The most segregated place in America…
…is a church on Sunday morning.
“… most of the major denominations still practice segregation in local churches, hospitals, schools and other church institutions. It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is 11 o’clock on Sunday morning, the same hour when many are standing to sing, ‘In Christ there is no East nor West.”
So said the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1963. Relatively little has changed in United States religious race relations. As we consider the second inauguration of President Barack Obama on the Federal King Holiday, as we celebrate the Sesquicentennial of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, I am led to wonder, why are we still so far apart?
According to co authors Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice writing in More Than Equals: Racial Healing for the Sake of the Gospel,
“Ninety percent of African-American Christians worship in all-black churches. Ninety percent of white American Christians worship in all-white churches.…Years since the incredible victories of the civil rights movement, we continue to live in the trajectory of racial fragmentation. The biggest problem is that we don’t see that as a problem.”
Is it a problem? What is it in a post racial, modern America, where the percentage of interracial marriage is at an all-time high according to an article published last year in the Huffington Post that keeps us apart when we worship on Sunday mornings?
“Interracial marriages in the U.S. have climbed to 4.8 million – a record 1 in 12 – as a steady flow of new Asian and Hispanic immigrants expands the pool of prospective spouses. Blacks are now substantially more likely than before to marry whites.”
Homes and families have become increasingly racially diverse; houses of worship have not. What’s up with that? Even with the rise of so-called mega churches, where thousands join themselves together in corporate worship, while the numbers are better, religious race relations there are not.
Mega church expert and professor at Connecticut’s Hartford Seminary Scott Thumma collaborated with the Dallas-based Leadership Network, a Christian non-profit consultancy on a study finding that minorities comprise 20% or more of worshippers across nearly 1200 mega churches nationally. That’s a good bit of diversity, but as mega churches represent only .3% of estimated congregations in the US, that religious diversity might be good for them, but not good enough for the rest of us, yet.
Sociologist Michael O. Emerson, director of Rice University’s Center for Race, Religion and Urban Life writes that while the predominance of integrating mega churches have white leadership, white Christians tend, statistically, not to remain in black-led congregations. What’s that about? Is the witness of the church hindered by a lack of diversity? What if people choose to join themselves together in worship based upon affinities rather than exclusion? Is it still wrong? Does it matter?
Does it matter? Co-authors Perkins and Rice argue that religious racial reconciliation is critical, not solely for the sake of racial harmony–even though it will lead to that–but for the witness of the gospel.” Dr. Catherine Meeks, Professor of Socio Cultural Studies and professor of Social Science and Director of the Lane Center for Community Engagement and Service at Wesleyan College in Macon, GA writing in the Huffington Post believes
“Racial reconciliation is not optional. It is God’s intention to reconcile all of humanity and it is a good idea for modern day Christians to become more intentional about it if there is any real interest in following God and seeking God’s will.”
So, will Americans ever learn to move beyond the legacy of slavery and racial inequality that keeps us apart? Does the first African-American President taking his second oath of office on both the 1861 Lincoln bible AND the one Rev. Dr. ML King, Jr. carried as he traveled, writing speeches and sermons in the Civil Rights Movement usher in an era where we can we pray together as a step on the path to living together? Loving another?
Shall two walk together, except they have agreed? Amost 3:3 (ERV)
Or, is it enough to walk in the same direction, but on different paths? What do you think? What color is your God?