Dangers of a Homogenous Church
The Reverend Martin Luther King famously said in an interview with Meet the Press in 1960 that, “11 o’clock on Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours, if not the most segregated hour, in Christian America”. He goes on to say that he thinks that the Christian church should be integrated but that he thinks it’s something they will need to do themselves. The Reverend also comments that churches that refuse to integrate stand “against the Spirit and teachings of Jesus Christ” and “fails to be a true witness.”
Fifty years later, are we any better than we were? Are we as a church in America still standing against the Holy Spirit and casting shadows on the teachings of Jesus Christ?
LifeWay Research released the findings of a study which concluded that we are still quite segregated in our churches and that most houses of worship are okay with that fact.
The study asked 994 church attendees about race and the church. These were people that attended, at the very least, on holidays throughout the year.
Evangelical churches, who, according to Pew Forum, are more than 76 percent white, are also the most likely to say that their churches are diverse enough. Whites are also the least likely to say that their churches should become more diverse. The overlap leaves white, evangelical churches as some of the most mentally segregated in the country. I wish I could say that I was surprised to hear the results, but it matched up pretty well with mine and others’ experiences.
Granted, the study confirms that there are parts of each racial group that think their churches are fine the way they are. But it also shows that those most willing to admit that their churches could do more to be diverse are black and Latino, and those who are the most resistant to change are white.
Those are the hard numbers. Numbers that just prove what so many people are experiencing.
The white evangelical church has a race problem.
Now, if you’re thinking, “NO WE DON’T,” I hate to tell you but you are part of the problem.
That is, unfortunately, the total hands-over-ears-eyes-scrunched-shut approach to racism in America that most white Americans are taking. This is why Black Lives Matter has been met with ALL LIVES MATTER. It’s a colorblindness issue. When you’re so busy saying you “don’t see race,” you soon find yourself surrounded by people who look exactly like you.
We all find comfort around people who share our interests and backgrounds, but when we make that comfort contingent on race -especially in church- that’s when we step away from the Gospel.
Jesus was not white. The long history of making him look western and caucasian comes from people wanting the Savior to look like them to make them comfortable. Worshiping a white Jesus is the same as worshiping yourself, your own desires, and your own comforts.
The white Evangelical church is very hard at work in black and Latino neighborhoods. They donate to school supply drives for underprivileged kids, volunteer at inner city soup kitchens, they even send shoe boxes of Christmas gifts all over the world. But that’s where it stops. Congregations retreat to their white neighborhoods and get “filled” at their white Bible studies and white conferences with white speakers on the docket. They are willing to do anything except form personal relationships with the people of color that they are serving.
Probably the worst of all is the kind of white savior attitude that has created a culture of tourist evangelism. Spend two weeks in Africa, it’ll change your life. But will it change Africa?
One of the creators behind Instagram sensation Barbie Savior shared a story in an interview about how she went to a village to help build a building and the workers who helped them during the day had to go back and night and redo all of the work that those on the mission trip were doing wrong.
Why is it that we are willing to travel thousands of miles to help those we think need it most, and yet we’re still not be able to see anything but ourselves?
God does call some to international missions, but if you are not willing to accept that there are those in this country that suffer just for sharing the same shade of skin as the people you will get on a plane and spend thousands of dollars to serve, you probably shouldn’t get on that plane.
Reverend King said very boldly that those who accept segregation stand in opposition to the Holy Spirit. So I say to those who embrace the comfort of homogony, how can a church bring the Holy Spirit to Uganda, Kenya, Ecuador, or Thailand if you will not allow it into the building on Sunday?
How can a church that is okay with a lack of diversity on Sunday morning bring the Gospel to anyone outside of that church, regardless of the color of their skin?
How can a church that would think Jesus was a terrorist if he walked in the front door say that they care about Jesus’ people?
The Evangelical church has a race problem. Pastors know it. In fact, pastors are more willing than their congregations to admit they are not doing all they could do to be more diverse.
Why does diversity matter? Because for every white girl sitting in the pew listening to her white youth pastor, there is a black girl wondering why she can’t relate to anyone at youth group. For every red-blooded American boy on the fall youth retreat, there is a first-generation child of immigrants wishing someone shared his story.
When I was a youth ministry intern, I worked with a Christian after-school club. For reasons similar to those I’ve been writing about, all the black kids came to my group, and all the white kids went to Fellowship of Christian Athletes. I had a lot of kids that were in the foster care system and kids who were first-generation American. I will never forget the tears in one boy’s eyes as he talked about how hard it was to go to respite care on the weekends. I will never forget the laughter and sighs of relief as one girl rolled her eyes and said, “God forbid I speak English at home!” Those kids needed each other. They needed to hear about life and God from people who looked like them.
Jesus isn’t just for middle class white folks.
Jesus is for the Chinese girl who was adopted by white parents and has no one in her family or at church who looks like her.
Jesus is for the Ethiopian girl whose family wears traditional clothing to church and she feels embarrassed by it because everyone else is white.
Jesus is for the people of color in these churches who feel like a token, who feel like somehow they are everyone’s friend just to prove that person isn’t racist.
Jesus is for that black girl who speaks up and is told she’s “too angry” and for the black boy who is somehow “too white.”
When white Christians cover their eyes and their ears and say that those things don’t happen, they don’t have to put on a white hood to be destructive. When they say that a person wouldn’t have been shot if they just “behaved,” when they have given dirty looks to someone interpreting a sermon, when they have spoken about how lazy people on government assistance are, and contend that “I’m not-racist-I’m-stating-facts”; they don’t need to put on a hood.
The white evangelical church has a race problem. But first they will have to take their hands off of their eyes and their ears and get really uncomfortable with some harsh truths about themselves. You don’t need to drop the n-word to be racist and the only way to really understand how deep and destructive that mindset is is to fellowship with people of color who can tell you differently.