Social Justice Articles 2
As a nondenominational church, we are free to evolve spiritually without the conflict and sanctions experienced by other churches still bound to established denominational doctrines. However, we have had considerable reaction from mainline churches in our area over the past 11 years. The good news is that our tremendous work in serving homeless recovering people and other outreach has acted as a shield to deflect the fiery darts of condemnation hurled towards us.
In 1998, Exodus Missionary Outreach Church created a 501 © 3 non-profit called Exodus Homes to carry out the mission of the church in the community by providing faith based supportive housing to homeless recovering addicts, alcoholics, and formerly incarcerated people returning to the community from treatment centers and prison. Our effectiveness has been heralded nationally all the way to the White House. We began with one house and five beds in 1998, and today we have 94 beds in ten locations in Hickory. The phenomenal growth of Exodus Homes is a dramatic story of miracles led by Rev. Longcrier as Executive Director, and myself as Assistant Executive Director. He is the visionary and I’m the administrator. He’s wise and I’m organized! We set the tone of diversity in the church and the housing program with him as a brilliant streetwise black man, and myself as an intellectual college educated white woman. Only God could have put this together!
Addiction and incarceration affect people of all races, so as the housing program grew with a diverse population, so did the church. As a faith-based organization, residents of the housing program are not required to attend the church, but 99.99% do because they long for a relationship with a Higher Power to help them change and live drug free. Our universalist gospel of inclusion helps those who have rejected an angry condemning God to receive the unconditional love and power they need to become law abiding productive members of society.
As they find their transformation in the church, their family members and friends are drawn in as well. The prison ministry and strong outreach component cast a wider net for God, which draws in traditional Christians who long to serve in a ministry that is truly making a difference in the community. The fact that the congregation is already racially and socially diverse fosters growth in that direction. Our 300 member congregation worships in our own church home today, and is approximately 65% black/35% white, 90% straightl/10% LGBT.
This beautiful patchwork quilt of diversity is an ongoing experiment in racial and cultural tolerance. We have to work through our differences in a Christ-like way. Should the lesbians on the choir be allowed to wear what the men are wearing at concert time because they are uncomfortable in dresses? How can we balance the love of contemporary and old time black gospel music? What about traditional white hymns? How about the length of service? Black churches tend to have longer services than white churches. Should the chitlins be put out at the covered dish dinner, or be kept in the back where people have to ask for them?
The key to successful racial and cultural diversity in the church is to acknowledge our similarities and embrace our individual differences while avoiding generalizations and stereotyping each other because within each subgroup is great diversity as well. I play a mean tambourine on the gospel choir, and sometimes people will tell me – “Wow - you’ve really got rhythm for a white girl!” Yes, I like fried fatback too, and my daughter is gay, but that doesn’t make me black or a lesbian. I’ll pass on the chitlins. I’m white – and that’s alright!
We Are All One in Christ Jesus, But help me with the Chitlins!
By Minister Susan Smith
Exodus Missionary Outreach Church www.exodusoutreachchurch.org
Over 40 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King said that 11:00am is the most segregated hour in America, and this is still true today. Why? As I look back at my journey, I am fortunate that I was not raised in the Christian church because those who were are rooted in denominational traditions and cultural norms that make it difficult to embrace diversity in an evolving spiritual environment. Many people have left the church because it’s teachings are not relevant, or promote religious based bigotry that is offensive in modern society. Those who are still in the church often offensively try to protect what is left, rather than risk change. However, pockets of change do exist, and churches that are evolving spiritually are evolving in congregational diversity. I am very fortunate to serve in such a church in Hickory, N.C.
Rev. Reggie Longcrier is African-American pastor who founded Exodus Missionary Outreach Church in 1997 as a multi-ethnic nondenominational church serving ALL people, after years of frustration pastoring in the AME Zion denomination which tied his hands with its heavy layers of tradition and bureaucracy. With life experience as a recovering heroin addict and years of incarceration, Rev. Longcrier had a passion for prison ministry and reaching marginalized recovering people. His effectiveness as a prison chaplain and preacher who could reach “the least of these” drew diverse people into the AME Zion church, and as he brought them in the front door, his congregation was running them out the back door. When he left in 1997 to start Exodus church in a funeral home chapel, the AME Zion denomination stripped him of his ordination and banned him from their pulpits. The price of transformational leadership can be high.
At that time, I had just moved to Hickory from Charlotte, leaving my home church which was a 2500 member African-American congregation where I and my two children were the only white members during our five years there. The story of how I came to accept Christ in a black church at age 37 is too long to tell here, but suffice to say that by the time I got to Exodus Church in Hickory, I had already been on an intense spiritual journey as a lone minority in a an upscale evangelical black congregation where much of what I heard offended me deeply. I loved the people, but I could not tolerate much of what they taught me about God and the doctrines of right wing Christianity. We argued for five years, and they could have asked me to leave, but our love for each other somehow kept us together. Love overcomes a multitude of disagreements.
Since my spiritual awakening had occurred in the black church, I was “imprinted” to be most comfortable in an Afro-centric environment. After moving to Hickory, I read a newspaper article about the new church and went the following Sunday even though I was skeptical. What kind of church can be born in a funeral home chapel where we experience tears and sorrow? When I arrived on the third service of the new church, I was pleasantly surprised to see that I was not the only white person there. I was no longer the only “dot” in the congregation. Beginning with a larger minority of white members within a primarily black congregation made it easier for other white people to come. As one of two white ministers at Exodus today, Rev. Longcrier says I have a “ministry of presence” in the pulpit. My presence tells other white people in the congregation that it is ok to be there.
As a church for ALL people, we accepted and affirmed LGBT people, and honored all faith groups from the beginning. Exodus is the only church in our area that holds joint services with Unitarian Universalists and Muslims. We are a radically inclusive congregation because Rev. Longcrier is a radically inclusive person.