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What it is really like to be a minority in a UK church

Dionne Simpson outlines the common problems and prejudices Christians of colour have encountered inside white majority churches

Too many of our Christian brothers and sisters have stayed quiet about issues of racial justice.

These same Christians will fight hard for the rights of unborn children and donate to charities working in poverty-stricken African countries. Their children are encouraged to become charity tourists, spending a gap year in impoverished places to 'help' black people without ever realising that they are needed at home.

The following are just some of the ways Christians of colour are commonly overlooked in many white majority churches...

Overlooked due to 'culture'

Minorities in churches are often overlooked for leadership because their 'culture' doesn't fit. Many experience disapproving looks for the way they worship (with exuberance and uninhibited noise and movement) which runs counter to the predominate white-majority church culture. They are expected to take responsibility for controlling themselves so they 'fit in'. Whether spoken or (more often than not) unspoken, the implication is: "Don't be too loud, don't wear such bright colours, don't dance too provocatively, don't holla and whoop 'Amens', don't speak in tongues too loudly and don't clap in a way which highlights our own incompetence in keeping time."

Overlooked because of who I am

Being told that "I don't see colour" is a refusal to acknowledge that God made us all different and unique. God picked my perfect skin tone.

When asked where I'm from, I explain that I was born in the Midlands to which the reply comes, "No, I mean where are you really from?". My identity is removed with a single breath. They try again: "Which African country is your family from?" They always look perplexed when I say, "we are not African."My identity, culture and family is Black British. Yet I still don't fit your perception of who I should be and where I am from.  

Overlooked in leadership

I've seen churches boasting about their ethnically diverse congregations, yet their leadership is made up of mostly white men, and occasionally white women. Some of these churches are filled with pictures of a white Jesus, a white Mary and a white Joseph.

Overlooked in worship

Songs may be restricted to the same three or four chords typically found in modern worship songs, which are written by white people for white people. We can't play songs written by black artists because "our congregation won't know the songs", "they are too difficult to play", or "its too fast and exuberant and not reverent enough."
 
And yet there is an exception...if a white artist records a song written by a black person, it somehow becomes more palatable. After all, why honour Sinach's 'Way Maker' when we can have it watered down and re-done by a white worship leader in order to make it more "acceptable" to us? Make no mistake, when this happens, white church leaders are making a statement. They're saying that our culture, music and way of worshipping is not appropriate, and therefore not as good as the white majority equivalent. They're saying that unless we conform to the white, middle class way of church, we can never be accepted.

Chameleons

Of course, much of the above will be vehemently denied by some leaders. And I know many might be offended by my observations. But that's ok.
 
It takes courage and bravery to assess ourselves, to be truthful about the constructs of our churches. It's good to see many white church leaders are beginning to do this.
 
But to my dear brothers and sister of minority, I say this: We have played chameleon all our lives. We've bended and blended and modified and restricted who we are to fit in and be accepted. We may need to do this for a little while more. But God has made our people strong, resilient, wise and honorable. We must continue to love our white Christian brothers and sisters as they walk through this change with us. As we support them (and challenge them) we must also expand our capacity to be gracious, merciful and forgiving, just as our Lord Jesus Christ was to us.

Dionne Simpson is a prophetic worshipper, passionate apostle and servant of God. She is the founder of Wirral Worship Collective and Christians of Minority

Premier Christianity is committed to publishing a variety of opinion pieces from across the UK Church. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the publisher

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