Heavenly Diversity

This past Sunday, in my sermon “Looking Back to Move Forward,” I made the statement, “These two churches with completely different backgrounds, merged and has become one of the most diverse multi-ethnic, multi-generational churches in the Inland Empire, probably all of California, and quite possibly the nation!” While I do not have any hard statistics on the ethnic and generational diversity of churches across the nation, I stand by my statement. It is solely based on my own experiences and limited research. However, I would put CrossPointe Church Fontana up against any other church in the country on these two metrics, and I believe we will come out near the top of the heap. As the pastor and longtime member before that, I am very proud of my church’s diversity! Why? Because that has not always been the case.

When I first came to First Baptist Church Fontana, 25 years ago, the demographic was very different. This large, predominantly white, aging church didn’t have anybody that looked like me. But, I’d grown up in Fontana and had become quite adept at blending in, even with my 6’7” caramel-colored body. Translation: Even if I’m the only black person in the room, I have learned how to be comfortable around white, brown, yellow, and probably even green folks (haven’t come across any of those yet). I can start and carry a conversation with anyone. (I learned these things from my Dad, a fellow chameleon.) I learned to treat everyone with respect and to speak multiple dialects, from South Fontana “Vato” to North of the tracks Ebonics, and everything in between. Adapt, blend, get along.

Through my time at the church, I fell more and more in love with Jesus and with His church. It was important, because the church was full of sinful broken people like me. It is not impervious to the racism and racists ideologies that subtly wove their way through the fabric of the church. In Southern California, racism exists like everywhere else, but it is much more subtle than what I’ve heard of others experiences in the South. So, when you see it out in the open here, it catches you off guard, like seeing someone you know in a different context. You don’t immediately recognize them. When I recognized it, God usually stepped in and reminded me of my own brokenness and my own need for a Savior. His people are not perfect. All of them are a “Work in Progress” just like me. My responsibility was and is to love them.  Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35). I am to love others just as He has loved me! Meaning, even when they are wretched, when they say and do some disgusting things, I will make the choice to love them. By doing so, I learned the truth of Peter’s words, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)

All the credit goes to God, but I must recognize Pastor Dale Garland and the vision team he assembled, who discerned from the Lord that our church’s demographic was out of balance with the community we were trying to reach. God gave him the wisdom to seek out ethnically diverse staff in hopes that the diversity would spread throughout the congregation. God called me, the chameleon, to pastor this bunch of mixed nuts, and, hopefully model for them how to be comfortable in their own skin no matter how dark or light it is. To show them how, racially, we have our differences, but we can embrace those differences as part of the beautiful tapestry of humanity that God has created. We will make mistakes and feelings will get hurt. But we will love one another through it.

On Sunday mornings, when I look out over the congregation, I see how God has put together such a beautiful blend of people, a mix of young and old, the traditional and the contemporary. I envision Heaven being much like this with “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9) offering worship to our God for eternity. I wish every church could have that experience every Sunday.

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