Conformity is comfortable. We experience a cold pillow-like rest when all those around us have agreed on a specific action. It just feels good to know we are all on the same page. But wearing masks as a precaution against COVID has unintended yet deeply revealing nuances about church, culture, and race.
On a recent podcast of, Why or Why Not with the Watsons, my wife, Kirsten, commented about how she has lived for many years without being authentic around white people at church. As you can imagine, this caused a vibrant response from many of our listeners. Her comments were specifically dealing with how much effort she has put into making those around her feel comfortable when she may have been hurting. The church house is rumored to be a place where we find fellowship, honesty, healing and growth, yet when it comes to matters of race, even in the church, too often, we must keep our masks on.
I do not pretend to speak for all Black people, but for generations, many have always worn "masks." We all get one fitted over our mouths as little children. We learn what to say, when, and how to say it. This is as close as it gets to a rite of passage in our communities. And it is this, the societal nudging toward acting against your self-interests that understandably exists in the marketplace, but is far more disturbing when found in houses of faith.
For many of us, a mask can symbolize remaining silent on matters that need our voice. It means never to say or do anything that would in any way make believers of a different ethnicity feel as though you are a victim or that you may believe in those evil reparations. So, when a racially charged event or video is made public on Saturday night, there is an understood norm in too many of our churches today that says, no one dare say anything Sunday morning. Just lift your hands to the heavens, sing along with the words on the one-thousand-inch screens, grab your coffee in the lobby, and Abercrombie and Fitch your way back to the SUV after church. Thankfully, this is a curable condition.
The church can be where our communities, black, white, or otherwise, can discuss the hard things with humility and truth because scripture declares we are ALREADY united in Christ. A place where we can read our bibles AND listen to our fellow believers express how they feel about challenges in our society. Is this easy? No. It is quite the opposite, but I would argue that if you do not attend a church that deals with the pains in your community and is only interested in studying Daniel and the Lion’s Den, you should pray for God’s will in your place of fellowship.
I do believe the Gospel is preeminent. I do believe in the inerrancy of scripture. I do believe all scripture is God-breathed and profitable for correction and instruction in righteousness. And it is because I believe the entire canon that I am overwhelmed by a holy God’s heart for the pain of people and the injustice levied upon them. A faithful presentation of the Gospel does not ignore the conditions people face. On the contrary, it demands a response from the privileged and the oppressed while pointing them both to the power that transcends the temporal and the righteous kingdom that will never end.
Sometimes, taking a moment to address the physical, though it is perishing, paves a welcome road to the spiritual. I am just foolish enough to believe that real worship cultivates real relationships. And that when we discuss real problems, we can both go to a real God and receive real healing. That is the real truth.