black history, theology, Kids' books

Monday, July 9, 2018

Robert E. Lee and Me

Writer's note 1: I don't have all the answers.

Writer's note 2: The same God who tells me to "do justice" also tells me to love kindness and walk humbly in the exact same verse (Micah 6:8). So I'll offer my perspective and my story here, while promising to keep an open mind, open ears and open heart to those with different perspectives, and acknowledging the dignity of each person, no matter what their conclusion.

As a writer, you usually pick the topics you write about.

On occasion, however, the topic picks you.

Over the last month, I've had the same conversation. The person I'm having the conversation with is constantly changing. The locations have changed, too.

The question has not changed.

Everyone in our city is talking about Robert E. Lee and the possible school name change.  It's too important of a topic to try to answer quickly, so I figured I tried to write about my experience from the beginning.


I just remember trying to hold back tears.  I was down the street at the neighbor's house, a family that was  - and remains - close with my family.

The radio was on, and the radio announcer had just proclaimed Robert E. Lee had lost a playoff game on a last-second shot. I was heartbroken. This was the mid-1980s. And it was my school. I would have been around 10-years-old (maybe a bit younger), but my connection to the basketball program at Robert E. Lee was already evoking strong emotion out of me.

By the time I reached Shelburne Junior High as a brace-faced preteen, I had already decided my career path. I was going to be the point guard at Robert E. Lee High School - hopefully winning a state championship  - and then I was going to play college basketball.

In my teenage years, I never deviated from that plan.


My dad's family is from Waynesboro. Dad spent his first year of high school at Rosenwald during segregation, and then helped integrate Waynesboro High School in his sophomore year. My dad talked to me about of lot of things growing up, but for whatever reason, we didn't talk too much about integrating Waynesboro.

Growing up in Staunton, I had tons of family and friends in Waynesboro. I played AAU basketball in Waynesboro, and I spent a lot of time at "Granny Miller's" home. My dad's family was so big that we sometimes ate in shifts.

I had lots of cousins my age, along with friends my age.

The waiting time meant plenty of time for jokes. The jokes would often go like this:

Me: "Cousin, exactly what is a Little Giant?"

Everyone laughs.

Them:  "We know you are not talking. Your school mascot is a confederate general."

Everyone laughs.

That always made me feel uneasy, even though we were all laughing.

As a 15-year-old, however,  I thought more about personal goals than the school name. As a teenager, my thoughts in school usually looked something like:

1. Is my high school crush in this class?
2. I hope my friends are in my class.
3. I need to think of some better jokes for the daily cafeteria jokefest.
4. I wonder when I'll get a chance to start on the varsity basketball team.
5. I need to do enough classwork to get a basketball scholarship.

Pretty turned in on myself, I know.

It wasn't that I didn't have convictions. I just didn't understand  - or desire to understand - what was going on with the name Robert E. Lee at that time.


I loved high school. I made lifelong friends. I had teachers like Mrs. Polly, Mrs. Weller and Mrs. Lotts to help shape me and inspire me. Mrs. Cynthia Gray, Coach Willie Gray and Coach Doug Carter made sure I saw minorities in professional positions. And I played for a Hall of Fame basketball coach Paul Hatcher.

And although I was obsessed with getting a basketball scholarship - my old classmates at the 20-year reunion laughed at the memory of me dribbling my basketball from class to class - I loved learning.

Except US history.

I hated the way those history books taught us about slavery. It literally made me sick. Sometimes, I would just leave the classroom.

If the textbook writer's aim was strip dignity away from black students,  it worked. First, it started the story of black people at slavery, as if blacks were never people, only property. And then we just learned how we were beaten, only considered three-fifths of a man, etc. And we never heard from any indigenous scholars.

I would spend a lot of history class reading indigenous scholars, partly because I hated the degrading lens through which slavery was taught. I couldn't put this language to it back then. I just knew it was wrong.

One of the goals of a good high school is to inspire students to be a lifelong learners.  As many black students begin their own study of black history - usually trying to restore the dignity that felt stripped away in those US history classes - we realize that in many cases we were taught a sanitized version of history.


If you made a list of the top basketball players in Robert E. Lee High School's history, my name wouldn't be anywhere on the list. If you turned that paper over and used the back as well, my name still might not appear. Still, I did get to play college basketball at a Division III school, Shenandoah University.

With a college degree in my hand that used to dribble a basketball, it was time to decide what to do. Ultimately, I was fortunate enough to do two things that I loved so much that they never felt like work.

The first was writing sports for The News Leader, and the second was mentoring kids at Robert E. Lee High School. I mentored at Robert E. Lee High School from 2003-2015. I loved the kids there so much I tried to get a job teaching in 2004-2005, until I realized I was perhaps the world's worst teacher. I just love Lee High kids.

