of this have to do with God?” Yet again, I continued to stay silent and observe, but I began to feel out of place. I didn’t feel like I was attending church, but rather a rally.
Eventually, the pastor addressed a college professor from a HBCU, in which he gave a powerful historical account on how HBCUs originated. From the horrors of Jim Crow to the progressive actions of W.E.B DuBois, an advocate for education, shared how people of African descent have come a long way in universities across America. One heart-wrenching story, and it was indeed a tear-jerker, was the story of how his father made only $5.00 worth of savings and had given it to his son in order to pave his way in academia. The congregation sighed sympathetically as though many could relate to his testimony. I too shook my head in agreement, yet his story would’ve been appreciated at an open forum of a college campus rather than church. As he concluded his talk, he mentioned that blacks have an obligation to respect the history of the past and maintain its identity so that others could follow the same path to excellence.
The congregation gave a standing ovation while I uncomfortably joined in. The success stories, the history, and the appreciation of Afro-American contributions are splendid, but why in God’s house? It appeared that this congregation was focusing collectively on human beings, rather than the Divine. Lastly, the pastor concluded how the funds raised for the church enabled black students to receive full-time scholarship. Again, the church was in uproar and the pastor dismissed us in his good graces.
Walking alongside the pews I got a closer look at the pillars showing Obama and Michelle. I couldn’t stand for long since other churchgoers were trying to exit the sanctuary, but I couldn’t help myself studying these pictures and shaking my head in disbelief.
I was thanked by ushers for attending service, yet my mind was racing with the uncomfortable hypocrisy that I was seeing. I was so appalled from what I witnessed that I had to share my experience with my wife and even she raised her eyebrows a couple of times.
But… perhaps I’m being too critical of the congregation since it was my first time. I’ve been invited to services that may happen to run differently than on typical worship services. After all, it was February and honoring renown black figures that have paved the way for equality amongst races is admirable. Perhaps the theme for that particular Sunday was to honor HBCUs and the origin of black colleges? Maybe the portraits of Obama and Michelle were simply decor to illuminate encouragement, discipline, and self-determination to achieve anything? Yet, the fact it was in God’s House and giving praises to the wrong deity, I found problematic.
As a result, I’ve concluded the following after the service: Collectivism to the wrong person can be extremely damaging and tribilitistc.
This experience reminded of a Ben Shapiro talk in which he evaluated the Ten Commandments in regards to sinful actions of the political Left from Exodus 20:2 ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me.’ He shared how he was at a DNC conference and saw a sand statue of President Obama and was frightened because he was not just a statue, but an idolatrous figure for worship. But what he said later really got my attention and made perfect sense: “Human beings are creatures made for worship, and it’s either going to be God, government, or an idol.”
What was observed that day was a clear indication that when humanity puts their faith in Man rather than God, the church and it’s congregation become distorted from the Truth of the Gospel. Additionally, I think that a person’s skin color shouldn’t be a doctrinal component to direct a church. Yes, I do agree some black churches follow said doctrine and perhaps for specific reasons. But when you attach skin color to doctrine, you begin to distort and limit specific aspects of the scriptures.
In summary, Ecclesiastes 3:1 “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” Sure, it’s okay to utilize some examples from great leaders to reflect on how they could improve the lives of others, but Christians should always remember to keep Christ at the forefront and the core of the Church.
Not me, the Pope, Obama, Trump, but God and God alone.