Bridging the Racial Divide

The Christian Chronicle has just posted an article on how the Churches can bridge the racial divide. And they quoted me!

It’s kind of a long story about how it happened, but there I am. (I REALLY have to get me a new picture — you know: less weight, but less hair. It’s trade off. And it means posing. And wearing a suit. Which I hate.)

Anyway, it’s an important topic — one of the most important ones facing the Churches of Christ today: do we remain social clubs filled with people just like us with a smattering of mission thrown in for conscience’s sake, or do we become the one church Christ died to establish?

Go get a copy of Where the Saints Meet, a book listing all our congregations in the U.S. Check out the elaborate system of footnotes. Note how the churches are each classified by race. The book is right. We aren’t.

You see, no amount of pattern-keeping will rescue us from the guilt that comes from having white churches and black churches in flagrant disregard of the gospel. Worse yet, our racism is a huge embarrassment as the world looks at us to see if we’re really different and really whom we claim to be.

It’s not enough for the predominantly white churches to be open to racial minorities. No, we have to get to the point where we see that racial separation is offensive to the gospel at its very core. We need to be at work reversing our separation. We even have to merge some churches, because our racial separation is sin.

(Rev 5:9-10)  And they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. 10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”

Jesus died to make one Kingdom out of many. We are just as wrong as can be to have white churches and black churches and Hispanic churches.

Blessedly, the walls of separation are coming down. There have been a few mergers reported in the Chronicle. But it’s been far too slow.

In many respects, the world is ahead of us on this one. You know, it’s a sad commentary when our churches are often more racially divided than our businesses and legislatures.

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0 Responses to Bridging the Racial Divide

  1. Good points, Jay. Do you have any suggestions about integrating Spanish-speaking churches with English-speaking churches? It seems to be more than race separating Hispanic churches from other churches in the US. Often, we don't speak the same languages. I would have a hard time as an English speaker becoming a part of a Spanish speaking church, and I would imagine that Spanish speaking Christians would have just as hard a time integrating into the life of an English speaking church.

  2. Jay Guin says:

    I hesitated bringing Hispanic ministry into the discussion for the very reasons you mention, but ultimately decided that language is an obstacle, but shouldn't be a wall.

    Now, I'm not speaking from experience because my church has no Hispanic ministry. Other churches in town do.

    Obviously, you can't fully integrate Anglos and Hispanics in worship when there's a language barrier. However, you can consciously work to avoid creating two congregations in one building.

    First, I'd think the church would want to offer English classes. The Hispanic members would have their economic opportunities greatly improved and would be in deeper fellowship with their English-only brothers and sisters.

    Second, a church with a Hispanic ministry would surely be conducting Spanish classes, so more Anglos can worship with the Hispanics and do ministry in the Hispanic community.

    Third, the church would look for opportunities to do service side by side by having common events, work days, service projects, and such — with translators around to help.

    Fourth, the eldership would look to bring in bilingual men, as would the ministry staff, so the membership could be truly under a common pastoral leadership.

    The church could never go purely all-English unless it were to give up its evangelistic and outreach efforts in the Hispanic community. But it should have a plan to more and more deeply integrate the two communities, seeing separation as utterly unacceptable.

    Now, I'm just thinking out loud. I wonder if any readers have any actual experience in this area.

  3. Thanks for the quick response to my question, Jay. This has been something that I have been wondering about for some time. You have some good ideas.

  4. One way to integrate churches would be to promote and accept transracial adoptions and interracial marriages. When our families are integrated, our churches are integrated.

  5. Jay Guin says:

    (Num 12:1-14) Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite.

    "Cushite" means "Ethiopian," that is, a black woman.

    2 "Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?" they asked. "Hasn't he also spoken through us?" And the LORD heard this. 3 (Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.)