I laughed until I couldn't breathe with Robert E. Lee School students. I coached girls' basketball at Robert E. Lee High School. I've cried with Robert E. Lee High School students. Sadly, I've helped eulogize a few  Robert E. Lee High School students.

Outside of starting my own family, I consider my time with Robert E. Lee High School students the most significant thing I've done with my life.


I have five kids. For most of their lives, my kids attended some form of private school before transferring into Staunton City Schools recently. Although the "Save the Name or Change the Name," debate is heating up, it's always been a topic of conversation.

However, when my kids were in private school, I wouldn't speak on it much, and when I did it was with the admission that my kids weren't in that school system, even though I care very deeply about all the kids in the community, not just my own.

Given my own current circumstances and our community's circumstances - as we move into the community listening series - I thought now was an appropriate time to add my voice to the conversation.


"Biblical justice is doing the right thing for the right people to the right extent in the right way." 

I'd vote to restore the original name.

Even more important to me than a school name is my relationship with Jesus Christ. I'm on a lifelong journey to figure out what following Him means. One scripture that sticks out to me is Micah 6:8: "Do justice."

Biblically, that means doing our part to help everyone in our community flourish and standing against injustices. The biblical imperatives carry even more weight when it comes to defending the marginalized in society.

It's my opinion that asking black students to join in a forced celebration even remotely tied to part of their historical oppression is wrong. I want to be clear that I don't speak for all black people, and even within my friend groups of black Robert E. Lee alumni we would not all agree.

And for my friends looking for an informed Biblical perspective, I would commend to you the following podcast episode from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. It gives helpful language to the difference between memorializing and celebrating, as well as helpful insight on how to move forward without erasing history.


It's easier just to keep quiet.

Why risk being misunderstood?
Why risk the possible name-calling and character defamation?
Why open yourself up to those to want to dehumanize you for having a differing opinion?
Why risk having previously open doors in this community close for you?

Because sometimes convictions cost.
In issues of justice, there comes a point where silence is betrayal.

There is no greater agenda here for me. I don't want any political position. I do vote every election, but I'm not a card-carrying Republican or Democrat.  I'm just a Christian, who believes the Bible would encourage me to use my platform to pursue biblical justice. And to me, I believe the way everyone flourishes is with a name that the whole community can celebrate.


A quick glance at the yard signs around our city is probably a pretty good indicator that we are not all going to agree on the Robert E. Lee debate.

But there's this false notion in America that disagreeing has to equal despising.

That's not an option for the Christian. That's not an option for me.

Nowhere in the Bible does it say that I can stop loving people because of a sign in their yard.

Please hear me say this. Following Christ is a lifelong journey. I do not always get it right, so I have to do everything in humility, realizing that I don't know it all. While I've learned that I do have to take steps to guard my own emotional health, I'm willing to sit down and talk with people with varying opinions (hopefully in person and not social media).

 I'm of the opinion that I can love justice and my neighbor.

Chris Lassiter is a Christ-follower, a husband to Emily (read her blog here), a father to five kids and a freelance writer for Young Life Relationships,, and other publications. His first book, You're Grounded, was published by Moody Publications in 2013. You can order the book here.  His first kids' book, Grits & the Grimels, is out now. 

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Four Multicultural Churches Have Offered Me Hope

I have a fair share of conversations about racial reconciliation in the church. 

One practical step I always offer to churches, families, individuals, etc. is to visit a church that by God's grace has a ethnically diverse local expression of the body. (Note: I understand sitting in pews together doesn't always mean doing life together.) 

Couldn't find the pictures where I was smiling ... 
While much has been made recently about the racial church divide – with Sunday at 11 a.m. still being the most segregated hour in America – some churches are actually making progress on that front.

As a Christian, I want to see that. As a husband and a father, I want my family to see that.

And so we travel.

From time to time, we’ll take road trips.

The destination is churches on the east coast with a diverse leadership and congregation.
Here are four churches we have visited this far.

We started with Crown and Joy for a number of reasons. Richmond is the closest to my hometown in Staunton, VA, and we are part of the PCA denomination. We would commend anyone go there. 

The congregation is truly diverse. They preach the Word, and on the two times we visited the congregation stayed after and ate a meal together. It really helped us to feel welcomed to be asked to stay and eat afterwards.

2.      Anacostia River Church, Washignton, D.C.
When my family asked me what I wanted to do for Father’s Day, I told them visit Anacostia River Church, pastored by Thabiti Anyabwile. His sermon at the 2009 Worship God Conferenceabout the Church of Worship forever changed the way I relate to the local church.

