On racial diversity (or the lack thereof) in our churches

A recent Supreme Court ruling of two school integration plans as unconstitutional prompted the Albert Mohler Radio Program (guest-hosted by Dr. Russell Moore) to feature conversations specifically focused on issues of racial diversity. This program, which aired on June 28, 2007, featured two special guests: John McWhorter, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and Pastor Eric Redmond, Second Vice President of the Southern Baptist Convention.

McWhorter primarily focused on the subject of integration in education, whereas Redmond was focused on diversity in our churches. As the discussion with Eric Redmond is more in line with the format of this blog, the remainder of this post will focus on some of the statements he made.

Redmond began his reflection on racial diversity in churches today by noting a key difference between the church in apostolic times and our current situation. He said, “One of the things we need to consider is that the New Testament churches originally were really house or neighborhood churches.” By this it was implied that the Christian community was originally a small-scale enterprise, therefore: “There was no idea of ‘mall shopping’ for churches– [i.e.,] if you don’t like one church in this geographical region, ‘[you] can travel 50 miles’ [to find one you do like].”

Redmond went on to make application for our consideration of where we place our church membership today: “As far as that relates to what we’re doing in our churches– where people live in a neighborhood where there is a good, Gospel-preaching church, if it’s a church that’s representative of a different race, someone should still consider attending the church if the Gospel’s being preached.”

To give an example of what Redmond was asserting above: Most readers of this blog, if they had a friend to the Washington D.C. area, would not hesitate to suggest to their friend that he or she visit Capitol Hill Baptist Church, where Mark Dever is senior pastor, to prayerfully consider membership there. Readers of this blog would probably make this suggestion no matter the race with which our friend was identified. Similarly, if I were moving to Grand Cayman, the first church I would visit would be First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman, where Thabiti Anyabwile is pastor; if I were moving to Spring, TX, the first church I would visit would be Grace Family Baptist Church, where Voddie Baucham is pastor; if I were moving to the southwest Atlanta area, the first church I would visit would be Berean Bible Baptist Church; etc. I would seriously consider joining any of these churches, even if I found myself to be in the minority there in terms of race.

Redmond did make one notable exception to the idea of considering church membership with a congregation regardless of what race is predominant:
“But where there’s a majority clustered of people of one ethnicity in an area and the church is there– if the church shows no sign of being de-segregated or being ethnically diverse, [to seek out another church] would be understandable.”

In other words, if I visited a church in an area that was ninety-eight percent white, and absolutely everyone in the church was black, I would probably have some things to consider: It may be that there were no white congregants due to the racism of the white population surrounding the church; however, the church may truly be closed to racial diversity. On the other hand, if I visited a church near Loachapoka High School in Alabama (where I worked last year), where the population is ninety-eight percent black, and the church had an entirely white congregation, I would similarly be in the position where I needed to consider whether the church was reflecting an unbiblical rejection of racial diversity. As Redmond noted, “We’re trying to affect neighborhoods, whether it’s in suburbia or urban areas, and our churches should be reflective of where God has planted us.”

How can churches inadvertently send the message that they are closed to racial diversity? Pastor Redmond offers the following thoughts, “It can be as simple as, ‘We’re not willing to consider diversity in music,’ or, ‘We don’t have anyone on our multiple staff of pastors that’s reflective of the racial diversity in the congregation– we still have one ethnicity.’ It could be that we never discuss racial issues listening to the side of those who are racial minorities. All those things subtly say [to visitors of other races], ‘Well, maybe we’re really not welcome here as a minority.’”

I ask that readers of this blog pause to consider whether you are thinking about issues of race in a biblical way in both your own personal decisions as well as the decisions you make as part of your church congregation. Would you be less willing to join a church that preaches sound doctrine simply because the membership is primarily of a different race? What is the racial composition of your congregation in relation to the racial composition of the community in which your church meets? How can we better minister the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the communities where the Lord has placed us?

Explore posts in the same categories: General, Worship

5 Comments on “On racial diversity (or the lack thereof) in our churches”

  1. Barry Says:

    There are so many facets and aspects to this very personal issue that I think it would be difficult for anyone to encapsulate just what approach a family or person should take relative to selecting a place of worship.

    A lot of it boils down not to just how sound the doctrine may be but how comfortable one feels within the religious community itself.