    4 At once the LORD said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, "Come out to the Tent of Meeting, all three of you." So the three of them came out. 5 Then the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud; he stood at the entrance to the Tent and summoned Aaron and Miriam. When both of them stepped forward, 6 he said, "Listen to my words: "When a prophet of the LORD is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams. 7 But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. 8 With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?" 9 The anger of the LORD burned against them, and he left them. 10 When the cloud lifted from above the Tent, there stood Miriam–leprous, like snow.

    Aaron turned toward her and saw that she had leprosy; 11 and he said to Moses, "Please, my lord, do not hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed. 12 Do not let her be like a stillborn infant coming from its mother's womb with its flesh half eaten away."

    13 So Moses cried out to the LORD, "O God, please heal her!"

    14 The LORD replied to Moses, "If her father had spit in her face, would she not have been in disgrace for seven days? Confine her outside the camp for seven days; after that she can be brought back."

    God struck Miriam with leprosy because she criticized Moses for taking a black woman as his wife.

    Here's a thoughtful post from John Piper on the question: http://www.9marks.org/partner/Article_Display_Pag

  6. Joe Baggett says:

    You know most of according to Mac Lynn only about 440 out of the 13,000 acapella congregations in 2006 had any ministry or congregations that was multilingual, or focused on Hispanics. That is one third of one percent! Before everyone jumps on the race band wagon, there are some deeper questions to ask. The idea that the language barrier is the main obstacle in reaching the Hispanic community is absurd. Most of the Hispanics while Catholics also come from post modern and secular thinking their religion is little more than culture rather than spirituality. So it is just like trying to reach the young white post modernist that comes from secular thinking who just happens not to speak English. A very tough nut to crack. 90% of Hispanic immigrants are under the age of 26.

    1. First of all why is it that only now under pressure from the main stream media and the sociological fact that Hispanics will be the majority in the USA in 30 years or less we now are beginning to realize we will have to reach not only them but all the different people that are making up America's future that are not white middle class.
    2. The are many other factors besides race that are an issue here. Mostly the socioeconomic gap that exists between the existing white middle class in the average cofC and the Hispanic immigrant. Their paths don't cross unless it is intentional.
    3. What are the main reasons that the white and Black brethren are still in separate church buildings for the most part. Even though there has been some progress in the area in the past decade? Just a hint it has less to do with race and more to do with culture, anthropology, theology, education, and socio economics.

    So if we want to truly integrate and accept all people regardless of race, ethnicity, socio economic level, education etc. we are going to have to ask deeper questions with more perspective. Effort without perspective is only marginally effective!

  7. Joe Baggett says:

    If language is the main barrier between us and all the non-white middle class non English speaking people that are coming to America, then just start training and hiring all our ministers to speak an Asian dialect such as Madrin Chinese, Spanish, Arabic, the main dialect of India, and a Baltic Language such as Russian and you should pretty well be covered to reach all the current and future immigrants.

  8. Tim Archer says:

    I can speak with some first-hand knowledge about Hispanic outreach in churches. Several things have to be taken into account:

    (1) "Hispanic" bridges several races and dozens of cultures. Every community has a different mix.

    (2) In the U.S., we have everything from recent immigrants to Hispanic families that were in their area before it was part of the U.S. They didn't come to the U.S., the U.S. came to them.

    (3) Language needs often vary within families. You often get one generation that speaks mostly Spanish, their kids that speak English but understand Spanish, and their grandkids that know "taco" and "burrito" and that's about it.

    (4) In places where there have been Spanish-speaking churches for years, asking them to give that up is to ask them to give up all of their favorite hymns, all of their traditions, etc. Add to that that many older Hispanics grew up in a situation where the ONLY public place they could freely speak in Spanish was at church.

    All that being said, I think that the vast majority of our churches in the southern U.S. need to be making plans NOW for the day when they will be bilingual. Bilingual services can be effective and uplifting for all who participate when done correctly (and yes, they are often done poorly). I can say with confidence that Christians can participate together in two languages with almost no downside.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim

  9. Joe Baggett says:

    I agree Tim,

    I was born in Ft. Worth then moved to San Antonio then to Medina then to Belton and then to Abilene to school. Helped start what is now the largest Hispanic church state side that is out in Abilene with Tony Guerra and Walter?, and David Padilla back in 1997.

