I grew up in what you might call a “multi-cultural church.” Though raised in a city in Upstate South Carolina that has for years been synonymous with racial prejudice, I had very little exposure to racial injustice. As far back as I can remember, when I attended that church and its corresponding Christian school, my circle of friends involved black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Pacific-Islander and mixed race kids who shared my faith.
I never thought anything about it. In fact, I never even realized my experience was out of the ordinary until I entered a public high school that was 94% white in an uppity formerly-rural suburb. Literally, we had 6% students of minority races combined. College wasn’t very different. Rural setting, very white tradition (except in sports, of course).
I recall joining the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in college and noticing an odd phenomenon. Ours was the largest FCA in the country at the time, and though the majority of my school’s athletes were African American, the vast majority of FCA attendees shared a milky complexion. I found out later that there were two “versions” of FCA: the one I attended and the one that actually ministered to athletes. Something about that turned my stomach. I began to realize that by growing up in an environment that knit people of very different backgrounds together by faith in Jesus, my misunderstanding of the racial separations within the church was profound.
Lifeway’s research in December 2014 illustrates one aspect of how complicated racial reconciliation in the church has become:
African American pastors are less likely than white pastors to believe that the gospel mandates racial reconciliation, but more likely to be actively involved in reconciliation efforts, according to a new LifeWay Research survey of 1,000 Protestant senior pastors.” via ChristianityToday
You’ve probably heard it said that the most segregated place in America are churches on Sunday mornings. There is work to be done, and as leaders in the church, it’s on our shoulders. As we remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and celebrate Black History Month this February in the wake of one of the nastiest years of racial division in a long time, the church must engage. If Christians don’t recognize racial reconciliation as one of the most important issues of our day, we aren’t trying as hard as we say to be culturally relevant.
In our most recent church staffing report, we shared that 61% of church leaders who responded said that the diversity of their staff team does not reflect the diversity of the community they are trying to reach. That’s one place to start.
An even simpler place to start? Talk about it. Give your congregation Biblical perspective on the headlines. And back up your talk. Did your church offices close to honor MLK Day? Actions speak louder than words.
The love of Christ doesn’t build walls between people. Do our actions communicate that?