Not only did we get to see a beautifully diverse church body, many members of the church were memorizing parts of Colossians together and Anyabwile preached a powerful expository message the day we were there. My friend Jeff attended there before being sent out by that church as part of a plant. He told us around the corner to get some good pizza, and then we made a day of D.C.

3.      Hampton Roads Fellowship, Hampton VA. 

We decided to do our back-to-school shopping at the new outlet stores in Norfolk, and attend church at HamptonRoads Fellowship. It was great. The worship team and the pastoral team were diverse. 

The Sunday we attended, a young man who they were training for leadership in the church preached, and he did the best expository unpacking of Philemon that I had ever heard. I left with my heart full and my gaze on Christ.

Also, something the pastor said that stuck with me in regards to evangelism: “Every person I meet could be a new brother or sister in Christ (paraphrased).”

4.      Crossover Church, Tampa, Florida.

A quick back story is needed here. Crossover’s pastor, Tommy Kyllonen, had a huge impact me in my early walk as a believer. I had been wanting to get down for FlavorFest, but when my sister actually moved to Tampa, I knew I had to check it out.

Also, the week we visited was Easter. I’m not sure what was the norm and what was special for Resurrection Sunday. Here’s what I can tell you. Crossover is incredibly diverse. They do a phenomenal job engaging visitors, and they do an incredible job incorporating arts in a Christ-glorifying way.

As much as I enjoyed the experience there – my kids are willing to move to Tampa – my favorite part was hearing them talk about how they planned to intentionally love their city. That was amazing.

A Final Thought 

I have a personal rule that I never try to miss my home church two weeks in a row, and I don’t let my work or leisure allow me to miss my own church twice in a month. I want to make sure I have a healthy commitment level to my brothers and sisters in Christ in my own congregation. 

With that being said, it’s important for me to experience settings that give us a foretaste of heaven, worshiping beside people of all nationalities. And I want my family to have a vision for that, too, especially since my kids are biracial.

I hope it encourages you, too. 

Chris Lassiter is a Christ-follower, a husband to Emily (read her blog here), a father to five kids and a freelance writer for Young Life Relationships,, and other publications. His first book, You're Grounded, was published by Moody Publications in 2013. You can order the book here.  His first kids' book, Grits & the Grimels, is out now. 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Dear Black Church, I Apologize

You can’t stick and move in “Sunday shoes.”

I learned a lot of lessons growing up in Staunton’s Mount Zion Baptist Church, including this one: punching and patent leather shoes don’t mix.

I lost my first fight at church. Yes, you read that correctly.  I’ll never forget the day. Some older kids were instigating me and my friend DeMarcus. The issue on the table: who would win a fistfight between us two?

The answer, as we would learn quickly, was DeMarcus.

Even though we weren’t mad at one another, we fought. It was even for a moment until DeMarcus clapped me in both of my ears. It was a brilliant tactical move. In my disoriented state – along with the fact I had on those stupid “Sunday shoes” instead of my Nikes - I fell like the walls of Jericho.  

It’s one of many funny stories I experienced with my young Mount Zion crew, which consisted DeMarcus, Charlie Brown, Little Anthony, the King Twins and the Watts brothers. 

Me in front of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Staunton, VA. I grew up in this church. Photo creds: my daughter Hannah

Much of my formation happened in the black church.

It’s where I learned the negro national anthem Lift Every Voice and Sing. Page 511 of that maroon-colored hymn book. It nourished me on fifth Sundays with fried chicken, peanuts in a fancy glass bowl, some strange church mints and a weird, red punch beverage concoction.

More importantly, it nourished my faith, and I was introduced to the hope that kept my ancestors through slavery and Jim Crow.

I owe the black church a lot.

Including an apology.


I didn’t go to church in college (although I did send my 10 percent tithes and offerings with some girls who did go to church).

Too busy playing college basketball.

Too busy doing me.

I had grown up in church, but to quote one of my favorite urban theologians Brady Goodwin, Jr.  “the church hadn’t grown up in me.”

At least not yet.

After college, I got serious about my relationship with Jesus Christ. A young adult small group at my cousin Pede’s house played a huge role in shaping my faith.  

That small group led me back to Mount Zion, where I would meet regularly with then pastor Rev. Glenn Porter Jr. Shortly after Rev. Porter transitioned out to pastor another church, I left, too, and I landed in a larger, more charismatic black Baptist Church.

After that church, I spent the following 15 years in majority white churches. In his book Reconciliation Blues, Christian author Ed Gilbreath described it as the “only Oreo crumb in the cup of milk.”  

I can’t think of a more accurate description.


“Black church” and “white church” aren’t truly biblical distinctions, but in a country with a sordid racial past, they are realities. The old adage about “Sunday morning at 11 a.m. being the most segregated hour in America,” still holds true.

