When you think of an inclusive, all-welcoming place, what comes to mind? Ok, besides heaven, it should be the local church, right? However, we are still so far from that reality. Racial division does live in our churches; I fear it’s getting worse.
Think about it for a second. The majority of the time, people work together, shop together, and then divide into predictable little clusters every single Sunday 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 and anyone who says different is blind.
The same goes for Christian television. For instance, not so long ago, when you watch the Trinity Broadcasting Network; if they announce a Black host, (often) the guests were going to also be Black or minority. Coincidence? I’m don’t think so. The United States’ church is color-struck.
From a Black church to a White One…Racial Division in the Church.
I became aware of this dichotomy years ago. I had grown up in the predominately African-American Church of God in Christ. Newly divorced, emotionally broken, and deeply wounded, I felt rejected by my strict, legalistic church.
I yearned for a “God-experience” and, ironically, I found it in a church where less than 2% of the people looked like me.
You know, I didn’t even care.
One of the reasons I loved that church was because 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 fact, that’s why I stayed.
Not many Black people…but, I forgot… Of course, I “cognitively” knew I was one of few, but somehow I was oblivious to the fact that the church [was maybe] 75 percent white. I think I forgot to notice! I just felt so loved and nurtured by the people I forgot the dynamics of the congregation altogether. It didn’t matter.
Wait… truth check moment.
Honestly speaking, I didn’t really understand the music, the way they clapped, or how they worshiped. But, I had no doubt- absolutely no doubt – in my mind God placed me there.
I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t an initial inner battle being with so many people so very 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.
But, you’re a pastor, Man!
I have an example! One that blew my mind!
One day, I needed to meet with an older, prominent Black preacher in our community for work. I was to request 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 disapproval on that pastor’s face as I nervously replied “Sh-Sh-Sheffield”.
Although gracious, he let me know, in no uncertain terms, that I had “abandoned the churches of the Black struggle”.
I was floored. In fact, I was offended. Suddenly, I felt the weight of the entire civil rights movement on my young shoulders.
At one point, I thought he was going to get a strap and give me a fatherly “beat down”, but he didn’t – at least, not physically. He did verbally.
What that “white church” gave me.
I did leave his office with my feelings hurt, but my heart was resolute. Racial Division in the church was not going to be part of my story.
Why? Because I was growing in “that white church” and that, for me, was priceless. I couldn’t have cared less what “color” that the pastor was. In my view, he just happened to be white and I just happened to be growing spiritually. That’s all I needed.
I had the same determination as the woman in the Bible with the issue of blood – I needed the help only Jesus could give me and didn’t care about the package that help came in at all. Does that mean I could not have grown spiritually in a black church?
Maybe so, maybe not. But, Sheffield had what I needed at that time in my life.
Over time Sheffield became a melting pot congregation of various races and colors. It was beautiful. It did take a while and some people left as the church became more ethnically diverse. Still, that church was my answer to prayer.
For me, Sheffield represented a slice of the ideal – a whole bunch of people who look different from one another, speaking different languages, eating different foods – all while worshiping a mighty God together.
My life today
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 diversity is finding its way to us and our arms are wide open to it!
We reach out…
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.
Diversity has some challenges…
I understand the dilemma when language is a barrier to Christian fellowship, but what about when it isn’t? Why do we segregate on Sundays?
Is it because it’s better being around people we are more comfortable fellowshipping with? Is that right? I don’t think it is.
We shouldn’t be so lazy to reach across the community. Along the same lines, I don’t think our comfort is more important than true unity.
It really can be uncomfortable…
In fact, not long ago, my husband preached in an all Spanish church in our city. He had an interpreter. Their pastor preached at ours (he’s bilingual).
It was not convenient to drive so far from home to attend the church.
It was not convenient to try to interact with people who couldn’t understand me, nor me them.
It was confusing to sing songs in which I knew the melody but the words were different.
Yeah. It was awkward. Yet, it was one of the best Christian experiences I ever, ever had.
Let me tell you, I haven’t felt so loved as I did at that church service where most people couldn’t speak my language.
I felt Jesus in them and in their worship. I cried as the Holy Spirit showed me worship – and the Christian bond – transcends language and words. It was euphoric.
Truthfully, I wish I could share the name of the church, but I won’t. In the racist world we live in, I would rather protect them from the hate that exists in the nation.
What is the deal anyway?
So, I ask you regarding racial division in the church: why aren’t more churches more culturally diverse?
Part of it includes my 3 reasons for racial bias.
But, I’m not sure it’s that simple in church contexts.
Could it be about community demographics?
Do we attend churches closest to our homes?
Are we just more comfortable with people who share our race? If so, is it racist to be unwelcoming to those outside it?
Is it Godly?
What is the real issue in your opinion? Is the separation deep-rooted in America’s (or, in my case, Missouri’s) racist history?
Or again, are people just more comfortable worshiping with people who look like them? What’s the deal?
12 thoughts on “Racial Division in the Church”
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.
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.
Great Blog…perhaps we made need to become more intentional meaning getting a diversity outreach minister.
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!
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.
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.
I think language/culture does play a role in the “comfortability” factor, don’t you guys?
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.
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!
Thanks, I’ll check out each of your resources (“Church Diversity” and the newsletter- if online) as well.
Thanks again for commenting! 😉
You have to check out this new book coming out soon by Scott Williams called Church Diversity. Here’s the link to the site about it:
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.
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….
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