Racist or just “comfortable”? – Racial Division in the Church

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When you think of an inclusive, all-welcoming place, what comes to mind? Ok, besides heaven, it should be the local church. However, we are still so far from that reality.

Think about for a second. The majority of the time, people work together, shop together and then divide into predictable little clusters every Sunday single morning.

I don’t know about you, but it’s been this way most my life. Churches are the most racially divided public institutions on the planet, in my opinion. Same goes for Christian television. For instance, watch the Trinity Broadcasting Network; if they announce a a Black host, (often) the guests are going to also be Black or minority. Coincidence? I’m don’t think so.  The church is color-stuck.

Back in the day….

I became aware of this dichotomy years ago. Growing up in the predominately African-American Church of God in Christ , Sheffield Family Life Center [church] was a culture shock to me. Newly divorced, emotionally broken and deeply wounded, I yearned for a “God-experience” and I found it there. Sheffield was my answer to prayer. Every sermon the pastor, Dr. George Westlake, delivered was spot on target and eerily spoke to very specific struggles in my broken, hopeless personal life. This went on for years.

In a short span of time, I was somewhat oblivious to the fact that the church was maybe 75 percent white. I just felt so loved and nurtured by those people, I forgot the dynamics of the congregation.

Honestly speaking, I didn’t really understand their music, the way they clapped or how they worshiped. But, there was no doubt- absolutely no doubt – in my mind that God called me there. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a initial inner battle being with so many people different from me. In the beginning it was incredibly rough, to say the least. To add ‘hot sauce to my onion’ was the fact that my friends (and even some strangers) criticized me for attending “that white” church.

One day, for a work project, I needed to meet with an older, prominent Black preacher to ask a favor on behalf of the nonprofit for which I worked. The meeting went well and he agreed to my work-related request.  Then, at the conclusion of the meeting, he asked the loaded question.

“What church do you attend, dear?”

I can still remember the disappointment on that pastor’s face as I replied “Sh-Sh-Sheffield”. Although gracious, he let me know, in no uncertain terms, that I had “abandoned the churches of the Black struggle”.

Suddenly, I felt the weight of the entire civil rights movement on my shoulders. At one point,  I thought he was going to get a strap and give me a “beat down”, but he didn’t – at least, not physically. I did leave there with my feelings hurt, but my heart was resolute. I was growing in “that white church” and that, for me, was priceless. I couldn’t have cared less what “color” that pastor was. I had the same determination as the woman with the issue of blood – I needed the help that only Jesus could give and didn’t care who could give it to me. Does that mean I could not have grown spiritually in a black church? Maybe so, maybe not. But, that church had what I needed at that time in my life. 

Sheffield, over the years, grew more and more diverse and it’s composition now reflects what I think heaven will look like. For me, Sheffield represents a slice of the ideal – a whole bunch of people that look differently, speak differently (some even speaking different languages) -all worshiping a mighty God together.

Now, many years later, I’m married to a wonderful pastor in an incredible Black church full of loving, amazingly caring people. Let me tell you, these people love Jesus! And, I can see that diversity is finding its way to us and our arms are wide open. From time to time, we fellowship with other churches and Caucasian people have preached in our pulpit – and my husband preaches in theirs. Progress has made it’s first footprints.

However, some would say, it’s taking too long for the corporate Christian church to expand beyond race and ethnicity. I understand the dilemma when language is an barrier, but what about when it isn’t?

So, I ask you:
Why aren’t more churches more culturally diverse? Is it an issue of convenience, racism or just being comfortable with people like us?
What is the real issue? Is it deep-rooted in America’s (or, in my case, Kansas City’s) racist history?  Or are people just more comfortable worshiping with people that look like them?
What’s the deal?
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Life is all about freedom, right? Freedom to serve, freedom to support others and free to be … well…free! Join this mom, pastor’s wife and Christian woman on her journey to be relevant, whole and Godsy – typos and all!

