On this day of remembering the life of civil rights leader and pastor, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the nation pauses to reflect on those who suffered for years in a culture of racial inequality, remembering a march on Washington DC that changed the course of our nation and declare that Dr. King's dream is coming to fruition.
Well, at least that's the idea.
While we have come so very far, as we reflect on the news stories of the past year and see tensions grow stronger in many areas of our nation between the races, the inevitable question arises, "Have we really made much progress?"
Life is always filtered through current events and personal circumstance. In the larger picture, much progress has been done. No longer are there "Whites Only" and "Colored" water fountains in public places. There are no legally designated "black schools" and "white schools." No one can legally be denied service due to the color of their skin in our nation. That which would be categorized as unthinkable if not impossible about five decades ago has occured in our culture - a black man has been elected President.
Yes, progress has been made in some areas.
We still have so much further to go.
Sunday Is the Most Segregated Hour
Years ago, Dr. King stated that Sunday morning was the most segregated hour in America. He was referring to the reality that church gatherings, for the most part, were far from racially diverse. While marches and protests were happening calling to allow people of differing races to go to school together, sit on busses together or even have a sandwich together in a restaurant, many were satisfied with keeping their houses of worship segregated. This is a generalization and this feeling was not held by all, at least intentionally.
Recently, LifeWay Research released data collected regarding diversity in churches. The results have been shared in numerous venues and news outlets with varying degrees of response and interpretation.
Here are some highlights of the research:
- 8 out of 10 congregations are made up predeominantly of one racial group.
- Two-thirds of American church-goers state their church has done enough to be racially diverse.
- Fewer than half believe their church should do more to be racially diverse.
- Evangelicals are most likely to say their church is doing enough.
- Whites are least likely to say their church should become more diverse.
- African-Americans and Hispanics are most likely to say their churches should become more diverse.
"Surprisingly, most churchgoers are content with the ethnic status quo in their churches," Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, said. "In a world where our culture is increasingly diverse, and many pastors are talking about diversity, it appears most people are happy where they are -- and with whom they are." (Read the full article at Baptist Press here.)
Are you a Black Church or a White Church?
Author, blogger and church consultant Scott Williams (Big is the New Small) shares of when he was attending college and visiting local churches. He was getting his shoes shined and preparing to go to a predominantly black church one week when he struck up a conversation with the man shining his shoes. The man began to tell him about his church to which Scott asked, "Is your church a black church or a white church?" The man's response was classic. He said, "Young man - that's the stupidest question you could ever ask. It's not a black church. It's not a white church. It's God's church."
That is the right perspective.
But, We Worship Differently
As LifeWay's data has been shared, I have read some of the reader comments provided. In most cases, there is a common theme of "Yes, we need to be God's church and let racial barriers melt." However, there are many comments that are obviously well intentioned that seem so short-sighted and wrong. In these cases the argument goes something like this. . ."Each culture and race worships differently and therefore, segregated Sunday mornings are a good thing."
I don't discount that different groups have unique worship styles and practices. Our missionaries are educated in this as they serve in international locations in order to keep from leading those in other cultures to "do church the American way."
While there are numerous churches in my community with varying styles of worship, music and instrumentation, teaching styles, and meeting times, to say that we are satisfied being identified as a "white church" or "black church" or some other shade of melanin is to say that division is godly.
I have a dream, too. Mine is that the color designators of church will one day fade into history and that we will become wise as a shoe shine man and with our diversity, uniqueness and varying backgrounds settle only for being part of God's church.