    But here is the deal it is still not integrated by any measure, sure some people go over there to visit but not integrated. Most of the people there were previously pious Catholics and are older non-representative of the young immigrant. Remember 90% of Hispanic immigrants are under 26 years old.
    The original question was will we bridge the racial divide? Let's look at another angle that may give perspective on the issue. 93% of the members of the churches of Christ in the USA according to Mac Lynn are white middle class. Ask them why they have seldom if ever had a significant relationship with someone who is not like them by race by age by socio-economic level etc. Then ask them why or why not.

    The truth is if we really believed that the Gospel if for all and that everyone is created equal by God and all these things we always say then we would have been making friends and disciples of all people right here in our own back yard the first day they immigrated here, but we have not.

    So a better question is will we re-understand the Gospel and integrate our lives with all people living among us regardless of any social classifications such as race, age, gender, ethnicity, socio economic level etc.

    According to Mac Lynn the average size of congregation here in the USA is 98. When someone walks into one of these congregations that also mostly rural to suburban and it is mostly white middle to upper class with the median age well over 40 with more women than men it doesn’t matter what we preach or say that is what they see.

    So my opinion based on data is this. Some, a very few of the 13,000 acapella congregations will make some attempt to change and reach the rapidly changing demographics. Why you ask do I think this, because for the last 30 years the USA has been changing to be anything but white middle class and only .3% of the congregations have done anything about it yet. However most congregations like the Rosemont church of Christ in Fort Worth Texas that once number 700 and just closed down will not do anything except die a slow death and blame it on everything else like bad demographics. Read the Christian Chronicle article about it if you don’t believe me.

  10. Jay Guin says:

    One of my sons went to Kenya on a mission trip. The members of the church there had all adopted "Christian" names. You see, their old names were associated with the tribe of their origin. To be a single people, they had to have new names. The church became their new tribe.

    He went to Kenya to teach. He came back having been taught. We could stand to learn the same lesson.

  11. Tim Archer says:

    Joe,

    Out of curiosity, which congregation are you talking about in Abilene?

    Grace and peace,
    Tim

  12. Joe Baggett says:

    Tim,

    I beleive it is now southside Hispanic church of Christ. Haven't been here in about eight years.

    Interesting here is another ministry I helped start that has turned into a truly integrated church plant.
    http://www.newlifeabilene.com/about/article/histo

    In Him

  13. Andy says:

    I came across this site via a link from a friend's blog, and I just wanted to say I think you are touching on some interesting issues.

    I don't know how much time you spend outside the South, but one extension of what you're talking about that I've noticed is the number of various Asian language churches (not necessarily CoC). Here in Northern Virginia, for instance, there's a Korean church in just about every part of town. Again, the reason for separation is presumably the language, but from what I understand, even when there are both English and Korean language services there tends to be some amount of friction in integrating people of different (and very strong) cultures into one congregation.

    Unfortunately, to my knowledge this hasn't arisen much in the CoC, mostly because from what I see, few if any CoC's make the effort to reach out to Asian Americans in the first place.

  14. Jay Guin says:

    My own congregation reaches out effectively to foreign students at UA, and we've had a number of Korean and Japanese students converted through that work.

    They struggle to integrate due to language and cultural differences — but they do integrate. The members active in this area (not me) do a great job of helping these students feel welcomed and loved.

    Universities are important mission fields which we often overlook.

  15. Andy says:

    Jay,

    That's interesting and I'm glad to see that it's being done. My wife is from Taiwan so I'm particularly sensitive to those issues. I also believe my home church needs to reach out to University students as well (there's a 25,000+ student University within 10 minutes drive from the church, but almost no undergraduate students attend our church).

