Preferred Segregation, the beginning

It was my understanding that Mandela murdered apartheid and King killed segregation. If this is so, why do I see these doctrines still defining my world?

            For two hours, I sat in the back of a brightly lit sanctuary as six-hundred fellow worshipers sang, danced, shouted, and even screamed in an effort to connect with the sovereign Creator of melanin. I never caught a starring eye or a whispering child, even as first time visitors were asked to stand and give their name. No one asked any questions because none were needed. The colored light that their rods and cones interpreted for them told my story. I was white…in a black church. This was not a problem, just a fact. After all, this is 2007 – the aggravated beast of racism has been dead for years, right? Confirmation came in the form of at least a dozen hands to shake during the welcome. All are welcome in God’s house!

            Worship styles were worlds apart yet completely expected. After seeing native Kenyans celebrate their God, the roots of “black worship” can be confidently attributed to African ancestry. Conversely, founding models of “white worship” are found in the subdued Protestant churches of Europe. Honestly, it was quite refreshing to break from stiff, light people half-heartedly lip-synching. In evangelical circles and beyond, a common generalization of black and white churches is frequently made. African-Americans possess a rich, vibrant worship while lacking thorough Biblical teaching; European-Americans celebrate deep, theological instruction and usually settle for tame, unenthusiastic worship. This dichotomy of standards, although not universal, has plagued the existence of the Church for quite some time. 

            Neither acceptance in a black church, nor differing worship styles were the focus of my cognitive elaboration during the visit to Consolidated. Before, during, and after this experience, I have exclusively dwelt on the inadequacies of the Church in relation to its polarizing nature. As a follower of Jesus Christ and a firm believer in His Church, I struggle on many levels with what I interpret as a contemporary form of segregation in religious spheres. The church that I was absent from this particular Sunday morning possesses not one single African-American soul (short of my biracial brother). Consolidated would have failed this diversity test as well if it weren’t for my presence. My question is this: Is the segregation of the Church a division in the Kingdom of God? As a universal body of believers who exist in a nation that boasts of diversity and the outdated nature of segregation, we still seem to reflect the laws that once unjustly defined America. If I was on the outside looking in, I would be skeptical of any mission that the socially-constructed races were not able to unite for. Blacks worship with blacks, whites preach to whites, blacks serve blacks, and whites pray with whites. This unfortunate reality is not consistent with the teachings of Christ. It seems that the walls of segregation were never torn down in the Church.

            It is quite obvious that the vast majority of churches will never naturally evolve into diverse settings – so the question remains: Is a strategic integration necessary? There are churches around the country that purposefully hire ministers of various races to achieve diversity in the church. But is this “manipulation of the system” justified? In my assessment, the overwhelming component of this segregated system (besides cultural and racial history) is varying manifestations of worship. Similarly, Pentecostals don’t spend Sunday mornings with Baptists. So the question becomes substantially bigger than that of the races.

               In my humble opinion, I interpret the segregation of churches (both racially and denominationally) as divisions in the Kingdom of God. I am pessimistic of its repair. If the mutual love and adoration of Christ can not lead us to realize ultimate integration in all arenas of life, then nothing will. We will forever exist and function as black and white Churches who value diversity but aren’t willing to make strides and sacrifices to bring it to fruition.

Recently, I sat down with Reverend Richard Gaines of Consolidated Baptist Church (the biggest African-American church in Lexington) to discuss these delicate issues. In the next couple of post, the fruits of our conversation will be relayed to you. I pray that his insight and wisdom will help spark some further discussion.                   


11 Responses

  1. I agree with you brother.

    I am sure you know, but The Decline of African-American Theology is now available. I would add it to your Christmas wish list.

    May I have permission to add this post and those pursuant to a ML briefing.

  2. please do…whatever will help spread this incredibly important message.

    thank you for your agreement.

  3. solid.

    I cannot help but bring to mind what Francis Chan talked about briefly in ATL during Passion ’07 . He mentioned how there are many moments when we look at the churches we are in today – then we look at the picture of the church in scripture – and the two pictures definitely do not match up.

