black history, theology, Kids' books

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.