Churches, Integration, and CNN Black in America

October 18, 2010

in Faith

I thought this CNN Black In America segment and piece was pretty interesting: an AME church in Irvine, CA is practicing integration. Now, for those of you who don’t know, I grew up next door to Irvine, CA. When I saw this video, I was shocked (SHOCKED!!) that a) there were enough Black people to fill one church in Orange County–let alone Irvine, and b) it was an AME church. I do not remember there ever being Black churches in Orange County when I lived there. My mother and I usually found non-denominational churches to go to, if we were going to a local church. I also attended private school at a Baptist church when I was very young (it was by no means “colorful” though).

Anyway, this whole thing brings up something I have grown concerned about with churches for the past year or so: segregation. Growing up I tended to either go to all-white churches or all-Black churches, and I didn’t feel comfortable in one over the other. What was uncomfortable was the racial sameness that either type of church exhibited. I know people go to church where they feel most comfortable and most people feel comfortable around “their own kind” but…what about Christianity is supposed to be comfortable? Jesus did not call us to live lives of comfort. Picking up that cross every day is not comfortable. It’s not supposed to be. I get up many mornings and tell God that picking up this cross is so not the business (usually fighting my own laziness).  So, I don’t buy this argument. Sorry.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said the most segregated hour in America is Sunday mornings at eleven o’clock. While I believe he was referring to the racist climate of America at the time, why do we persist to be segregated at church in 2010? I understand that back in the day the Black Church rose out of necessity, because we couldn’t worship with whites, and the Black Church was the catalyst that pushed us through the much needed Civil Rights movement. But what is the function of the Black Church today? It’s interesting that the guy in the CNN video argues that Blacks need to keep the Black church for our own, so we can have something for our own, when that’s not what MLK was getting at decades ago.

I am not singling out the Black Church. There are Korean churches, white churches, Latino churches, etc. and I have similar questions for them.  Some of them are same race by default and unspoken societal rules. I do know that like many people, I unknowingly struggle with racial biases from time to time and I truly feel that the way I can overcome these roadblocks in my life is to get to know people of other races intimately. Church seems like the safest and most nurturing environment to explore this in a healthy way. It’s funny, when we make the case for diversity in tech/business, the argument is usually something along the lines of, companies perform better when they have people of diverse backgrounds contributing to the company. Why don’t we apply this argument to our own spiritual and personal growth?

I attend a church that isn’t as integrated as I would like it to be, but it lacks enough racial sameness where I can appreciate that aspect of it. I would like to see more diversity at my church, as well as more diversity in leadership at my church. I’m praying about it. I’m not trying to be holier than thou, I am just sharing my thoughts on the matter. It took my stumbling into a very well integrated church years ago for me to even think about this concept, and then embrace it. This preference of mine is part of the reason why it took me so long to join a church in NYC.

Churches that practice diversity have been fascinating to me. I think in a future post I will list the ones I have fallen in love with around the country. Should diversity be the forefront factor of why you attend a church? Probably not. It’s definitely more important to make sure you are learning and growing from sound teaching being administered at your church. But, I do not think we were created to worship and fellowship in colorcoded churches.

Thoughts? Questions? Share.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

L Dante Guarin October 18, 2010 at 6:39 PM

truth! yeah, growing up i went to an all-filipino church. then when i moved down south, i went to an all-black church (i’m filipino). both experiences were very different, and i do love the black church. it was after visiting a non-denominational church here in town that changed my preference. although it is for the most part, white, the number of non-white congregants is growing, and there seems to be more being done in terms of mission work–here in town and abroad. that’s what i really dig. the teaching is scripturally sound too, and is more bigger-picture oriented than the other churches i’ve attended before.

here’s my experience.

the filipino church (albeit a cult of a church, really) focused on people staying in church, and regular attendance. the teaching was not sound at all–more accurately, a perversion of the Gospel.

The black churches i’ve been to (baptist) focused more on personal life to current events (mostly national politics and even global tragedies). alot of encouragement and how to live a christian life. the non-denominational church me and my family now go to is big-picture. as in, the whole kingdom of God, and it really connects the christian movement to its jewish roots. that’s something i’ve never seen in other churches, but i’ve only been to a handful of churches, so i can’t really say if that’s the norm w/ non-denominational churches. the reason i now prefer non-denominational churches (and admittedly, i have my racial biases too) is more because of the teaching. worshipping with different folks; white folks with sprinklings of color here and there is just a better experience. it’s unified, and it’s sincere. to paraphrase my dude john gray after touring with hillsong and worshipping in australia, “after seeing all different kinds of people worshipping the same God that I worship, in the same building, i’ll never go to an all-black or all-white church again. that was beautiful”…it was to that effect anyway.

we’ve taken my mother-in-law (black) with us to the non-denominational church. she was okay with it, but preferred going to the black church mainly because worshipping the way worship is done at black churches just suited her more. she wasn’t crazy about the band rockin out, but that’s her. she’s old school.

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Liz Burr October 18, 2010 at 9:24 PM

Thanks for your insight Leigh! You bring an interesting perspective from all of the different types of churches you’ve been to. Makes sense.

What you said about john gray makes SO much sense too. I know we have other things to worry about, like getting people TO church, then getting them saved, then getting them to stay IN church and be disciples, etc, but I do pray to see church leadership work towards diversifying their churches, however possible. It is indeed a beautiful thing to fellowship together.

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