Posted at the edge of town, where all could see, the sign read, “Whites only within city limits after dark.” It designated, beyond doubt, that you had entered a sundown town.
The sundown towns of pre-Civil Rights America were communities established with the intent to promote white-only residents within their boundaries. Any non-white persons had to be out of the city by sundown or face the potential of harassment, threats or violence. There were hundreds of them, discriminating not just against blacks but against all minorities. In 2005, well-known sociologist James Loewen wrote a book detailing the history of sundown towns, calling them the “hidden dimension of American racism.” For me personally, though, it wasn’t a hidden dimension; I grew up in the midst of a sundown town.
Raised in a predominately white community with a history of racist activity, I still remember my first interaction with a black student at school. My town consisted of nearly 20,000 people, and there was talk around school when Greg moved in. Before then, my only other encounter with black people was through church. My half Puerto Rican father, who was a pastor at a predominately white Baptist church, would occasionally lead our congregation to worship with predominately black churches on Sunday nights. Sometimes they would host us in their church, and sometimes we would host them in ours.
My hometown has long seen its days of blatant racism fade away, but I unwittingly imbibed the passive indifference and spite in the waters. Even now, as I sit here and think back on every conversation where I’ve sat in silence in the face of hate, it brings tears to my eyes. I would never advocate for segregation. But if it happens naturally, why fight for diversity? Why try to seek out interaction with people unlike myself?
Maybe you have asked yourself the same questions or maybe you’re just beginning to realize that you should. We often talk about diversity at The Village and how it helps us to look more like God’s precious kingdom. God has promised that He is redeeming people from every tribe, tongue and nation—a people who will one day be fully gathered together in the new heaven and new earth. But diversity doesn’t just help us mirror the kingdom; when the church brings diversity together in unity, under the banner of the gospel and the lordship of Christ, we more fully mirror the image of God.
Our God is triune, meaning He is three distinct persons in one substance. When we intentionally seek to interact with people who are different from us, we reflect the way God enjoys fellowship within the Trinity between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
When my dad loaded his people into vans and shuttled them over to the black neighborhoods for worship, he was looking back at the eternal fellowship of the three distinct persons in the Godhead, as well as looking forward to the eternal fellowship of believers from every tribe, tongue and nation.
Christian, there is no room for “sundown town” thinking for those who hail the Sun of Righteousness. His dawning never fades to sunset and His light dwells in prismatic splendor in His many-colored servants. Don’t live a monochromatic life. Dream in kingdom color. It’s better—I promise.