Three years ago, I found myself crying on my husband’s shoulder in the kitchen of our Washington house, facing the reality that we were leaving country living for not just city life, but inner city life. We were leaving a beautiful partially wooded 3 acre property that overlooked dairy and raspberry farms with an iconic view of snow capped Mt. Baker.
But that’s not why I was crying.
I was mourning for my boy, who had only known country life since he was two. All he knew was country living and since I left the inner city before entering junior high, my only frame of reference for teen boys who lived in inner cities were gang members. The reality of my son coming of age in the inner city scared me.
But before I go on, let me back up a bit.
Prior to moving to Washington, we had been in Texas for seven years. We set out to Texas from Virginia to do ministry work on the border. Not yet coming down from the high that often follows a short term mission trip, and fully convinced that I HAD to work to keep my salvation, it was a no brain-er to move to a border town. It wasn’t enough to go to Mexico to build homes for the poor during the summer. My husband and I felt like the next step in “working out our salvation” was to take it to the next level and leave everything behind to “serve the poor”. Forget that my husband would no longer see his three daughter’s from his first marriage. Forget that we had a church family that cared for us well. My husband and I felt that moving closer to the border was our way to grow in godliness.
Life in Texas brought new experiences, like finding churches with more Mexican people, but they were often driven by bad theology and emotionalism. Even though I was still a new Christian, thankfully the Holy Spirit allowed me recognize some blatant error. Texas was also where I experienced overt racism in the church, not necessarily towards me, but words directed at certain communities. We have heard pastor’s use the term “wetbacks” when referring to Mexican’s from Mexico in and out of the pulpit. These experiences were the fuel that grew my presupposition that white people were racist, and white Christians were not exempt.
I also discovered that a majority of church women seemed to prefer social gatherings vs. living their lives according to Gospel implications, which I assumed was due to racism and obliviousness. It was frustrating to witness church members who weren’t willing to sacrifice comforts to serve the less fortunate so that the poor could “see the Gospel”, and hopefully, believe it through the actions of others. It would be safe to say I was a woke Christian before the term woke came into existence. I became self-righteous in the woke work I was doing for Christ and judging Christians who were not as “enlightened” as myself. In Eric Mason’s Woke Church, he calls this form of enlightenment “Christ consciousness”, which he claims is what makes one “truly woke”, “the anchor” of the Christian faith and allows us to “elevate our awareness to our responsibility to care for and love” others. In other words, according to Mason, a woke person is one who is able to understand the cultural, socio-economic, philosophical, and historical realities that inform our responsibility as believers in Jesus Christ. As I entered white church spaces, I operated as one who was woke, believing it was my job to enlighten others.
Our family ended up having to move from an immediate border town to a middle of no-where-relatively-close-to-the-border town due to my husband’s job. This new town offered more challenges to church life, but most importantly, I didn’t understand why God took me away from all the woke ministry I was doing on the border. Five years into my saved life, I had built my identity on what I should be doing as a Christian in comparison to what other Christians were not doing as Christians, while harboring the idea that white Christians were racists.
My soverign God knew I was going off course and He wanted my full attention for more pressing issues:
1) my soteriology, which was a mess and
2) my understanding of sanctification, which was non-existent.
It was in the middle of nowhere that I began to wrestle with the doctrines of grace, the sovereignty of God and understanding God’s providence in not only how a person is saved, but how it confirms the whole life of the Christian, pre and post salvation. I was discovering new concepts I had never heard of and when I began to pit them against the backdrop that was my life before Christ, the vulnerability of being exposed to that powerful of a God, who was able to wrought good out of evil, overwhelmed my senses. It was almost too much to be faced with the reality that God not only saved me from my sin five years prior, but every circumstance and extenuating life event leading up to salvation, had been ordained by God, to include the really ugly painful stuff.
Needless to say, I came out of that Providential redirection a reformed Christian. Mind you, still woke, but now reformed and I could not figure out how to reconcile the two.
While sharing what I was learning with my husband and children, we realized we wanted our family to have better church options so we left West Texas for north Washington.
In spite of this new knowledge of the reformed faith, three years in Washington, after seven years in Texas, I was still confident that white majority churches were asleep to the cares of minorities and the poor. Sadly, I also believed that interacting with white Christian women was harmful to me. Over the years, in both states, we did meet some white Christians who we grew to love and who reciprocally loved my family. Though I felt they were the rare exception to my woke ideology, instead of letting that love dispel my notion, I continued to covertly nurture it in my heart.