In my mid-20s, I  had a lot of Christian influences in my life, such as a Christian radio station that broadcasted sermons by theologians like John Piper, a pastor referenced by many of my favorite Christian hip-hop artists at that time (and someone I still hold in high esteem).

Mid-20s me also loved the fact that many majority white churches had relaxed the dress code.
Hello Nikes. Goodbye patent leather “Sunday shoes.”

Twenty years later, I am beginning to see how I grossly oversimplified the “leaving black church”  decision. I didn’t know nearly enough of the black church’s history or doctrine to make an accurate assessment of her.

And while the thrust of this letter is to apologize to the traditionally black church, I’m by no means here to demonize the majority white church.  

(Note: if you are a minority and thinking about joining a majority white church, there are a few questions that you should ask yourself.)

I met some great people there. I did grow in my understanding of doctrine there. I watched God work there. Was it perfect? Nope. But the focus of this blog isn’t whether the white church or black church is perfect, this blog is about my heart condition.

I need to apologize to the black church,  because I left romanticizing the white church’s beauty while ignoring her flaws. At the same time, I ignored the black church’s beauty and focused solely on her flaws.

And that was wrong.


Who knew so much conviction could fit inside the 140 characters of the original Twitter?
On August 22, 2015, I sure did. That’s when Progressive Baptist Church pastor Charlie Dates tweeted this:

“To my young black aspiring pastors, theologians and churchmen, don’t let your newly found training turn you away from the black church.”

This put words to something I was wrestling with but couldn’t clearly articulate. Maybe everything I had learned was God preparing me to serve the black church, not abandon it. 

And that wasn’t all.

With the Charlie Dates tweet still ringing in my head, I had the opportunity to hear Southesastern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Walter Strickland. He taught on The History and Theology of the Black Church at the Legacy Conference.

Here’s what I remember. The Moody Bible Institute classroom was so packed I had to stand for the entire time. As Strickland began to unpack this beautiful narrative, many were on the verge of tears and wondering, “Why has no one ever taught us this?” 

I learned an important lesson. Many of the beautiful Christian doctrines I  thought I could only find in "white church" had been part of the black church for more than a century. 


I made a promise to myself that that I would give my life, time, talents and treasures to a gospel-centered, good news-proclaiming, Bible-teaching, mission-minded church that esteems racial reconciliation as a core value.

In short, I hope my future isn’t in a black church or a white church.

In the immediate present, however, I know there is one action step I need to take.

To the black church, will you please forgive me for seeing only your flaws but not your beauty?

Will you forgive me for my historical ignorance and how unappreciative I was for the road that you paved for me?

Will you forgive me for not cherishing you for instilling a gospel hope in my ancestors that allowed them to survive?

I was young, stupid, proud and arrogant.

And wrong.

Please forgive me.


Chris Lassiter 

Chris Lassiter is a Christ-follower, a husband to Emily (read her blog here), a father to five kids and a freelance writer for Young Life Relationships,, and other publications. His first book, You're Grounded, was published by Moody Publications in 2013. You can order the book here.  His first kids' book, Grits & the Grimels, is out now. 

Should I attend a majority white church?

I love the church.

Not everyone feels that way, but I do. 

We're in the social media age. Everything gets puts under the microscope, and the church gets her fair share of bad press.

I'm not here to add to that.

In the book of Acts, we learn that Jesus loved the church enough to shed His blood for her. As we grow in Christlikeness - learning to love what He loved - it stands to reason that our love for the church should increase as our love for Christ increases.

in front of the church I grew up in ... Photo credits my daughter Hannah

If anything, I want to help people find healthy church situations. I wrote a whole chapter in my first book You're Grounded on marks of a healthy church, but today I want to write to people of color considering attending a majority white church (which is my current setting).

There is no canned answer, and this important decision should be bathed in prayer. Additionally, here are some questions worth thinking through.

  • Is the church healthy? Is the church centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ and using the New Testament as a template for body life in the church?
  • Has the church shown a commitment to the pursuit of gospel-centered racial reconciliation prior to you being there? 
  • Do you have to assimilate culturally to fit in there, or is there a space for your cultural contributions in the life of this particular church? 
  • Will the church be a safe place for you and your family (if you have one) socially? 
  • Does the gospel preaching have applications for your context? 
  • Will this church be an ally to you doing evangelism in your cultural context? 
  • Will this church clearly call out all ethnocentrism as sin? 

 I hope those questions help. 

Chris Lassiter is a Christ-follower, a husband to Emily (read her blog here), a father to five kids and a freelance writer for Young Life Relationships,, and other publications. His first book, You're Grounded, was published by Moody Publications in 2013. You can order the book here.  His first kids' book, Grits & the Grimels, is out now.