The racial divide has been and still is a hot topic in our nation. The Church has not been oblivious to this discussion and in fact lately, we have seen a resurgence of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1960’s church critique in which he indicted the church in its weekly practice of being the most “segregated institution in America.”
Fifty years later the church can only boast of arguably small changes in its homogenous racial separation. In fact, the use of the term separation probably more accurately describes the approach of the Church in this generation than the term segregation. At first glance, because of the negative connotations of the word segregation, that may seem to be a positive testimony of our current model but you would be mistaken. Segregation, as horrible as it sounds, tends to be forced either legally, institutionally or systemically (ex: Jim Crow Laws, redlining, socio-economic divides, etc.) whereas separation tends to happen by choice. Let me give you examples of the differences between the two terms using existing situations that exist in the DFW area.
The Dallas area, like many cities in America, has a major economic and racial split between the North and the South. The North is the rich, predominately White side and it is best exemplified by an area called Highland park and the South-side is the poorer predominately African-American area of the city and we will use an area called Fair Park as an example. Highland Park boasts of multi-million dollar homes, exemplary schools, high-end shopping areas and it is the home of several of the most powerful individuals in the city. In fact, our former President George W. Bush chose Highland Park as his home after his presidency. Although there are no walls around Highland Park (just its biggest homes) economic disparity, historical and systemic oppression as well as poor personal choice, create an invisible wall which the people who live in Fair Park, may never ascend. Thus, church’s attendance in both of these areas reflect the racially homogenous communities in which they are located. That is Church segregation.
Richardson, on the other hand, is a middle-class suburb of Dallas that is racially diverse. In fact, although it has pockets racial concentration, the city boasts of not having a major racial or economic divide in the geography of the city. And although the people of this diverse city go to the same schools, play on the same sports teams, live in the same neighborhoods and shop at the same stores, on Sunday morning you will find dozens of racially homogenous churches. Every Sunday Christian Asians, African-Americans, Whites, Latinos, Indians, etc… all chose to worship with “their own people.” This is not forced. This is a choice. That is Church separation.
I would argue that as bad as segregation is, separation of the Church is a much worse representation of the image of God. Praise God, the Church did not start nor will it end up ethnically divided.
In Acts, at the beginning of the Church age, we see the people of God being filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and speaking in many different languages which garners the attention of many ethnically diverse people in the area. As these same diverse folks gather together to see what is going on, Peter stands up and preaches the Good News about Christ and three-thousand people decide to become followers of Christ. This was now the first church of the New Covenant and it was multiethnic.
In Revelation 7:9 the apostle John is given a vision of a worship service in heaven at the apparent end of the Church age. “A great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb... and crying out with a loud voice, Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” “Church” in heaven is going to be experienced in a multiethnic and multicultural environment.
So, the Church age is bookended with the people of God worshiping together despite their differences and yet what do we see when we look at the American church today? Do our gatherings look like the Church in Acts and Revelation? How well are the worship services today preparing the world and God’s people for the worship in the throne room of God? How diverse in look, style and feel is your worship experience?
America is one of the most diverse countries in the world and yet it’s Christians don’t worship together. Is that the government’s fault? Is there a law or system forcing them to be segregated or is our ethnic Sunday morning separation a choice? Imagine how our country’s racial divide would look if the Church, the earthly representation of God, were racially unified.