Saturday, February 1, 2014

Why Black History Month Matters to White Churches

"The church, itself, will stand under the judgement of God. Now that the mistake of the past has been made, I think that the opportunity of the future is to really go out and to transform American society, and where else is there a better place than in the institution that should serve as the moral guardian of the community. The institution that should preach brotherhood and make it a reality within it’s own body.”

                                  Martin Luther King Jr.

February 1 marks the beginning of Black History Month. To most white Americans, recognizing this time is likely not a priority. However, as the Church, I believe it should be. If you didn't catch my MLK Day blog, you might want to read that first: Why MLK Day Matters to Christians

These stats give some powerful insight into the issue of racial division in the Church. (via )

    • 92.5% of American churches are racially segregated.* 
    • 80%+ of individual membership in American churches is comprised of a single, homogenous people group.* 
    • American churches are ten times more segregated than the neighborhoods where they are located.** 
    • American churches are 20 times more segregated than the public schools in their neighborhoods.**

In Revelation 7:9 John tells us that he sees people, "from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb."  Now THAT is diversity!  Shouldn't our churches look more like the heaven we are headed for?

In doing some research I stumbled across this article from a few years ago at, "Why American's Prefer Their Sundays Segregated." The author provides an interesting look at the challenges multi-ethnic churches experience, but also the blessings.
Interracial congregations often include people who probably wouldn't have become friends in any other circumstances. They are people like Dwight Pryor, a black man who grew up in segregated Mississippi seeing blacks brutalized by whites. He says he grew up disliking white people.  
Today, Pryor says he is best friends with a white member of his church, a man who grew up in Alabama during segregation in a family that hated blacks. When Pryor sees his friend on Sunday, he says he no longer sees a "they" or a "them" trying to invade his world.  
"We come to love each other," he says. "When I look into his eyes, I can see the love of Jesus Christ. He and I have become friends." He sees his brother in Christ.
My question and challenge is three fold. If you are a follower of Jesus, ask yourself: 1) "What am I missing in my personal growth when I am not celebrating life with other cultures?" 2) "What are we doing intentionally as a church in order to look more like heaven?" and 3) "How would it impact our nation if the Church promoted racial diversity, unity and reconciliation?"

There is no organization on the planet that has a greater platform, more reason or a better opportunity to further the cause of racial equality and unity. As Dr. King said, "where else is there a better place than in the institution [of the church] that should serve as the moral guardian of the community?" The world is waiting for us to lead. What in the world are we waiting for?

More resources:
Building a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church
Multi-Cultural Ministry: Finding your Churches Unique Rhythm
Center Church: Doing Balanced Gospel Centered Ministry in Your City

* Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith, Divided by Faith, Oxford University Press, 2001
** ibid, from the same updated study, 2007