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?