  16. Jay Guin says:

    Andy,

    Our ministry has a simple plan. Each fall, when the students arrive, we invite the international students for a housewares giveaway. We give them used mixers and desks and computers donated by members.

    The students are amazed that we'd give them this stuff for free. We invite them to Bible studies. Sometimes we offer an English class based on the Bible.

    Our ministry is largely made up of women who do a great job of making the students feel welcomed and loved. They design their program around the students who are interested. And they've had many conversions.

    Few stay in town. Most go back to their home country, but they go as native missionaries.

  17. Andy says:

    That sounds like it might be a good activity to start with. I might mention it to one of our church leaders. Thanks!

  18. Joe Baggett says:

    That is good news Jay.

    I am doing some research. I was wondering after they the foreign college students are baptized do they become life long growing disciples and if and when they return to the respective homelands what is their spirituality like after two years of being converted?

  19. Jay Guin says:

    Joe,

    I don't know. It's not a ministry I'm active in. I'll ask some of those involved.

  20. Joe Baggett says:

    I was reminded that recently Robert Wuthnow dean of sociology and religion at Princeton University gave a seminar on his new book "After the Baby Boomers, how twenty to forty something’s are shaping the future of American Religion". One the of things his research revealed was that the largest strong hold of racism that still exists in western American culture in organized Christian religion. Let just say he had the facts to back up his claim. This was the kicker his studies show that conservative evangelical groups like the cofC and southern Baptists were actually more racist than the main line Protestants. Then he said that when a young un-churched person of post modern disposition looks at the organized church on the corner the first thing they see is what the USA looked like racially and socially in 1960.
    Here is the link to Wuthnows book and research. http://press.princeton.edu/titles/8495.html

  21. Jay Guin says:

    Joe,

    Thanks. You're hitting the nail on the head.

  22. Andy says:

    I just thought I'd let you know that, since we had our brief conversation above, several opportunities to help and minister to native Chinese speakers (my wife's native language) have fallen straight into our laps. It's really been a blessing.

  23. Jay Guin says:

    Andy,

    That's wonderful news. I'm sure God will use you powerfully to teach them about Jesus.

  24. Gary Cummmings says:

    I was with the COC from 1965 to 1971, and I saw a lot of racism at Fort Worth Christian College with both administration, faculty and students. Not all were racist, many were, and racism was sanctioned by silence and some overt actions. Some professors at FWCC thought segregation was fine because: (1) they did not want blacks to marry their sisters or daughters, (2) it was the way of the culture and the church should not oppose the culture. I grew up in the segregated South, and I saw the colored only fountains, restaurants, backs of the buses and the like. I thought when I became a Christian and followed Jesus that the "Lord's Church" would be different. It was not. The racial ethics were the same as the world.
    ACU was racist as well, they made a couple go tell there parents they were dating: she was blonde and attractive, and he was very black. What is wrong with this picture? When ML King was assassinated, the few Black students were taken to a special "chapel" service and told not to cause any trouble. Among the students the racism was evident in many of the Southern students, and racism was NEVER addressed as a sin in any ACC chapel.

    Later, after I left the COC, I found a book of American Church history called "White Racist Churches". The Churches of Christ were listed as one of these.

    Now sometime in 2000 +/- Royce Money of ACU issued an apology for the racism of ACC. That was a 102 year old history of racism finally addressed. The Money had the audacity to say , the apology was not meant to state the COC "was not the Lord's Church" just because it was racist.

    Humm. I am glad these days are over for the most part. I live in the South and love the South, but racism is a sin and those who practice it are not saved.

  25. Rich says:

    Gary,

    I am sorry you had those experiences. Mine have been different.

    I have been a member of five cofC's since a teenager in 1972. All have been multi-racial. As a teenager I hung out quite often with a couple of African-American girls in the youth group including holding hands at teen roller skating parties. I never heard any complaints. I didn't formally date them in fear of my segregationist parents who were associated with another brand church.

    We, as a nation and society, probably still have a lot to learn on this topic.

