Purple: The Color of the Privileged Church

8 04 2019

PurpleI can accept purple candles during Advent, and purple paraments during Lent; and purple hymnbooks and choir robes don’t bother me a bit.  But seasons of the church year and aids to a congregation’s music program aside, purple is a color that really doesn’t look all that good on the Church.   Like a chameleon that changes color according to it’s surroundings, the color purple makes congregations appear to be unable at best, or unwilling at worst, to take a prophetic stance on issues that are important to a society: particularly issues that Scripture and the traditions of our faith have gotten wrong for so long!

Sadly, in too many instances, purple appears to be the Church’s constant color of choice!  Perhaps it’s because article after article continues to challenge pastors to better learn how to embrace their purple congregations, or to simply accept the polarization that has been on the rise for the past two years in Trump’s “greatness-seeking” America! Perhaps it’s because so many churches are dying, and doing anything that might in any way challenge or upset the remnant would only hasten our demise.  Or perhaps it’s because we pastors aren’t able to distinguish between being partisan and being political, and as such, we think that anything that challenges policies of those in office might be perceived as our endorsing one party over another.

Whatever the reasoning, these days, churches and clergy everywhere appear to love the color purple.  Last week, even NPR’s Tom Gjelten, from “All Things Considered,” jumped on the bandwagon with an April 6 segment on “Pastoring a Purple Church.”

But before we completely give up on our blueness, or our redness, let’s take a  moment to carefully consider the nature of this new purpleness!  Before we call in the Fab Five from “Queer Eye” to help us change our image and update our look, perhaps we need to go back to our message.    

You see America has always been diverse; and churches have always had to deal with congregations full of people with differing political perspectives.  Most churches have knowingly and unknowingly understood that guiding principle: “In essential unity.  In non-essentials liberty.  In all things love.”  As a result, civility has guided our conversations; and when it came to “non-essentials”, red and blue managed to coexist.  For generations, we were able to stay ‘on message’  . . . at least when it came to the essentials, and in spite of our many differences over non-essentials.

But things are different today.  And they’re different because we appear to have forgotten our message.  All of a sudden . . . everything seems to be a non-essential: truth, honesty, integrity, humility, kindness, compassion, grace, mercy . . . and it doesn’t ever seem to end!  These are the issues dividing our country and churches today, and there is nothing non-essential about them.  They are all essential characteristics of anyone seeking to follow Jesus, and they need to be proclaimed from every pulpit, in every American church, and with prophetic boldness.  The issues dividing America today are NOT the traditional red and blue issues that have divided America for so long:  issues like the size of our government, the purpose of social programs, or the role of the military.  Americans always have and always will disagree on these issues and countless others.  And our democracy can and will continue to survive in spite of the differences that exist in these areas.

But those are not the concerns of so many Americans today.   Today, the issues of concern have to do with the way we treat people, particularly those who are not like us.  Today, the concerns facing so many Americans have to do with truth-telling, and being honest in our dealings with others.  Today, peoples’ concerns center around our society’s failure to confront the racism and sexism that plague our nation, along with countless other ‘isms’ and ‘phobias’ that continue to marginalize others.  And these issues, and countless other essential issues like them, are the very issues that resulted in the crucifixion we are even now preparing to remember.  So they must be addressed.  They can never be pushed aside, as if they simply fall into a category of non-essentials!  Rather the Church is called to confront them all, head on, and with the boldness of the Jesus who rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, irritating and challenging the empire!

Unfortunately, what saddens me more than any of this, is that when it comes to the color of the Church today, it only seems to be the White Church, that has suddenly become a proponent of the purple Church!  And doesn’t that makes perfect sense?  For it is the large, traditional, White Church, that has the most to lose.

Churches that for so long have been a mixture of red souls and blue souls, are really not interested in staying, or even becoming purple.  They’re just interested in staying White.  They want to stay together not because they honor diversity, or because they value their differences, but because they honor, and they value, their Whiteness . . . their sameness!  They don’t have people from the LGBTQ community.  They don’t have people of color.  They certainly don’t have immigrants or refugees.  So is it any wonder that don’t want to hear “politics” preached from their pulpits?  They don’t want a ‘blue’ take on the Gospel.  And admirably, so they would say, neither do they they want a ‘red’ take on the Gospel.  But they don’t want a purple take on the Gospel either.  They want the good ‘ol White take on the Gospel — one that maintains their privilege, and that honors their fragility.

Which is why purple looks so bad on the Church — because the purple is just masking our Whiteness: a whiteness that denies the Gospel, that betrays the Christ, and that offends anything and everything that is holy.

So once again I ask, please, stop being an advocate for a purple Church!  We look terrible in purple!








Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: