In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. uttered this quote:
“We must face the fact that in America, the church is still the most segregated major institution in America. At 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand and sing and Christ has no east or west, we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation.”
In the context of the social upheaval of that time, Dr. King’s quote makes sense. However, in 2012, does his quote still ring true? In the same era that saw Barack Obama become the first person of color to be elected as the President of the United States not once, but twice, do minorities and white folks still think it is okay to worship separately? Only an estimated 5% of US churches are racially integrated.1 Considering the astounding number of churches in the US alone, that is a very telling statistic.
What keeps us so-called “Christians” from worshiping together?
Based on some of the rhetoric in the last election and thereafter, there is clearly a racial divide in this country that apparently even Christianity cannot mend. I could give you more statistics and some historical perspective on this issue, but I have decided to use a more personal approach to shedding some light on this daunting dilemma.
Back in the day, my grandmother’s brother (my grand-uncle?) was a pastor of a small church on the west side of Chicago, so it was mandatory for me and all my cousins to be in church whenever the doors were open. It didn’t matter whether it was choir rehearsal, usher board meetings, bible study, Sunday school, and so on, we were there. Black churches back then had a particular script that they all followed. There was devotion, which was basically the part of the service where anyone in the congregation was allowed to stand at the pulpit and give a testimony or sing a song. Then the choir would sing an “A and B” selection (Still to this very day, I don’t know what that means). After that, they acknowledged all visitors, took tithes and offerings, the choir would sing another song, the pastor would preach, then the altar call would happen, and that was about it. Most black churches have not strayed too far from that script, except now we have praise and worship instead of devotion.
I did not know there was any way to have “church” other than what I had seen as a child. When I became an adult and attended church on my own volition, I looked for a church that conducted its services similar to what I was accustomed to. There were plenty of “black” churches to choose from, so I settled on one that played the kind of gospel music I liked and a pastor that preached in the style that was familiar to me.
The first time I was personally invited to a predominately white church, I was skeptical to say the least, but I did not want to be rude, so I accepted the invitation. Admittedly, I went into the experience with preconceived notions which, in retrospect, was unfair. Honestly, I mentally checked out right around the third praise and worship song. I started to check my watch halfway through the pastor’s sermon. The only thing I liked about the service was that we were done in an hour, which, as you know, usually does not happen in most black churches.
So what was my issue with the selected praise and worship songs?
Were they too “Contemporary Christian” and not enough “Urban Gospel”? Was I unimpressed with the pastor’s sermon because it felt more like a Sunday school teaching instead of the type of animated sermons I grew up with? Did I find the worshiping lacking because it was more sedate than the church I normally attended? At the time, I thought these were legitimate questions, but as I’ve matured, I found out the problem was not the churches.
The problem was me.
If you have read any of my prior articles, you probably know that I was once a member of a Christian hip hop group several years ago. As our reputation grew, we started receiving invitations to perform at predominantly white churches. We accepted those invitations, of course, and through those experiences coupled with my own gradual spiritual maturation, I began to broaden my mind on the real purpose of church. Through our travels, I realized that praise and worship was not supposed to be “Showtime at the Apollo” or a rock concert. It is not necessarily about how the music is presented as much as how it makes you feel and how it sets the atmosphere for true worship. I also realized that the lyrics in contemporary Christian music are just as strong and powerful as they are in urban gospel, but because of this mental block that I had given myself due to my upbringing, I never gave it a chance. As for how the pastors in these churches preached, I began to appreciate their particular approach as well. To me, it was more teaching than preaching and I respected that.
Today, my family and I attend a church where few of its parishioners look like us. Does that mean I have turned my back on the type of churches from my childhood? Absolutely not! In fact, the church we attended prior to our current place of worship was a black church and the only reason why we left is because our current church is closer to where we live.
One style of church is not better or worse than the other, but if we as Christians don’t start broadening our way of thinking, we could be missing out on blessings because of what we’re “used to” and we will always be segregated on Sundays. If we continue to do that, are we any better than those in the world who think segregation is still a good idea? Last I heard, we are supposed to be the example as followers of Christ.
We are all brothers and sisters under God. At some point, we should act like it.
1 John, Blake. “Why many Americans prefer their Sundays segregated”, http://articles.cnn.com/2008-08-04/living/segregated.sundays_1_black-church-small-church-pastor?_s=PM:LIVING (Aug. 2008)