One of the many complaints I get about Christians is the prevalence of believers who think they are somehow better than others. These folks just hate “bougie” Christians. An urban term derived from the French word “bourgeoisie,” you can spot a bougie Christian from a mile away. You can’t hold a conversation with them without feeling like they are preaching at you. They speak Christian-ese, using words that only folks “in the fold” know. They’re the Christians who make it seem like they’ve cornered the market on what it looks like to be a Christian. They hold fast to black and white, and diametrically oppose gray; there’s no gray with God. These Christians know all the answers.
This week, on a national scale, we encountered one of these folks in living color. With both consternation and fear, I sat on my couch Monday night and fired up my DVR to watch TLC’s The Sisterhood. From the creators of The Real Housewives of Atlanta, the show’s concept is to take an in-depth look at the lives of a group of pastor’s wives in the city of Atlanta. Usually, I’m not a big fan of reality television shows. There are better things I can do with my time (like watching paint dry), especially when it comes shows that tend to exploit the African American community. Now TLC comes up with the bright idea to enter the African American Church—a sacred space. As someone who loves the church, and particularly the African American Church, I decided to watch at least the first episode. I’m not too excited about the concept. Besides the fact that not one first lady appears anywhere in Scripture, the whole concept is paternalistic and makes me cringe when I see gifted women in church described in that way.
Enter Tara Lewis. Married to a Jewish convert to Christianity, the couple moved to Atlanta to pastor a church. After several weeks, the elders of the church asked the couple to leave. I’m sure we’ll learn the reason, but you have to wonder what happened. One scene in the show demonstrates how easily the bougie Christian effect can arise. One of the wives, Domonique Scott, decides to invite Tara and another pastor’s wife, Ivy Couch (a former member of R&B group Xscape), to her home to sit and chat. The following transpires within minutes of Tara’s arrival:
Ivy: “You look fabulous. What’s been going on?”
Tara: “We had a wonderful day today. It was amazing. God is gooooooood.” *waits*
Because we all know what the response is supposed to be, right? That’s church talk 101. All the time…All the time…God is good.
But it gets better. Ivy then asks Tara about racial identity and what she’s taught her children.
Tara: “They see themselves as Jewish and black…I think Christian. I think my spiritual belief. I think kingdom first. My color…it doesn’t matter…”
Ivy: “But when you say color doesn’t matter…in all honesty…it sounds better than the reality that we live in…society is going to see them as African American [children].”
Tara: “…before I am a human being, I am a Christian. Because I was known before I was even formed in my father’s womb, in my mother’s womb…one of the things you’ll learn about me is that I’m Kingdom…the Bible says first in the natural then in the Spirit. What reigns and rules in His authority, reigns and rules over society for God.”
Ivy (sidebar): “Are we at church? Is it Sunday morning?”
My thoughts exactly! I think Tara may have set the record for most out-of-context Scripture use in one conversation. But she’s not done.
Ivy (expressing concern about Tara’s use of cliches): “Don’t you want to be effective, Tara?”
Tara: “I am effective. I’m effective so much in the church. My effectiveness is not questionable.”
Ah ha!!!! You’re effective so much in the church. What about Monday through Saturday in the world? Would any of these people know any of the phrases or words you used? Don’t get me wrong, I’m Kingdom all day long. But we have to watch our language when we are talking to people who don’t know a thing about Scripture. And that’s the thing that frustrates me the most about “bougie” Christians: They don’t get this reality.
They probably love the bougie Psalm. They aren’t like the heathens. They walk in integrity (Psalm 26:11). They bathe in their innocence (Psalm 26:6). They don’t hang out with liars or hypocrites (Psalm 26:4). This is the five-star restaurant psalm. The filet mignon psalm. If it were a geographical location, it would be in Beverly Hills. And honestly, this psalm could perpetuate the stereotype. Why would anyone be interested in a God whose people feel that way about outsiders? I think the first part of the psalm clears up any misunderstanding.
“For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness” (Psalm 26:3)
A full recognition of God’s faithfulness causes a response that changes you from the inside out. You then begin to boast—not in what you have done for God, not in how effective you are in your ministry, but in what God has done for you. So how do you avoid bougie Christian behavior? A few tips for my girl Tara:
1. Keep God’s steadfast love before your eyes: Keeping this in mind gives us perspective. Because, real talk, God’s steadfast love and grace are the only reasons we are “in the fold.” (Psalm 26:3)
2. Extend that love to others in a graceful manner: God’s love isn’t just FOR us, it should flow FROM us. And it should be graceful. (Colossians 4:6)
3. Realize His grace was sufficient for you and should also be sufficient for others: In doing so, we realize where we’ve come from and can relate to others who may be in similar circumstances. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
4. Boast only One person—the Lord: Deflect all personal praise to the true object of our worship. Christ’s words still ring true, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all people to me” (John 12:32, author’s paraphrase). Boast in Him and He’ll do the rest. (2 Corinthians 10:17)
We’re only one week in, so maybe things change with Tara. But I’m scared. I’m scared she won’t be as effective as she purports because she doesn’t realize the importance of relating well with those who are outside of the church. A lesson we all need to brush up on.