Statement from First United Church of Oak Park
"Our Lenten theme has spurred considerable discussion, with some people questioning the message. In practice with the Lenten spiritual discipline of fasting, our intent was to lay aside our usual frames of reference and open ourselves to hearing the Gospel message through the voices of Black People, Indigenous People, and People of Color. Our worship services in Lent have been diverse and beautiful. We pray that God oils the hinges of our hearts' doors that they might swing open gently to receive the good news of Christ's resurrection, which we all await at the culmination of Lent."
First United Church of Oak Park is a merger of two liberal denominations: Church of Christ and United Presbyterian Church USA – but some might argue it more closely identifies with a movement like Black Lives Matter. The church is celebrating the Easter season and has decided it is going to give up "whiteness" for Lent.
A banner outside the church reads: "Fasting from Whiteness: This Lent we build our worship life around the voices of Black people, indigenous people, and people of color."
No music, liturgies, prayers, confessions – nothing written by white people. Virginia-based Bishop E.W. Jackson, host of "The Awakening" on American Family Radio, says that's heresy.
"I think it's blasphemous," he tells AFN, "because what you're really saying is that the praises to God, the poetry written in honor of God, is not valid based upon the ethnicity or ancestral background of the people who wrote it. That is downright demonic."
First United Church says it will feature African-American spirituals, South African freedom songs, even Native American tunes … but no Bach, Brahms, Fanny Crosby, Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley or John Newton.
The Virginia pastor has some thoughts on that:
"It's no different than somebody saying, Well, if gospel music written by a black person is not something we're willing to acknowledge as Christian, we want to fast from that – everybody would agree, 'Boy, that's racist.' This is equally racist."
Jackson continues: "It is supremely arrogant, in fact, to tell God that you think he made a mistake in creation; that based upon way a person appears [or] of the complexion of their skin, that somehow they are not acceptable."
Still, Jackson urges believers to observe Lent. "I think it's a wonderful tradition because … it helps focus us on the resurrection of Jesus Christ," he offers.
Criticizing the celebration of "whiteness," Turning Point USA says First United Church is creating "disunity" and returning to "segregation times."