Riverside Church, an interracial, interdenominational, international, is the Flag ship of American Protestantism, and as such stands in the forefront of addressing racism in Christian Churches in America. Eleven o’clock Sunday morning has been called the most segregated hour in America; it is church time in the United States, and the time set aside to go to the various religious institution, which represent our faith. We may work together in areas of employment; we may ride the same transportation services in order to get to that work, but when it comes to spending time with thee Almighty, Americans prefer to sit next to family and friends or at least someone who looks like them. In America the country is better than the people. The views and values of the people do not always reflect the positions or visions of the country. It is the same in many churches. The church must at times be better than the congregation. The country holds high standards that each citizen must reach for. The mission of the church may at times exceeds the wishes and desires of the congregation. America works because she operates on this principle. Churches that are effective also work for the same reason. We must all seek to be guided by the Holy Spirit, and let our better angels guide and direct our feet.

The Leadership Role of Riverside Church

Riverside Church is not a black church. It history and experiences are different from the Black Church in America. Riverside Church is more like America, the country. People come to America from all over the world looking for a second chance and a spiritual transformation in lives and future. America says welcome, drop your hatreds and feelings of superiority and inferiority at the water edge and the airports, and join us in this newest experiment of God’s kingdom on earth. Learn how to put differences aside and work for the common good of all. The Riverside Church as the church of America welcomes the gifts, talents and diversity of the country and the world and says, Drop your fears at the front steps, this is God’s house and we have prepared a feast for you, there is room at the table come and eat.

The Church, unfortunately, has divided itself into two institutions. The congregation with its cultural diversity and underlining social issues still struggles to be the nice church as America struggles to be the “nice” country. There is no reference in sermons or music of the differences within the congregation. In the second institution, the social and religious mission of the Church is carried out. The hungry are fed and the needy are cared for. The meaning and mission of the Church comes alive in the second institution. Thousands of people come to the church for social and educational services during the weekday. They are grateful for the Church and its mission. The leadership skills and strategies required to pastor a church of this size and complexity are demanding. A pastor who becomes sensitive to and involved in all of the emotional details of congregational leadership would burnout in a short period of time.

The church requires strong management skills and a plan vision for the organization and management of a multimillion-dollar institution. The individual should have the same skills required to manage a Fortune 500 corporation, with people, goods and services. The individual should have excellent academic and theological preparations. The institution seeks an individual with the background and training of a college professor.

In Riverside Church, the increase in the Black population in the Church brought the awareness that the perceptions of peoples of color may be wrong. The silent majority of the Black middle class had traditionally remained in the “Black Church” calling little attention to themselves while quietly becoming wealthy and educated. Riverside could handle token “color” because of its social justice nature, but it was not ready for the natives to drive fancy cars and have advanced degrees and business operation experience. It is one thing to help the poor, it is another to have the poor transformed into a class for which there is no sociological guidelines to validate expectations. Riverside was out of its depth, and it struggled to gain its footing and some form of emotional stability, and in the process, they made all the wrong moves, mistakes, and in general behaved badly. The question and challenges for leadership, is how do you work with an organization, which changed its cultural expectations, not through any fault of its own, but as the results of the success of its own ministry. The world had come to the house of God, but was the house ready to receive the world? Jesus had invited thousands of people to come to the top of the mountain for a special sermon; He had the loaves of bread and fish, and plenty of wine, the question is could these people coming from different backgrounds get along? The Bible never finished telling us the story, but Jesus must have had a powerful message, and powerful leadership skills. He made them listen to His voice and His message rather than to their own voices and their own preconceived messages. Jesus did not listen to the people; the people listen to Him and His profound message. The people on that Mountain forgot who they were sitting next to and restrictions concerning who was and was not forbidden. It is in the church where the image that all men are made in the image and likeness of God must become a spiritual thought pattern. Sitting in the seat next to you will be hundreds of men and women of color and their families, and they are making a significant contribution to the church. Riverside Church as the flagship of American Protestantism, must take the leadership role in encouraging other churches to look at their multicultural populations and change the segregation and separation of God’s people. If man can work together in America, he can also pray together. Man speaks in many tongues, and God can hear the diversity of tongues, which creates the spiritual music of life.

The question is: Are the traditional Christian mainline churches really providing an open arm to a diverse population, or is the Christian Church a “white” Jesus church for people who look like a white God? The Black population thus causes the church to pay more attention to its true self. In the American experiment, the Black man forced the new country to redefine itself and to live up to the visions set down by the forefathers. The Black man is the lightning rod that constantly shakes up the society and turns it upside down when it is on the wrong path. The Black man came to the Riverside Church and ripped its seams wide open. The Riverside Church with its in-your-face approach to issues, forced the congregation to look at the ugly hidden face of racism and puts it before the throne of grace for discussion. Riverside can and didl handle the Black man coming in to Riverside and also the Asian and Latino man, and the Riverside Church will get back to the business of being the Church on the hill over looking the beautiful Hudson River listening to that Sermon on the Mount over and over again, and then going out and living the sermon in our lives.

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