  26. Gary Cummings says:

    I feel sorry for those who suffered a 100 years of discrimination and racism from a group which called itself "The Lord's Church". The 60's were different than the 70's. George Wallace repented of his actions and racist ideology before he died. God bless him for that. We can all repent of sin and that includes racism. Jim Crow and not the Gospel was the rule of faith among the Churches of Christ from 1898 till the last century.

  27. Danielle says:

    I'm all for inclusion of all races in church services but are you not aware that Hispanics in the U.S. are advancing an agenda that includes the replacement of the American culture and American English with their own culture and language when they are supposed to be the majority ethnic group in America a few decades down the road? Yahoo search "Latinization of America" and read as many articles as you can especially written by Hispanics and you'll see what I mean. They want to first be the dominant culture/language, then absorb all other cultures here into their own, the mainstream American culture and Native American cultures included. Some of them are Communists and want to change the government also. I grew up being taught that one public language (American English)unites all Americans, and strongly feel that only Native Americans (Cherokee, Sioux, and other indigenous peoples to this continent) should be exempt from that rule. It is unfair and unjust that I should have to learn another language to get a job speaking to people living permantly within my nation, be bombarded daily with hearing the Spanish language every time I leave the house, and bilingual signs in stores and now churches from different denominations are now forcing stated English language services to sing in Spanish. This shows me they are not content with having their own launguage services, they want to DOMINATE by not allowing me to worship in my own language in peace!!! I've been bombarded by these people for over thirty years here in South FL and feel I'm going to go mad if somebody doesn't stop and care about MY rights to preserve MY culture too! I've WALKED OUT of 4 services in protest now-none of these were CoC but I am totally disgusted with anyone who doesn't care about respecting me after I've been "kicked in the face" so many times by these people. I've read on the internet the Hispanics are going to every state and wherever they go the local culture is weakened by their presence because they are the first immigrant group which (cohesively as a majority,not just a few) refuses to be polite and speak our language. They want to punish all Americans because of our politics to their home countries, which most of them are still loyal to over America, plus the war that annexed half of Mexico's land to the U.S. I was stuck growing up in Miami and I watched it go from an American city to something unAmerican…. I cannot endure the cruelty of being forced to give up EVERYplace in America to these people-if this happens I will have no place on the planet to live out my own culture in peace-do you think I'll have my own cultural space outside the U.S., if not inside? Most other nations still have common sense to protect their own cultures and languages from annilation, and would insist that I assimilate if I moved out of the U.S. Churches, ESPECIALLY NT churches, should be encouraging Hispanics (as well as all other immigrant groups) to learn English and keep their Spanish to themselves just as other immigrant groups have never suceeded in forcing new languages upon the American people in the past. And as far as intermarriage, all children born in America to an American parent regardless of race need to consider themselves American first, not foreign and not a "hybrid" between a foreigner and an American -I've read in those online articles that the Hispanics are seeing intermarriage with Americans the same way the first waves of white settlers to this country saw intermarriage to Native Americans…to kill off their culture by having the resulting children become less and less Native (by outnumbering the Natives and absorbing their cultures into their own) and more and more white! Two wrongs don;t make a right, and what is really happening is a spread of the Spanish Empire! I say a Jezebel spirit is at work, and we need to stop being "Ahab"-please find another way to include immigrants from other countries without compromising my culture-good old potlucks with all kinds of foods from every place in the world never hurt anyone, for exm aple! yes we are a melting pot, but there is an established culture here and the melting pot adds without taking away what is already there-but these people don;t want to do it the way it's always been done. PLEASE hear and pray about what I have to say.

  28. Weldon says:

    Danielle, please don’t take this the wrong way, but if you’re getting most of your facts from the internet you should be aware that there is a lot of hateful xenophobic stuff out there. You have to have a critical eye.

