Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Why Our Multiracial, Adoptive Family Left the White Evangelical Church

Once upon a time, I grew up in church.  And so did my husband. 

Red carpet, wooden pews, 500-page hymnals, church lake baptisms, summer VBS, KJV Bibles, no-sex-until-marriage, pasty-white-Jesus church.   

Maybe you can relate?  

Once Steve and I were married, we continued to attend church.  Since our wedding day, which was over fifteen years ago (!!!), we have been part of four churches.   As our family grew, and as we learned and evolved, we changed churches when we felt it was necessary for the spiritual health of our family.   

So when did we leave the white evangelical church, and why?  

I had felt a longing, for some time, to find a multicultural, woke, relevant, authentic church that taught our children the faith values we adamantly believed in.  These include:  eternal life and a rich earthly life comes through salvation (choosing to accept Jesus' sacrifice on the cross); that we are to love God and love others; that certain Biblical traditions are important to follow including communion, baptism, prayer, learning God's word (the Bible), and community.  

Then there was 2016.

We had just adopted our fourth child when the 2016 election took place.  I wasn't worried.  I was certain that people would understand and clearly see that now-#45 was not for most people, including women, people of color, those with disabilities, those dreaming of coming to live in the U.S.  As Maya Angelou famously said, "When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time."

Of course, we all know what happened.   

It was the very next morning after the election that I felt this sense of anger that I couldn't shake.  Not over a few days, or a few weeks, or now, even after a few years.  I just cannot make peace with where our country is.   

I know, Bible peeps are reminding me of John 16:33:  "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

The political climate just felt and still feels so...personal.  Every tweet from the not-presidential President.  Every audio and video clip.  The social media responses.  The election signs on people's cars and in their yards.  Those MAGA hats (Jesus, help me).  

Then there were the right-wing social media trolls who left racist comments about my children on Twitter.  Disgusting, vile things meant to rattle us.  Where did these trolls come from?  I don't know, but they sure crawled out of their hole in early 2017.

I wasn't naive. I didn't think that any other candidate would save the world.  But I did feel that others had more experience, more history, and certainly, better morals, ethics, and standards. 

Then the reports.  Overwhelmingly, white evangelicals were backing up this President and continued to do so, even though he paid off a porn star (and cheated on his wife), even though he bragged about grabbing women inappropriately, even though he chucked paper towels at people of color who were in dire need of shelter and water, even though he made fun of a reporter with a disability, even when he mocked a woman after she testified that she had been sexually assaulted by the then Supreme Court judge nominee, even when he called one woman "horseface" and another a "dog."  I could list dozens of examples, but let's move on. 

Now, I am not throwing our previous church homes under the proverbial bus.  There were some wonderful, woke, empathetic, kind people among us.  

But what was missing was so important:  people of color in leadership, an acknowledgement of the pain people in our country were facing, conversations about how to be more inclusive and welcoming of others beyond just "say hello to the person next to you."  We were always encouraged to invite friends and family to our church events, but how could we invite friends of color when they'd stand out so much among a sea of white congregants?  

I know this to be true:  when you aren't represented, you know it.  You feel it.  You see it.  And others do too, even if they don't say so.  

And it's really awkward, uncomfortable, and often offensive.  

We worked hard, very hard, to find a diverse church.  But when I asked church leadership about their diversity, many would say yes, their church was diverse.  But then we'd visit and there'd be maybe two multiracial families (almost always at least one of them was an adoptive family).  Or when I'd ask about diversity, the leadership response would be "we're working on that."  

What does that even mean?  Working on diversity?  

I didn't want to be the token multiracial family who would suddenly appear on the church website or social media feed in order for that church to prove they were welcoming of people of all races.

Thanks, but no thanks. 

Yes, I'm skeptical.  White America, which exists everywhere, even in church, and today is SUPPORTED BY people who claim to be Christian, makes me very uncomfortable.  

It's not that we believe a church has to change their values based on current events.  But BECAUSE of current events, the church should step up their already proclaimed values.  

After an exhaustive search for the perfect (or even slightly flawed) diverse church, we realized it just didn't exist.  So we decided to attend a church I had heard about once from our girls' first mentor. 

