Freedom House Church did not seem all that free this weekend.
Makeda Pennycooke, the church’s executive pastor of operations, sent an email to church volunteers asking that “only white people” greet worshippers at church services. The email said that leaders anticipated an increased number of visitors in the coming weeks, and that since “first impressions matter,” the church wants “the best of the best on the front doors.”
An outraged church member received the email and sent it to local news station WBTV. The controversy is complicated because Pennycooke is a black woman, while senior pastors Troy and Penny Maxwell are white. Nonetheless, the church’s request was hard to misinterpret. ”We are continuing to work to bring our racial demographic pendulum back to mid-line,” Pennycooke wrote. ”We would rather have less greeters on the front door if it means that the few that we have will represent us the best.”
Freedom House, a diverse church in north Charlotte, has already apologized for the incident. “The email was sent by one of our longtime pastors in an attempt to emphasize that our greeting team reflect the racial diversity of our entire congregation,” a church spokesperson wrote in a statement to WBTV. “However, she admitted it was a mistake to over-emphasize any specific group and sent an apology email within 24 hours of the original email going out.”
Freedom House has four services every weekend. Five values drive its mission, according to the church website: “We are an equipping church (Ephesians 4:11-13); a relationally healthy church (Matthew 18:19-20); an excellent church (Daniel 6:3); a leadership church; and agenerous church (Proverbs 11:24-25).”
If anything, the incident serves as a reminder of another biblical passage, Apostle Paul’s teaching that the Christian gospel breaks down all barriers between humans. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female,” he wrote in the New Testament book of Galatians. “All of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
UPDATE at 2:15pm: Here is the full statement and apology from Freedom House regarding the incident.
One of our longtime pastors, in keeping with our church’s desire to be inclusive and intentionally reach out to all races, noticed our front door greeting team was no longer reflecting the racial diversity of our entire congregation, and she wanted potential visitors to see people like themselves upon entering our church. However, she made an error in judgment in requesting all white greeters at the front door, going overboard in placing emphasis on any one race over another in trying to highlight diversity within the greeting team. She admits this was a grave lapse in judgment and is sincerely sorry for her actions. She immediately apologized and has asked our forgiveness. She and senior pastors have made themselves available to meet with any church members who want to discuss this situation with them, and have communicated their true heart in this matter — to be a church welcoming and inclusive to all. Freedom House believes in a diverse relationship within its membership, reflecting the larger community in which the church resides, doing life together as a church representative of everyone — culturally, ethnically, economically, and generationally.