    Rice University did a high-quality study of some of the issues that you bring up. (www.has.rice.edu/WorkArea/linkit.aspx?LinkIdentifier=id&ItemID=250) It shows (among other things) that approximately 98% of third (or later) generation Hispanic Americans speak English fluently. Approximately 88% of second generation Hispanic Americans speak English fluently. Of the third generation cohort, only about 17% self identify as “primarily Hispanic” and only about 14% believe that the U.S. should increase the number of immigrants admitted to the country within the next 10 years. These numbers speak more to assimilation rather than the “Latinization of America.” To quote the study directly:

    These are compelling indications of movement into the American cultural mainstream.
    The increasing internalization of the language and culture of America is as much a function
    of length of time in this country among Latinos today as it was a century ago for the
    Germans in Texas or the Swedes in Minnesota.

    All the political considerations aside, say we do become a “Latinized” country, so what? We are still called by Christ to love people and to accept them regardless of cultural differences.

    There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28

  29. Jay Guin says:

    Weldon,

    Thanks. That's very helpful.

    All,

    Illegal immigration and such have become highly polarized, highly political issues. My request is that Christians be careful to reach their conclusions on Christian grounds, and not Republican or Democratic grounds.

    That means we begin with faith in Jesus and love for our neighbors — Hispanic, Anglo, and otherwise. Christians aren't allowed to love Americans only or even to love Americans more. All arguments that proceed from selfishness or even self-interest are disallowed.

    That doesn't mean that bankrupt the US (that wouldn't be very loving), but it does mean we step outside the American culture of self-interest and ask how God wants us to respond to the plight of the poor in Latin America.

    By the way, I have a series in mind — just not sure how soon I'll get it to it. It won't be about politics per se. It'll be about mission — because that's what we're supposed to be about.

  30. Danielle says:

    Weldon,

    We are called to love everyone, yes, but be stepped on and walked on without resistance, NO. The first century Church was pacifist, but (I forget whether it was Paul of Peter, sorry) one of the afore-mentioned actually talked back to a governmental official. And Ghandi, though not a Christian, "talked back" through his actions toward an oppressive government. I will do the same.

    You apparently don't care if America becomes "Latinized"-well I for one do-because that would mean I no longer have a place to practice my own culture and language in peace!!! And there is nothing Biblically correct about that-someone forcing someone to give up their homeland by force. I refuse to speak Spanish on the job to speak to people who live here permanantly because that is a violation of my freedom of speech and enslavement to another culture, and I refuse to reward those who are rude with their language and think evil of my nation by singing their language in church services! I am not against people having their own worship services in their own language-Jews have their services in Hebrew, Greeks have their Greek Othodox services in Greek-that in and of itself is not a threat to this nation and has never been in the past-but for someone to interrupt English services shows they don';t think we are worthy to worship God in our language-this is dead wrong-and must be stopped. The Bible says that love is not RUDE-and this thing does not act in love.

    Lastly, I have lived in South FL for all of my life and living in Miami I have experienced open hostility almost on a daily basis by these people-perhaps some of what is online is bogus, but alot of the info mirrors what I experienced, and so I KNOW it's true. I have joined ALIPAC and NumbersUSA, which are fair, non rascist organizations.

    Thanks you for your time.

  31. Danielle M. says:

    P.S. I myself am half Hispanic but am loyal to the country I live in, and my family did assimilate. I also have a handful of Hispanic friends, and many more friends of other races: black, Asian, Caribbean Indian, and several Native Americans, in addition to whites…this is not about the color of their skin or anything else that they cannot help-this is about the attitude of their hearts, and that which is changeable.

  32. Danielle M. says:

    P.S.S. Based on my eye witness, I see more Hispanics becomming bilingual but still preferring to speak Spanish in public though they know English. And though there have always been places like Chinatown and Germantown, there have always been places where Chinese and Germans did assimilate and if you lived near an area you didn't feel comfortable with you could always move from there-but now every state has a growing population of people who would have Americans reverse assimilate to them instead of the other way around. That's wrong.

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