A Black church.

My main hesitation was not standing out as two white adults with four Black kids, or the scrutiny we might face, as we so often do, for being a multiracial family.   Were we good enough to parent Black children?  What were our motives?  


My main hesitation was this:  were we inappropriately taking up seats in a safe, Black, sacred space?  How would congregants and staff feel seeing two white adults sitting in a church service, many of them not even knowing we had four Black children in children's church?  Were we invading a space that was not meant for us, and rightfully so?

It's not our space.  It's not our place. This is what I told myself in the days leading up to the Sunday we planned to attend for the first time.

But as parents-by-transracial-adoption, it's not even close to being all about us (as the parents).  It's about the kids and the family unit.  

We ultimately decided that we were making this choice for our children.  Not attending church wasn't an option for us.  Attending a church that treated my family as tokens also wasn't an option.  Attending a church that preached love but not standing up to injustice wasn't an option.  Silence is compliance.

To be honest, we felt we were out of options.  If this church didn't work for us, we were done searching.  Because searching is exhausting.

And it turns out, being "out of options" is a really GOOD place to be sometimes.  

I don't mean to say the church we attend was our last choice or last resort.  It wasn't.  We actually re-discovered it at the tail-end of our search (the search we about gave up on).  I talked to the girls mentor about it, and then a friend (fellow mom-by-adoption) who had recently attended with her Black daughter.  But I was holding back out of respect for the church.

I messaged the church admin to ask questions.  She hooked me up with the children's ministry coordinator, in which I asked many more questions.   They both said to me, when are you coming?

It was time.

The experience was amazing.   The church was so ALIVE.  The music, the preaching, the people.  People were hugging us on the FIRST day we attended.  Introducing themselves to my kids.  Not a single whisper, second-glance, or sigh.

So we went back again.  And again.  And again.

A few weeks in, a woman stopped me, my husband, and my second daughter after service and asked if she could talk to our daughter.  We were bewildered, but agreed.  The woman bent down and looked into my daughter's eyes and said, "You are very beautiful.  I want you to know that."  

My daughter (an introvert) quietly replied, "Thank you."   

A few weeks later, my oldest kept telling me she wanted new glasses "like that lady at church."  I had no clue who she was talking about, as there are hundreds of women at church.  Then the next Sunday, my daughter discreetly pointed out an usher, a young woman with fashionable, clear glasses.  So after church, we approached her and told her how much we loved her glasses, and my daughter had a similar pair on order.  The young woman was so sweet to my daughter, telling her she couldn't wait to see her new glasses.

These may seem like small things, but small things add up. 

The truth is, we feel really safe in a church where we are surrounded by people who look like our kids.  I don't worry if someone is petting my girls' braids or interrogating them ("How long did that take?  Did you have to sit still for hours?").  Not ONCE have we been asked if we're the babysitters, the foster parents, or even the "adoptive" parents.  My kids love that their teachers are Black.  

We sit in the sanctuary with so much appreciation.  There's no bashfulness or lengthy explanations for being concerned about another white person calling the police on a Black person for ridiculous things, another shooting of an unarmed Black person, a tweet from #45 that is so clearly racist.   We don't worry about an off-handed comment that sounds like it came straight from a Fox news anchor.  

Because we are all concerned.  Because we all see it for what it is.  

My kids are happy, safe, and embraced.  What more could we ask for as parents?  

And we leave church feeling like we learned.  We learned about God.  We learned about the Bible.  We learned about being better parents and spouses.  

We leave encouraged.  We leave better.  

Not tired.  Not tolerated.  Not used.  

It's incredible.  

If you're feeling lost in today's culture, I completely get it.  You can even be like us:  know who you are and what you want, but struggle SO much to find a house of worship to support and refine that.  

If you're searching for the right church for your family, please do not give up.  Because we almost gave up.  And if we would have, we would have been even more lost, confused, and hurt.  

Keep looking.  Keep asking questions.  Keep pursuing. Make an effort.  Visit churches.  

And don't feel guilty for leaving the white evangelical church if that's what your family needs. 

You were CHOSEN to parent your children.  You were CHOSEN to do what's best for them.  And that doesn't stop on Sunday mornings.  

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