Bryan Crawford Loritts is an African-American pastor I listen to occasionally in Memphis. I first heard a message he preached at the 2008 Desiring God Conference for Pastors. His testimony about the challenge of treasuring and respecting your racial culture and being redeemed to be a part of the kingdom of God echoes true with what I see and am praying for in our church body. I believe I am in a similar process as a white man. I want to live so that “Christ is preeminent in my life; I constantly go to war with the sinful expressions of and affections for my ethnicity; and yet I allow redemptive expressions of my culture to be woven into the beautiful tapestry of the body of Christ which is both unified and uniquely diverse.”
May God raise up many from the One Hope Academy, Project 61 and the Springs of Grace family who share our journey. Thank you God for men who are charting the way like Pastor Lorrits. His testimony is below.
An Unfinished Progress
I am well aware that whenever the topic of race is brought up a firestorm is soon to follow. This s the result of living in a racialized society. What follows is simply my experience, and I hope it sparks reflection for you.
This morning I realized that thirteen years ago today I made a decision that, little did I know at the time, would change the trajectory of my life and ministry. June 30th, 1998 was my last day at the Faithful Central Bible Church- a thirteen thousand member black church in an inner-city section of Los Angeles. My decision to leave there to go to a large white church in an affluent section of the city came as a surprise to everyone at Faithful Central, including myself! After all, the pastor is my god-father, and I had developed rich friendships in an environment that was culturally comfortable for me.
Leaving the black church to go to a white suburban church was no small decision, and its affects continue to reverberate in my life today. After three years at Lake Avenue (the large white church) I went to another white church in Charlotte, NC, and then landed in Memphis where I am leading a multi-ethnic church that is primarily white. I have no doubt, that if I had stayed at Faithful Central, I would not be doing the kind of ministry that I am doing today.
My journey has literally taken me across the country and cultures. Along the way my life and ministry has changed dramatically in the following ways:
1. My preaching style has broadened. Prior to June 30th, 1998 my style was a distinctly, and dare I say solely black one, marked by a cadence and lilt, and dependent upon a vocal interaction between preacher and people. While I have not lost this gear, I have been forced to add a style that is conducive to people who engage the preaching moment in much more of a quiet, contemplative way. This has been enriching for me.
2. The racism in my heart has diminished. I am a recovering racist, and I don’t think I would be recovering if I would have stayed in the black church because it would only have helped to harbor the racist fugitive that is very much alive in my heart. My racism was born out of a refusal to forgive white evangelicals who called me nigger in Bible college, and an overall white “Christian” culture which so naturally functioned as if their way was/is the right way, that anything that came across as black they either viewed with suspicion or treated as a passing novelty. Praise God, that in his infinite grace he chose to confront my idols of race with godly white men who love me profoundly. This has been an incredible means of grace to my soul.
3. As a follower of Jesus Christ who has been intentionally created (among other things) as a black man, these past thirteen years I have constantly felt like a foreigner. I am naturally more comfortable with African-American’s. Some may say that I am a different person around blacks. While I believe that this is becoming less and less true, what is unavoidable when I am around my black brothers and sisters is the fact that I don’t feel as if I have to perform, or be politically correct; but that I can in a sense exhale. In a lot of ways this grieves me, and I long for the day where I can feel like I can be all of who God has created me to be (cultural strands included) regardless of what culture I am around.
4. I have become entrenched in my conviction that culture is not to be ignored but subjugated to the master culture of the kingdom of God. My blackness is not to be dismissed, but submitted and subjugated to the redeeming power of the cross, and in humble participation to this new chosen race and royal priesthood called the church of Jesus Christ. This becomes a dance where 1) Christ is preeminent in my life, 2) I constantly go to war with the sinful expressions of and affections for my ethnicity, and 3) yet I allow redemptive expressions of my culture to be woven into the beautiful tapestry of the body of Christ which is both unified and uniquely diverse.
My journey is far from over, and I have a long way to go, but I cling to Paul’s exhortation to Timothy the pastor of the church at Ephesus to let everyone see your progress. Thirteen years later I am immensely grateful for my unfinished progress.