    -This post also brings to mind a rather sweet mission trip that occurred over spring break last year. Our group stayed 5 nights in First Baptist Slidell Slidell, LA … This church consisted of a beautiful balance of both black and white members. (the church was formed after Katrina when a previously “all white” church welcomed in a “all black” church under its wing after being destroyed in the storm.) Anyway, my observation is this: Staying in First Baptist Slidell was not only a blessing, but it was a beautiful picture of how the church should look (Acts 2 & 4)… I could see a picture of the gospel even before I listened to a sermon from their pulpit. In fact, I’m willing to go out on a limb here and say that the simple unity that I witnessed in that church body clearly screamed the gospel a lot louder than hundreds of sermons that I have listened to about ‘loving your neighbor as yourself’ in the past.

  4. You may have read my post about integrated churches being a mark of a Spirit-led church, since they defy the natural order of things, which is segregation (by race, income level, etc.).

    I always try to look at this from the eyes of people in other countries. Churches here in Moldova are segregated too, but not by color. There are Moldovan/Romanian churches and Russian churches. While the ethnicities of the congregants might be mixed (somewhat…you can’t tell by looking!), the languages are different.
    America is the only place I’ve seen where people have lived there together hundreds of years, speak the same language, and yet divide themselves by color on Sunday.

    But, they divide themselves just as much by income levels too, so it’s not just purely a racial issue. (It’s a sin issue?)

  5. You’re exactly right with regards to the income level dynamic, Justin. And that will be addressed in an upcoming post. I trust you will have ample insight.

    With regards to the sin issue…I would love to start hearing some opinions. There are a few more post to go, so if you want to wait for the conversation to develop, I understand.

    Taylor…I had previously heard about that particular church in Slidell. I know it was a blessing for you to see that God honoring harmony. From what I have seen, diverse bodies like that have boasted of their integration since conception…meaning…they were founded with strong foundations in racial harmony. I’m not sure whether it is possible to achieve this in churches that have never in their existence embraced this concept. In your opinion, what would it take to see the local body in our area more accurately resembing the kingdom of God like First Baptist?

    Is it worth pursuing…should it be a priority?

    Or, as a society, are we too far gone?

  6. excellent point smitty… I think it is definitely true that most of these churches (like First Baptist) have been in harmony since conception – at least that is all I have noticed too.
    As for the question on the local body: Honestly I think it would take some serious revival (people gettin real with their faith)… It would also certainly involve believers going out and witnessing to others who are not like themselves, ie: the color of their skin. I think too often we focus on evangelism in the local body –> but we focus on evangelism to people who are just like ourselves. Basically, we say that it is good to witness to friends. True, But there lies the problem > If the average local body member only has friends of the same “race” then the kingdom is only spread amongst people of the same mold. So to get down to the root of it — I think part of the answer to the question is simply that as believers we should be making relationships/friendships with EVERYONE. Not just people who look and talk like we do. this seems kinda simple, but I think that it is on the right track…

    * Smity -What things come to mind (as solutions) when you begin to think how to remedy this state of the local body of believers? I’m hungry for some of your thoughts too…

  7. Well…many thoughts come to mind, and I will slowely present some of them as I post more on this topic. But one thing sticks out in my mind with regards to what you said. You said, “I think part of the answer to the question is simply that as believers we should be making relationships/friendships with EVERYONE.”

    I think this is brillant…and this is why. American evangelicals have not been slow to “minister” to individuals of different races, ethnicities, or cultures. As much as I would like to say that we have missed the boat completely by neglected and even negated these people groups from our “ministry radius”, I cannot. The underlying problem with our efforts is the attitude of our hearts when we approach such ministry. What we are indirectly communicating by our efforts is that we are the typical, normal followers of Christ and we are infiltrating your culture to show you how to be like us. Let’s face it…when we arrive on the scene in the urban context for mission trips…we arrive as the “Great White Hope.” When we travel abroad, we carry with us a subtle belief that the way our faith is expressed is orthodox and we would like to see you do it as we do. That was the major problem with the early mission efforts. They were not just converting to Christ…they were converting cultures as well.

