I’ve followed the events of the past few days, at least a little, and felt as though I ‘should write something’. What I found is I had little or nothing to add to the conversation that might carry any weight. We are a people that seem to be intent on tearing ourselves to pieces without any plan about what to do in the aftermath. If we ‘burn it all down’, then what? What’s going to change? Will we feel any different toward one another? Will we finally end racism? Or will we just be the same old people living in an ash pile?
I can’t speak to the experience of others, nor to their perception and reaction to it. On the other hand, others really can’t speak to mine, either. They can talk of my ‘white privilege’ or white guilt’ as much as they like, because I don’t see or feel much of either one. What I DO have are my experiences growing up, and those shaped how I think and act in significant ways.
I write this, not to impress anyone with any street cred, and certainly not to convince anyone I’m somehow morally superior or politically correct. This was my life, and it was a privilege to have been even a small part of it.
My grandfather was a minister in Detroit for nearly 50 years. He preached at what was originally known as the Plum Street Church of Christ. By the time I came along the building had moved to Hamilton and Tuxedo Streets in Highland Park. The church has an interesting history. It was founded in the 1800’s by a group of Canadian immigrants (I hope I have this right; for those who know better, forgive me). It moved to Highland Park in 1911. As the older members left or died off, the congregation changed to primarily members who had moved North for jobs in the auto factories, sometime around the 40’s. It was about this time my grandfather began to preach there.
As the members became more affluent many moved off to the suburbs. This is about where I came in. Once again, the membership began to change. African Americans moved into the surrounding neighborhood and began attending the worship services. My grandfather preached there until 1973. The church continued a few more years after my grandfather retired but eventually shut the doors and sold the building, which is still in use by another group. (We drove by there the other day; the place looks just as good as ever, and still has Church of Christ carved in the lintel above the front door)
Now, to the point of this story. That church didn’t have black Christians and white Christians. We were just brothers and sisters in Christ, and we loved, laughed, and worshiped together. They were some of the dearest people I’ve ever known in my life. We held services even during the 1967 riots in Detroit. The building across the street had bullet holes from the gun battles between rioters and police. Somehow our building was never touched. Scared? we were all scared. But our love for each other and for God kept us coming.
It was a beautiful thing to witness and experience. White Christians from the South worshiping side by side with black Christians, all praising God and seeking to encourage one another. My best friend was DeVaughn Lynch, who was my age. I had a love and great respect for his grandparents because they taught me how Christians act and live. We invited DeVaughn to our house in Warren one Sunday after service and he in turn invited my brother and I to his house in Detroit. And we had a great time.
It was at my grandfather’s funeral I learned the Plum Street Church of Christ was the first integrated congregation in the city of Detroit. God gets all the credit, but my grandfather’s quiet influence served as the glue to hold it together and make it work. There were several reunions held for years after the church closed. I only made it to one of them, but getting to see familiar faces once again was a true joy, because we all realized how we’d been part of something very special.
We never thought we were doing anything ground breaking. We never thought in terms of black and white. These were our fellow Christians, and they were also our friends. I miss them terribly, having not seen most for decades, but I remember them fondly. And I hope we can have another reunion when we get together in Heaven.
I was blessed to be a part of this. It taught me to be colorblind. My love or respect for you has nothing to do with skin color or any of the myriad labels or pigeon holes the world uses. I love you because you are a creation of God just as I am, and that makes us equal in His eyes. I have no right to love you any less than He does. If you are a follower of Christ, then we’ll raise our voices in praise together for the grace that makes us “brothers from another mother”. Let’s join together, pray and pray HARD, that the world will finally get the message.