12 Comments

  1. I have NO idea! It is completely foreign to me that anyone thinks and acts this way, maybe because I live in a real “melting pot” (new mexico) and everyone hangs out with everyone and I forget sometimes that there is segregation in other areas, that people stick close to people “like them” – but to me, the more variety, the more delicious the mix is….

    I think it was Khalil Gibran who said “if we confess our sins one to another we would laugh at our lack of originality”…..

    we are all one in Him – let us pursue UNITY with one another and enjoy the sweet fellowship that comes from being together….

  2. Hello Ms. GODSY GIRL. WOW, I love your article and will continue to read your blogs. I myself am a writer of my newsletter titled MY WALK IN FAITH, and this is something that I am dealing with now. Race relations and the church. Thank you for sharing and may GOD continue to bless you.

  3. You really stirred up something within me. I grew up dealing with racial issues. Not acting black or my speech was too proper. I honestly feel that it starts at home. If one grows up in a home where race is an issue, they will carry those idealistic ways throughout life. A cycle has to be broken somewhere. You have inspired my next blog…be on the look out! Thanks!

  4. Okay Okay I’m trying to sum this up without responding with a whole blog of my own!
    Why aren’t churches more culturally diverse?
    1.Because of where they are located. For instance the closest churches to my home are predominately white. Only about 5% of people in our community are African American and the other 5% are a mix of Native, Asian, and Pacific Islander.
    2.Is it an issue of racism or just being comfortable with people like us?
    For me, I would say an issue of comfort and not thinking-stepping outside the box. I don’t consider myself racist but I don’t want to drive far to visit a church that is more “cultured” than mine. (I really just don’t even think about taht)
    The real issue?
    1. Churches get caught up in their plan which may not be God’s plan. 2. I know you, Godsy Girl, wrote a blog about Agism recently. In my community I would say that racism plays out more in that frame than in the colored area. Churches are made up of young and single or families and elderly, which I find highly discontenting.
    My question: I grew up around a lot of African-Americans (in my old church not necessarily at school). I feel comfortable with them and if I thought about it on Sunday mornings I may just have to get up early and drive to a church that is more African-American or maybe God will move me to get my church “cultured” in to 2011! However, I have never been to an Asian, Native American, Pacific Islander predominant church. When speaking of racism do we, as Christians, think of these people and their culture also? Or do we just think of African-American verses Caucasian?
    I also think your blog could apply to church denominations just as easily. Why do their have to be Baptist, Methodist, Non-denominational, etc.? We all believe in the same Jesus Christ, what does denomination have to do with anything?
     okay, that’s it..I know It’s long. 

  5. Hmmm…good point. Denominations bug me. But sometimes, the race and class issues played a role in their formation too, ex. Methodist/AME, Assembly of God/COGIC, etc.

    Interesting.

    I think language/culture does play a role in the “comfortability” factor, don’t you guys?

  6. Language/culture does play a role in the “comfortability factor. Some people would feel that they could relate more to people of their “own kind”. When I think back on how I joined Macedonia, I joined because that is where God led me and that I was and am currently receiving the TRUE word of God. I also love how we embrace other race and cultures.

  7. This has been something has troubled for awhile great blog post! Perhaps we need to be intentional meaning having a diversity outreach minister of some sorts!

  8. Godsy Girl, this has really been on my heart now. Thanks for a great post. We must be intentional about first seeking God’s will for our church and then going after that. I think being “comfortable” is one of the worst spots a Christian could be in. As our love for ALL people we should seek to make our church show that – in actions, not just looks. Thanks for another thought provoking post.

  9. Boy, this was a hot topic. Thnx for all the thought-provoking comments on the blog, email and on Facdbook. In the end, we all want to love the way Jesus loves regardless of ethnicity, personality or zip code. Sometimes, that’s tough, but through the Holy Spirit we can do it. Guys, pray that I learn to reach further to love others – even when it’s awkward, inconvenient and just plain “strange” for me.
    1 Cor.19:19

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