The Most Segregated Hour in America

We must face the sad fact that at 11 o’clock on Sunday morning, when we stand to sing…we stand in the most segregated hour in America.”  -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoken in 1963

Almost 50 years ago this line was delivered, and have we gotten any better?  Are more churches open to multiethnic congregations than before?  I think more are open to the idea, I would imagine it would still shock us to how many churches would rather not even talk about this subject.  I think we would be devastated if we understood how much this would still be a problem for many.  I imagine more are open to the idea, but few are doing anything proactive about it.

Let’s face it – our worship on this earth does not look like the worship in heaven.

Worship in heaven will be characterized by every nation, people, tribe, and tongue worshiping together as one family (Rev. 7:9-10).  Most worship experiences in our world are filled with people who look just like us and live in neighborhoods like us.

When I raised this concern in a seminary class once, the guest professor told me that it was a waste of time.  People just naturally congregate with people of the same color, and there are too many differences to overcome.  I told him that my whiteness was one of, if not, the least important things about me.

Surely the fact that I am a husband, father, friend, or, for goodness sake’s, a Christ-follower is more important than my skin’s coloration.  Can’t those things unite people together over the unite provided by common skin-tone?  I also reminded that certain churches were finding success in it, while others were not.  Was there something concerning socio-economic barriers more than color barriers?  Was it just the churches he had been a part of were full of racist people?  He disagreed and said I was too idealistic, I got angry, and class got dismissed.

This has been on my heart this week because of progress we are making at North Side.  We are still a white majority church, but we are not as much as we have been.  Our baptism service Sunday night saw adults of different ethnicities joining together in the baptismal waters to unite with our congregation.  So, I’m pleased with progress, but I’m also not satisfied.  I long for His Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.  I long for race to be something that is not seen first, and I pray I see it in my lifetime.

A few months ago, our receptionist forwarded an email that was sent to her.  Her only comment was, “I thought you would be the person to handle this:”  Beneath was an email written by a black lady who said God always seemed to draw her to our church whenever she would drive by.  She said that she felt God was leading her to be a part of out congregation, but she knew it was primarily a white church and she wondered if she would be accepted here.

My reply?

“Thank you so much for your email.  You are my sister, accepted by Christ and by us.  I am on staff at North Side.  Attached is a picture of my family.  Look at it and tell me if you think you would be accepted.”

I have a dream.  That one day, red and yellow, black and white, which are all precious in his sight, will see their value not in the color of skin, but in the unity provided by the blood of Christ.

Travis Agnew is a Christian, husband, father, pastor, author, blogger, and religion instructor.

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12 Comments

  1. Joyce Smith Hendricks

    Good thoughts, Travis. I agree. But the question remains….what are we going to do about it? How can we proactively reach out to the black community rather than waiting for people like that precious lady to "just show up" on our doorstep?

  2. Travis Agnew

    It's all about relationships, relationships, relationships.

  3. Roy Cross

    Do you suppose that any other congregation other than 'white' is having the same consideration? Not that I disagree, it's just that it's not as simple as skin colour. That's an easy way to dismiss the worlds of difference that each group has in the areas of culture and worship. I do think it's a multi-dimensional issue, and it's not up to just one of those groups to make the effort to address it. I'd suggest that it's racist to think that other races are yearning to come to our church, to our worship style but are reluctant because they wouldn't feel welcomed.

  4. Travis Agnew

    It's definitely both ways, Roy. And I want to make sure no one thinks I am advocating for church members from other congregations to join another one. I think all churches of all color majorities need to at least think about the issue. Thanks for the great point.

  5. Roy Cross

    I'm not sure if any long standing congregation of any race could easily become thoroughly multi-ethnic for precisely the point you make, and that is the perception by the community that it is a church of a specific ethnicity. Perhaps the realisation of such a congregation will come about in new congregations that eschew such distinctions and simply proclaim worship of the risen Saviour? In such churches I see the multi-ethnicity of the staff reflected in the worshippers. Again, that supports the relationship aspect of the question. Thanks for opening the discussion!

  6. Demetrius Wharton Sr.

    This is something that I have been praying for, for a long time! For God to break down the walls of cultural/ ethnic worship. "NO" church, in my opinion, should be one dimensional in the fact. But our hearts have to invite it with love. And if God's hand is on the congregations, He will blend it. For He is the potter and we are the clay.

  7. Jason Willard

    Travis this is something that has concerned me for a while. I believe that socio-economic background has just as much to do with the division in our churches as does race. If a black family comes to a predominantly white church where the members are upper middle class and the family seems to dress and drive like the white members, they tend to be accepted better than the blue collar assembly-line workers wearing jeans and the same shoes they work in. There also seems to be a difference with the way Asians and Hispanics are viewed. I have heard people speak about both ethnicities and many assume the asian family was transferred to the area because one member of the family has an MBA and has taken a high profile job with a local company, while the hispanics are illegal, uneducated construction workers with little to offer. No one really wants to talk about it or admit that this behavior goes in our churches, but it is very obvious to those who are observant. I hope my comments do not offend anyone, but these attitudes exist; I have experienced them on more than one occasion. Thanks for bringing up this ugly, but important problem.

  8. Travis Agnew

    Thanks, Demetrius Wharton Sr.. Right on.

  9. Travis Agnew

    Jason Willard, I couldn't have said it better. It's not a simple black and white thing. It crosses over many lines and racism and stereotpyes comes from all directions.

  10. Joyce Smith Hendricks

    Good thoughts, Travis. I agree. But the question remains….what​ are we going to do about it? How can we proactively reach out to the black community rather than waiting for people like that precious lady to "just show up" on our doorstep?

  11. Roy Cross

    Do you suppose that any other congregation other than 'white' is having the same consideration? Not that I disagree, it's just that it's not as simple as skin colour. That's an easy way to dismiss the worlds of difference that each group has in the areas of culture and worship. I do think it's a multi-dimension​al issue, and it's not up to just one of those groups to make the effort to address it. I'd suggest that it's racist to think that other races are yearning to come to our church, to our worship style but are reluctant because they wouldn't feel welcomed.

  12. Roy Cross

    I'm not sure if any long standing congregation of any race could easily become thoroughly multi-ethnic for precisely the point you make, and that is the perception by the community that it is a church of a specific ethnicity. Perhaps the realisation of such a congregation will come about in new congregations that eschew such distinctions and simply proclaim worship of the risen Saviour? In such churches I see the multi-ethnicity​ of the staff reflected in the worshippers. Again, that supports the relationship aspect of the question. Thanks for opening the discussion!

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