This is part 2 in a series, as it appeared in the General Board of Discipleship's "Young Adult Forums" in March.
I have heard it said that Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week. When I look around the pews of my church during worship, I realize the sad truth of that statement in my own life. Our church is predominately white, with a few members and visitors of other races from time to time. The community in which I lived during college and the years following displayed the same pattern. Churches were organized by denomination as well as race.
I am deeply disturbed by the lack of diversity in local congregations of the body of Christ which claim to represent a global community of believers. Do we simply gather on Sunday mornings to feel reassured that we are “good” and “right” by surrounding ourselves with people who look, think, and act just like us?
When the topic of racial diversity in the church has been raised in various settings, I have heard some remark, “People of different races are welcome at our church anytime; they just choose not to come.” While I appreciate the sentiment of acceptance to all, are we serious about the statement if we continue to allow our churches to be homogenous?
I suspect that those of other races do not feel entirely comfortable walking into a church where they are the only person representing their race. Not many want to volunteer to be the minority. Also, we must ask ourselves if our church truly welcomes all if any section of the community does not feel comfortable. Do people who speak Spanish, Japanese, or another language as their first language feel comfortable in our English-speaking services?
I also wonder where we concentrate our efforts of evangelism if the new people who join our body of believers all look just like us. I feel the fact that we often tend to invite people to church who are like us reflects an alarming truth about our relationships outside the church. Are we confining our interaction to those who are the same as us in race, class, and ethnicity? Do we seek friendships with those in our neighborhoods who are different? We must challenge our diversity of interaction in all areas of life for diversity to become present within the church.
While there are no easy answers for the problem of lack of diversity within our churches, the issue must be addressed. I recognize and celebrate that many churches throughout the United States and the world are successfully serving multi-racial and multi-ethnic communities, but I also know that in many other areas such diversity cannot be seen. Perhaps a first step could be congregations in the same denomination but of different races participating in joint events or worship. Congregations could also include practices, music, or liturgical elements from other traditions around the country and world.
Such small steps could be the first in an intentional process toward diversity. The problem of race in the church is complex, but awareness and a desire to see change are the beginning of a solution. In living and worshipping in homogenous churches, we rob ourselves of the rich experience of the true body of Christ, a body that encompasses all people.
Question: How could a congregation incorporate aspects of worship that reflect other cultures and nationalities?
Anna Maynard Lee, age 24, enters her second year at Vanderbilt University Divinity School this fall.
- Part 1: Blind to color, blind to the issues