Dear Church, from Ty

This is part of a series of posts inviting friends to share their perspectives.

Allow me to introduce myself. I am Ty. I have the privilege of leading worship each and every week. My real name; however, is Tyrone, because I realized, when I was a child, that my opportunities may be limited based on my name and darker skin hue. I am a son of two strong, black parents, who are fearful that one day they could watch a video of their son being murdered and it be plastered all over social media. These past few weeks have made me feel like some people value my talent, but not my life. I am a brother, uncle, and friend. I am a human, and I am tired…

“Why do we keep scheduling the blackest of black singer, with the whitest of white singer at my campus?”

“It’s so dark outside that you can’t even see Ty!”

“Can you wear lighter colors on stage? It’s hard to balance the iris levels with you on stage because you’re so dark and everyone else is white.”

“I just love when colored people sing! Growing up they were my favorite singers.”

The saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” is dead wrong. Words do hurt! These, and similar statements, were said to me almost weekly for a year and a half at church. These are examples of microaggressions. Micro-aggression is a term used for brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative prejudicial slights and insults toward any group, particularly culturally marginalized groups.

In my experience, oftentimes, racism doesn’t show itself as blatant discrimination or hatred. It’s a friendly joke told by a coworker, a biased statement made by a close friend, or the lack of empathy or care by your pastor when you tell them about your experience as a black man at their church.

After too many experiences where people said the craziest things to me, I had to make a choice. I could leave because let’s be real, it would be 1000% easier to be in a diverse environment with a progressive community than stay where I was. I knew that staying would require work, but I wasn’t sure if my heart and spirit could handle it.

That’s the reality people of color face every single day. Because of life circumstances you have to make a daily choice to show more love, to extend more grace. You don’t want to come across as angry, so you lean into extremely hard conversations, even though internally you are uncomfortable, scared, and may want to throw in the towel. But our lack of privilege doesn’t allow for us to speak up with the loudest voice, or to rebel against the culture. So many of us sit in silence.

I decided that I would have hard conversations. I started with my team – my fellow worship pastors. I sat them down and told them: “This is supposed to be my church home, yet it doesn’t feel like a home.” I then challenged them to not allow micro-aggressive statements to be made, to not make racial jokes, and when they hear these types of things, to address them right away. I was met with some empathy, but mainly resistance. Questions like “What am I supposed to do?” “How do we get more diverse, if people of color are not applying?” I was discouraged yet persisted.

I am not a token. I am not just the talent, or your diversity. I am a human, who needs your voices to help shake up the system that has oppressed people for centuries. You can’t love us, our culture, our food, our fashion, our music, and be silent about the issues we face. We are all God’s children, so when one hurts, we all hurt.

1 John 3:18 “Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in action and in truth.”

When thinking of your church when it comes to diversity, ask yourself –
Does our church reflect any other culture with their graphics, musical choices, staff, executive leadership, sermon series, and community outreach? Many times, you get back what you put out. So if all you put out represents one particular culture, yet want other cultures to feel welcome, it’s unlikely you will achieve that goal.

1 Corinthians 12:14 “For the body does not consist of one member but of many.”

I was grateful that I was able to have those conversations, and while they were mentally and emotionally exhausting, they were necessary. Ultimately, overwhelmed with the weight of the exhaustion, I made the decision that, for the healing of my heart and restoration of my spirit, it was best that I moved on from my church. Two years later, I couldn’t be prouder of how that church and the Capital C church has stepped up in the fight against racism and racial injustice.

Romans 12:15 “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”

While the killing of George Floyd wasn’t the first and likely not the last time we will see racial injustice in our nation, as a body, the church has, for good reason, used its voice to speak up for the oppressed and marginalized this time. Collectively we need one another’s voices to be raised in unison because I can assure you that If I’ve experienced this in the church, many
others have as well.

Proverbs 31:8-9 “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

Many people have asked what they can do. We all realize that a simple social media post is a step in the right direction. Now the real work begins.

Here are some tangible next steps:

  1. Use your platform. If you are an ally, you have a responsibility to not sit in silence, even if it’s uncomfortable.
  2. If your circle of friends looks just like you, you need to expand your circle.
  3. Have conversations, ask the questions – healthy dialogue is good. You may have to get uncomfortable and initiate the conversations.
  4. Do your own research. There is so much research out there for you: books, movies, blogs, articles, etc.
  5. Move towards action. There are amazing organizations, locally and nationally, doing incredible work. It just takes a simple google search.
I am a human, who needs your voices to help shake up the system that has oppressed people for centuries. You can’t love us, our culture, our food, our fashion, our music, and be silent about the issues we face. Ty Winder Click To Tweet

Ty Winder is a recording artist, worship pastor, & dog dad. Originally from Baltimore Maryland, currently residing in Oklahoma City, where he is the worship pastor at Life.Church in Midwest City, OK.

You can connect with Ty on Facebook and Instagram.

Click here to read more posts from the “Dear Church” series.

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Jeremy Jernigan

This is the personal blog of Jeremy Jernigan. Husband to Michelle and father to five. Author of Redeeming Pleasure and Lead Pastor at Abundant Life Church in Portland.

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