A week before Christmas, Target put their Christmas ornaments on a half-off sale. I noticed that nearly all the ornaments that were left by this point were angels and nutcrackers with dark skin tones. I was puzzled by this—why aren’t the black- and tan-skinned ornaments selling as fast as the white ones? And it dawned on me—I am shopping in a predominantly white community, and we generally picture angels and nutcrackers as white. I’m finding that much of my daily interaction falls into this trend: I’m a white person living in a white community and surrounded by mostly white people. But my heart wants more, which is why I purchased a whole basket-full of dark and tan-skinned angels and nutcrackers at Target this Christmas.
This experience of mine is small but represents a larger pattern that we often see. Individuals find connection best and most easily with the one—the singular person instead of the group—and most often they find connection with someone who looks like themselves (someone in which they can see themselves represented). This isn’t good or bad, but often we miss out on great connections and friendships when we aren’t mindful about what we do on autopilot. Our hearts long for community and connection (God made us for relationships, after all) and this is why we have begun learning about our community and how we can promote unity among those within it.
How did we get here?
Memorial Park Church is a predominantly white church in a predominantly white suburban community. So why are we posting a blog about racial unity? Our hearts are wanting more.
For the past few years, a group at Memorial Park has been learning a bit about why our community here in Allison Park is predominantly white and why, as a result, our church is, as well. Phil Vischer, in his 40-minute podcast “Let’s Talk about Race in America” on Holy Post
, explains the historical data that drove development suburban communities like Allison Park as “white” neighborhoods while urban communities remained “black” neighborhoods.
Vischer explains that from the 1930’s to the 1960’s, the U.S. government encouraged white families to own homes while simultaneously discouraging black families from the same thing. In 1930, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) conducted a survey of neighborhoods in the nation to decide which ones were safe for federally backed mortgages. Black neighborhoods were deemed too risky and were largely counted out of federally subsidized homes. This was primarily due to lack of household wealth (even today, black households have 1/10 the household wealth of white households), which contributes to the discrepancy seen in these communities. Lower household wealth limits sending kids to college, setting up small businesses, and the ability to deal with unexpected crises—all of which have a large impact on community development.
The podcast continues on to talk about the GI Bill offered after World War II. The Bill offered veterans government-subsidized loans for homes in the suburbs, the majority of which were built “for whites only.” Up through 1950, a real estate agent could lose his or her license for selling a home in a white neighborhood to a person of color. The FHA put out a statement that read, “incompatible racial groups should not be permitted to live in the same communities,” and also funded highway construction as a means for separating the suburbs (white neighborhoods) from the inner city (black neighborhoods).
So, the past 100 years in our nation have painted the racial and ethnic make-up of our community today. As a suburb, Allison Park has historically developed at a primarily white community. And as Memorial Park Church sits within this community, the congregation has also historically been predominantly white.
Why does Racial Unity this matter?
As a church that knows God has shared His heart with us through His word (the Bible), we must wrestle with the fact that our congregation doesn’t look like the descriptions of heaven we read about in the Bible. In the book of Revelation, John describes heaven this way:
“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands” (Revelation 7:9, NIV
The group that is studying racial unity is realizing that if heaven is full of people from every nation, tribe, people, and language, then it is rich in diversity and very different from the way our church looks right now. In the Lord’s Prayer we pray, “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” but much of our lives reflect what’s familiar and comfortable to us and not necessarily what heaven looks like. As I mentioned before, we find connection most easily with those that look like ourselves. Yet, the stained-glass window in our Sanctuary is made up of many colors, and those many colors create such a beautiful mosaic. The same is true for our faith community—the more we engage with diverse groups, the more we are able to live, worship, and learn from others who are different from us. This allows us to see aspects of God more clearly or even for the first time.
Living in divided communities as we do here in the North Hills of Pittsburgh, our hearts are longing for racial unity to bring together groups of every ethnic background here in our area. That approach to unification begins with humility, knowing that we are a church coming from the majority voice and have a lot to learn. Stepping into racial unity means building relationships with our brothers and sisters who don’t look like us but have hearts for Christ that match our own; it means cultivating our ministries with a fertile soil to create relationships with people from these different ethnicities to see them as God-valued members of our community. Allowing racial unity to rise as a focus means growing in our understanding and working with other ethnic groups to ensure that everyone is edified in dignity and justice. Jesus prays for unity as he is praying with his disciples at the Last Supper:
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you” (John 17:20-21).
The Wrap Up
The path to unity isn’t a simple one, even if sometimes it feels like it should be. Sometimes the first step is simply noticing that the dark- and tan-skinned Christmas decorations are part of our community. In other words, being mindful. We are prayerfully asking the Lord to “make us one” as Jesus prayed. We are looking for opportunities that will widen our perspective, help us learn from our communities of color in Pittsburgh, and allow us to grow closer to God’s heart as a result. We are praying for guidance for steps of action that we can take as a faith community to help overcome some of the barriers that still separate the communities in our city today. We’d love to have you join us. If you’re interested in coming alongside us in this journey of racial unity, please reach out to any of us—we’d love to talk! You can send us an email here
. We also have resources on RightNow Media about Racial Unity that you can dive into, including a series by Dr. Tony Evans called Oneness Embraced
and the book How To Heal Our Racial Divide by Dr. Derwin Gray
. Also recommended are: White Awake by Daniel Hill
and I'm Still Here by Austin Channing Brown
This blog post was written by three Memorial Park staff members: Kevin Steele, Local Outreach Coordinator; Brandon Davis, Children’s Ministry Coordinator and Michele Holmes, Director of Women’s Ministries