    That is why what you said is so powerful. It is only when we starting developing actual RELATIONSHIPS and actual FRIENDSHIPS with the individuals that we will see our local bodies reflect the kingdom of God. It can no longer be “us” helping “them”. This attitude is extremely problematic. If we are exicited about going to another social context to serve because it will allow us to help people who are not like us…then we have completely missed the point and chances are we flirt with ethnocentrism. Consider this…why is it that we feel so good after serving or ministering to the poor, underprivaledged black communities? Why not go to the rich communities…after all…Christ did say that it is nearly impossible to get a rich man into heaven because they are so attached to their wealth. Why don’t we go there to serve instead of ethnic areas? I think that it is because the middle-class, white, suburban church sees these people groups as inferior. That is why we get so excited about ourselves when we enter into that type of context to serve. We see it as the “superior” helping the “inferior” – and our humility thrills us.

    Side note…

    It is not that we are supposed to become color-blind. No, we must all embrace our ethnicities. Even you, Taylor, are an ethnic child of God…you need to start seeing yourself as one.

    I am ranting and rambling at this point. Check out the next post.

  8. the ranting and rambling is certainly welcomed smitty…. those words are indeed spirit-filled, & fresh.

    > It would do tremendous good if that train of thought could be stated in front of an entire congregation in the pulpit on a Sunday morning. It might be a message offensive to many, misunderstood be a few, and life-giving to others; …and not to add to the words of Christ –> but I think His words to us would sound quite the same…

    We (me included) routinely grow comfortable in our methods and mindset. Sometime we shy away from speaking about things on our hearts (like this) just because we do not know how to articulate the thoughts… For this reason, this post + comments have been very refreshing and have helped stir my mind and attitude – and ultimately they have driven me to dwell upon knowing Christ more and looking at how he lived his life as an example for us > for this I am grateful.
    keep spillin’ your thoughts bro.

    christ up,
    satan down.

  9. In my limited experience church is an extremely localized community. Just like any average neighborhood, people stick to those that live close by…not so much because of any prejudice, but out of habit. Who is going to drive to a park on the other side of the city, safe or not, when there’s a park two blocks over?

    Church’s I went to in the Detroit area where generally pretty mixed…excuse me…biracial. But the location of the church’s were in very diverse neighborhoods. So if you find a black church on the black side of town, that makes sense. Not only is it comfortable race wise, but it’s close, it’s community within their community. People who live in more diverse areas have diverse communities in their church’s. The problem as you noted is church’s aren’t supposed to be “local” neighborhood installments. There should be some outreach, but that outreach by the church doesn’t necessarily mean there will be a return interest from the outside community. Unfortunately people expect the church to cater to them, and those in lower economic conditions are used to the service, grateful or not, and shouldn’t feel obliged to attend a church outside of their “local bubble” because the church extended a gracious hand.

    The integration problems facing the church stem from larger class and social integration problems obviously, but if you look at a church in terms of a business is there any difference between a black church in a black area than say a Walgreens with mostly black employee’s and customers in a black area? With so many church’s/Walgreens around why drive to one even a few blocks further?

  10. I think what frustrates me so much about this situation is the Catch-22 one can quickly find themselves in. On one hand, if you sit in your comfortable, suburban, all-you’ve-ever known church and never reach out (never think to, never feel led to, whatever) – it is as if you are contributing to the problem. But, on the other hand, if this thought springs up inside of you, or if someone brings it to your attention and calls you out, you can quickly be labeled as the person who is just doing something to feel good, to remove the guilt from previous inaction.

    In both cases I see a direct heart issue – and, unfortunately, I know of no man who can (truly) change his own heart.

    I’m personally (and I know you might be shocked by my use of this word) optimistic about the possibility of Christ actually bringing lost sheep into the fold and building His Church. In fact, I’m of the mind that He is doing such things right now – even in the places where it looks like He’s not.

    We can be a part of that – and I see our negligence as the greatest limiting factor. Our disassociation with this spiritual movement is what has led to the physical problems you now see. The Father is even now working, through the Spirit, to show His Son.

    May He wake all of us – even those of us who feel roused – to His mission of reconciliation: one that spans countless nations, cultures, and people.

  11. I truly appreciate your comments, Ricky and Trevor. And Trevor…dude…it’s good to hear from you.

    Ricky…with regards to your “localized community” point, I think that I disagree. In the next couple of posts, you will see why. I would love to continue the discussion. Lord willing, the new post will be up when you read this.

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