Merging Two Parallel Movements
The sixties birthed two movements in America: the civil rights movement and the contemporary worship movement. Sadly, they have run on separate tracks for fifty years, and Sunday morning worship is as segregated now as Martin Luther King described it then.
Racism is an uncomfortable word. It is rare to hear a believer admit prejudice. However, it is becoming harder to deny or hide racial discrimination in our world.
Two weeks ago I spent an couple days in Knoxville with Freddy Washington and Will Reagan. We talked about the cultural climate in America, and the steady stream of reminders that racism is alive and well in our nation. Not only did we review the vulnerabilities, but we also discussed the potential for God to do a work of healing through the church. Then these guys sat down and wrote a "song for the season" - a prayer of confession and a plea for God's intervention.
What could be more appropriate for this season than a new collection of songs, ascribing our God as the God of all nations, born in an intersection of cultures.
Back in the eighties, in the apartheid era of my native South Africa, before Nelson Mandela was released from prison, before our country went through a radical restructuring, my life was turned upside down in a worship encounter. God spoke to me about my complicitness in the the unjust system in which I lived. The worst consequence of apartheid (legislated racism) was not the damage that it did to the oppressed, but the apathy of the privileged. I hungered to become an agent of transformation, to make a difference. For the five years leading up to the release of Nelson Mandela from prison, I led a multi-cultural, multi-lingual worship community that fused praise and protest. It was a complex but rewarding journey.
God gave me a sense that this work of protest would last for a season; that my country would change in 1990; and I would relocate to America in a time when it was 'more dangerous to live in America than in South Africa'; that, as an older person, I would tell the stories to a younger generation who wanted to do something similar to what I had done in my twenties in a time of international crisis.
That prophetic word is beginning to come to be.
Can you imagine if Christianity was honest about racism? And became a trusted voice of healing in our world? Can you imagine if the contemporary worship movement merged with the civil rights movement?
If these words resonate with you, I would like to encourage you to read the letter that Martin Luther King wrote to a bunch of church leaders in the city of Birmingham, Alabama, in April 1963. This letter is as relevant today as it was then. It will tenderize your heart and help you process this topic in a godly way. Maybe the next time you approach God in worship, he will nudge you to leave your gift at the altar and find ways to build bridges with others that are different from you?