    I think for many, the racial make up of a community is less important than the branch of movement they are drawn to as a determing factor in selecting a close by church in a new area.

  2. Thomas Twitchell Says:

    “One of the things we need to consider is that the New Testament churches originally were really house or neighborhood churches.” By this it was implied that the Christian community was originally a small-scale enterprise, therefore: “There was no idea of ‘mall shopping’ for churches– [i.e.,] if you don’t like one church in this geographical region, ‘[you] can travel 50 miles’ [to find one you do like].”

    Though I have heard this many times, I do not think that it can be supported. Take the Church at Jerusalem. Let us for the sake of arguement say that the central structure for worship was the house with the upper room. Notice it is just the upper room. It may well have been the same house were the passover was observed. It might have been Nicodemus’ or Joseph’s. Regardless, there were 120 gathered in that room on Pentecost. How many more it might have accomodated we do not know. At other times we read that church was held at so-and-so’s house, but we are not told how big the house was. We must accept that some of these houses were mini-palaces. So, the idea that the “small enterprize,” church was the initial model is bogus, and a single congregation may have had many branches throughout any given city.

    The racial diversity, was probably absent in the first century. Even though there is a diversity of ethnic groups listed in Acts, there were probably not diversities of races. In any of the cities where it is remarked that the Apostles traveled the same was most likely the case.

    I am not here condoning any sort of intentional racial segregation, it is an abomination. We must consider however, that people like to be with those whom they consider like them. If I was to say that we should all get dressed up and go to high-church this week. Or, we otta dress-down and go raggin on the low side, you would guess me rightly nuts. If there is a healthy view of the “diversity” in the heart of the believer, he does not need to contend with himself as to where he attends. Doctrine and practice are all that there is as necessary critter-ium. Still, I have friends that are vegetarians. Thankyou, no. I would prefer the potluck at the Sweet Savery Sacrifice fo the Loed Church across town, no matter what the racial mix. I would puke at the Hawaiin Shirt guy’s church.

    My ex-church, has an Hispanic congo, now if I went there it would be all Greek to me. They speak Spanish, to which, I might as well be deef. If I was to go to a black church here, there are none that I know that are Reformed, I would run into certain language and cultural barriers, that though they are not language specific, they would interfere with learning and fellowship.

    I have winded myself. The point is, when we begin to center on race, we become racist. We should not do so. Diversity is normal, and integration unnecessary if the Word of God has been faithfully preached. But, segregation happens naturally, it is not necessarily the result of evil intent.



  3. Barry Says:

    Can someone else chime in on this? Where does the “Reformed” play a role in the ethnic base we have today in the south (or the north for that matter) amongst Baptists? As a percentage, roughly, how many non-whites can it be said to tip toe toward the TULIP? (Sorry, TT got me started).

  4. sista cala Says:

    You make some fine observations and points in this post. I wanted to chime in because I and my husband are white and we are members of a church that is 98% black. The pastors are rock-solid Christians and innovators in our community. We live in TN where much of the mainline denominational churches are segregated. This is due to various factors, one being the cultural differences between blacks and whites. I say cultural because the differences are more than skin color, they are in worship styles, preaching delivery, traditions, fellowship/eating preferences, etc. Our church is not affiliated w/any denomination, but it is Pentecostal/apostolic in doctrine.

    When we first visited there, we were warmly welcomed. Got a few looks, but they were just curious as to why we had come. The Word of God was preached with fervor and anointing, as well as the usual ear-marks of ‘black preaching’. Those add-ons held no distraction for us, because the Word was so rich.

    After we had attended a few services, the people realized that we really loved the Lord and had come to worship Him. They knew there were no alterior motives for our presence among them. We have been faithful members for 3 years now. My husband is on the Usher Board and I teach Bible Study on a regular basis.

    When we are ministering in the community, we get all kinds of looks, gestures, and remarks. Many are not pleasant. Yet we continue to reach out to a divided city. My husband and I are certain of our purpose in belonging to our church. We are there to help break down the walls of prejudice in our community. We are there to support the ministry and the build the Kingdom of God.

    Racial discrimination is but one reason why our churches are segregated. Cultural differences, personal preferences, and ignorance are others that top the list.

  5. […] On racial diversity (or the lack thereof) in our churches by Strange Baptist Fire (Blog Post, July 2007) […]

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