The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once noted/lamented that Sunday morning was the most segregated time in America. Those words still ring true. But why?
This summer I’m doing a presentation on this topic at a (secular) diversity conference. I intend to ask and answer why churches are dragging their feet in the area of desegregation. Why are our churches lagging far behind in the area of ethnic diversity (in comparison with education, employment, entertainment, sports, etc.)? Why have churches not progressed in this area when so many other institutions have made, at least official, strides?
I fear the reason is that diversity (particularly ethnic diversity) is not valued by our churches. But it needs to be. Scripture teaches us that the church is comprised of those the Lamb ransomed with His blood, a group consisting of every tribe and language and people and nation (Revelation 5:9). Within the body of Christ, God has indeed redeemed His church from among every socio-economic status, language, people group, race, and ethnicity. Those who are born again to believe in Christ are redeemed and are all equally children of God and equal in Christ, for they are all heirs (John 1:12-13; Galatians 3:26-29).
Still, there are practices in churches that are counterproductive to diversity. These practices should be eliminated and replaced. We need to ask and answer how diversity efforts can and should be similar to those in other institutions and how/why they may be different.
That hurts me to say. Because if Christianity is to be true to its biblical roots, it should actually be leading the way. Churches should reflect racial harmony and congregations that ethnically represent their community. And the society should be following our lead. Not the other way around.
Recently, I submitted to the leadership of our church part of my vision for racial harmony & diversity in our church: Contrary to the history of the American church and contrary to the contemporary mindset of many churches in our land, we will follow God's leading in demonstrating love across racial boundaries by striving for a congregation that better reflects the demographic make up of our community as a testimony to God's love for all people and as a testimony to the world of the transforming power of God's love to unite across racial boundaries so that, ultimately, God will be glorified.
What's your vision for desegregation of the church? What can you do to help lead the way?
Eric “Gunny” Hartman is a husband, father of four and a pastor at Providence Church in Plano. He has served as an adjunct professor of church history at Dallas Theological Seminary where he received his ThM before obtaining an MSt from Oxford.