Due to the financial security that my husband’s job offered, we had unintentionally become benefactors to help spread the Gospel of Christ in other countries. It wasn’t out of the ordinary that I stumbled across a video of a church planter seeking to start a church in L.A whose mission was to reach the inner city with the Gospel. I asked my husband if we could send them funds and two months later, instead of agreeing to send them money, he asked me “what if we joined that church instead”. This question came on the heels of being hurt again by white church women and I was tired. I wanted to give up on the white church and find fellowship with Christians who looked like us. I was ready for the change.
Interestingly the thought of moving back to the exact inner city area that caused much of my childhood trauma gave me much trepidation, while at the same time, it was exciting to be part of this plant, where the leadership consisted of a brown family, a black family and Polynesian family. It was here that I first learned the term “woke” and initially found it endearing and embraced it.
The idea of joining this church felt like we could finally have a place of belonging. Within months of transplanting our family, I soon discovered that they had all of the same issues I observed in majority white churches. Cliques and social circles of inclusion were easily erected. Social excursions took precedence over meeting the needs of the community. Internal discord refocused the attention of the leadership team. Sadly we also learned there was open disdain for law enforcement, which we had not seen in majority white churches.
As a mom, what was THE most hurtful part of it all was discovering that the brown and black pastor’s teens were gossiping about my daughter and blatantly withholding fellowship from her, causing her to break down in tears after every church gathering for the first few months.
In our blind romanticizing of the non-white majority church, we assumed unity would happen instantly, automatic and without effort. Superficially it did. Under the surface told an entirely different story. In reality, we failed to take into account that sin never discriminates.
I soon felt that we made a mistake. How do we undo moving our entire household for a church that contributed more pain and heartache to my family than any majority white church had ever done? My woke-ness was unraveling.
At around the six month mark, I attended a social gathering that included just the women of the church plant and at the end of our time together we prayed for each other. With no one person in mind, but having experienced the social dynamics of both multi-ethnic church women and white church women, I prayed for wisdom and maturity for all of us. I left that gathering with the towel of surrender hanging out of my pocket. Emotionally I was done.
Someone from leadership eventually reached out to me and informed me of the deep animosity between the brown pastor’s wife and the black pastor’s wife, since the onset of the church leaders meeting for the first time, due to a disagreement of tone perception (meaning, one wife didn’t like how the other wife talked to her). This explained why there were so much division, but knowing WHY there was division did not make dealing with it easier. My husband and I were pulled into a problem that wasn’t ours to fix. We had meeting after meeting with both the black and brown families and the only thing these meetings confirmed was our own confusion as to what we were doing with this church plant.
So we left it.
We left life in Los Angeles and found ourselves displaced in San Diego.
Still not convinced that we were ready to go back to an all white church, we settled on another multi-ethnic church. After a year of putting every effort to try to serve this church, we were ready to move on. As a family, we were frustrated that we still had not found an expository preaching church that leaned reformed in it’s doctrine.
Thankfully, after an uncomfortable church search that lasted a few months, God led us to our current church and we have been there ever since. Last fall my daughter finally declared that she wanted to be baptized….and she was. I want to believe that the reformed leaning Gospel saturated expository preaching we were hearing from the leadership team contributed to my daughter finally wanting to declare Christ as HER savior, in spite of the pain and church disillusionment we endured over the last several years. For this mama, I could not be more content, regardless of the fact that it’s a majority white church.
Life in San Diego may not have been our plan B, or C or even X, Y, or Z, but it doesn’t mean that God didn’t have something to teach us throughout this whole experience.
God has definitely grown my family. I’ve learned that it’s almost impossible to be both woke and reformed. The implications of both ideologies clash. From my own church experiences, I have discovered that if someone affirms reformed theology but embraces woke ideology, they will eventually have to reject reformed theology, and that is something I am not willing to do.
When we left Texas I thought reformed theology could co-exist with my woke ideas about church community.
I have learned…..it cannot.
“If I had never joined a Church till I had found one that was perfect, I should never have joined one at all! And the moment I did join it, if I had found one, I should have spoiled it, for it would not have been a perfect Church after I had become a member of it. Still, imperfect as it is, it is the dearest place on earth to us.” – Charles Spurgeon