The Racism of My Religion

Yesterday the pastor of the church I attend spoke on the diversity of the church. I know this because my girlfriend attended church as I was busy watching my beloved Bears beat the Bucs. Lord, I promise I'll be back in church in just a few more weeks. I got to thinking about my childhood experience with attending church. Shiloh Missionary Baptist was and still is a small church with an all black congregation. I don't recall every seeing a white person in church unless it was the Mayor during an election year.

Over the years I attended other churches and they were all cut from the same cloth as my childhood church: all black congregation, choir, building funds and a lot of dinner fund raisers. When I moved to the western suburbs of Chicago I found DuPage AME to attend. The funny thing is that I purposely looked for a black church. There are several churches in Woodridge that I could have attended but I didn't even give them a chance. Why? There were no black people there and I didn't feel comfortable attending a church with an all white congregation. Isn't it funny that even when I seek to be with the body of Christ, I look for a black body? I'm sure Jesus wouldn't care about the color of my skin, but for some reason I did as many of us do. I now attend a church (except during football season, and I'll have to talk to God about that March Madness thing as well) that is the most diverse that I've ever seen and I've come to enjoy it.

So how did it happen that Christians segregate themselves while still considering themselves one in the body of Christ? The simple answer is that there is a cultural comfort that we seek when we attend church. The singing, the emotional energy, the preaching styles, the ambiance all play a factor in deciding upon a church to attend. Black churches tend to be more lively, the choirs more vibrant and the preaching style more dynamic than what you would find in most white churches. It is the style that most black people are use to and come to expect when they attend church.

There is also a sense of racial identity, historical perspective and a sense of racial unity within the black church that is not evident in the white church (at least that is what I assume). The black church was the vehicle for the Civil Rights Movement so there is some historical connection to the church and the realization that white Christians fought against Civil Rights by either preaching racism or passively allowing it to exist within its congregation.

However, non of these things came to mind when I searched for a church. I simply wanted to attend a place where I felt comfortable - a place that was familiar to me. In my case, that meant attending a black church. To some, that may mean attending a place where the faces, the cultural and the church's environment are familiar. So, is the segregated church a real issue or something that is a mole hill being made into a mountain? I think there is a problem there. It is too easy to hide behind a cultural familiarity excuse than to confront the larger racial issues of our society. How are we to make progress on racial issues if we don't think there is not an issue that we are not even comfortable praying and praising God together? I think it says a lot about the society that we live in that we ignore this.

So, I have to admire those pastors that recognize that we have an issue and attempts to confront the issue head-on. But some of you may disagree. So here's another non-PC discussion on race and the Church. Let's have it.

Here are a few questions you can present in your comment:

1) Does the church you attend have members of different races?
2) Would you attend a church that had no members with the same racial makeup as yourself?
3) Do you consider the race of the congregation when you decide to attend a church? Why?
4) Does it make a difference that most churches are segregated?

Google Search Results:
Sermon on Segregated Churches The Most Segregated Hour in America



39 Responses to The Racism of My Religion

  1. Dan-E Says:
    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
  2. Dan-E Says:
    this a great post and i agree with so many things you said. it's one of those things few people seem to notice, and i'd love to have a chat with you about this. it's funny, i gew up maybe 5 minutes away from that church, too.
  3. James Manning Says:
    That is funny Dan-E. Did you go to Argo HS?
  4. Dell Gines Says:
    Yeah, the church I go to is split between blacks whites and mexicans.
  5. Deb S. Says:
    James, I think you have chosen an excellent topic, something that may take some people outside their comfort zone. I read with much interest the two pieces you linked to on segregated churches.

    To answer your questions:

    1. Yes

    2. Not likely, but you never know. It depends on the personality and heart of the church. If I decided to live outside the U.S., the likelihood is higher.

    3. I think about race to some degree, but it is not the determining factor. For instance, in a diverse church, I will look to see if the church leadership is diverse. I left a totally black church (CME) to join one that has a very diverse congregation, including Messianic Jews. The church has a lot of international members and an active international ministry. Its inner city youth ministry is still going strong after 30 years. It probably won't surprise you that this is a nondenominational church.

    I have never regretted changing where I worship because my current church home is much more Bible-based, it does not put church doctrine before the Bible, it is devoid of politics, and it is not pretentious. We don't even take up offering during service. You drop it off in the foyer.

    4. I strongly believe in diverse churches, but I do believe in the strength of the black church. Even so, I think that churches that are segregated are much more likely to embrace stereotypes. That's why I encourage churches to involve themselves in interfaith partnerships. With proper education and engagement, I believe a church can can embrace multiculturalism and celebrate cultural differences.

    My church may not work for everyone, but it certainly works for my family. Again, great topic, James.
  6. Mr. Grey Ghost Says:
    I was raised a Lutheran and up until I was 18, I attended church pretty regularly. My church growing up was pretty much all Black except that we had 2 different white pastors. I think it's a matter of feeling comfortable with who you worship with as far as what kind of church you go to, but at the end of the day God should always come first.
  7. Cynthia Says:
    Disclaimer: I'm a non-believer these days because I'm convinced that Jesus doesn't exist (but that's a discussion for my blog).

    When I use to go to church I preferred going to a black church for the reasons you stated. After talking to many of the white people I know and attending integrated churches, although both whites and blacks are Christians, I'm convinced the two groups are worshipping different Gods. Furthermore, black people are far more superstitious about Jesus/God whereas white people are more practical in their beliefs. Black people no matter how intelligent will say you must wait on the Lord for every darn thing regardless how mundane it is, whereas white people know they must act to accomplish their goals.

    So the question then becomes, who would be the minister of this integrated congregation? And whose culture would be reflected?

    So far, all of the integrated churches I've seen, white people’s culture is reflected at the expense of blacks

    I don't think it is wrong if people want to stay segregated or if they want to integrate as long as this is what you want.

    I really don't see the two cultures coming together anytime soon outside California in large numbers since the average black church operates totally different than white churches.
  8. James Manning Says:
    Thanks for responding.

    @DCS, I actually like the church that I attend now (excluding the football season) and the leadership is diverse. The teaching is very forward and simple. They do take a collection but there doesn't seem to be an empahsis on tithing. That is another topic I'll blog about later.

    Dell: I wonder if there is a difference because you are in Nebraska even though there are a lot of black people in Omaha. But nothing on the scale of Chicago and Los Angeles. I wonder would that make a difference.

    Mr. Grey Ghost: It does come down to God, but why do you think the church is still so segregated?
  9. James Manning Says:
    Cythia, that's intersting. I'll admit that I do miss the A and B selection of the choir. And I haven't seen anyone catch the Holy Ghost and I've given up on the pastor sayin "turn to your neighbor and say NEIGHBOR..." But I can live without that one.

    So does it come down to the way we worship? the black church does operate differently. Generally, the pastor in the black church is the ruler and oversees all aspects of the church.
  10. Cynthia Says:

    It comes down to the way we worship and the way we believe.
  11. Neil Says:
    This is such a complex issue because we all agree that it would be a shame to lose the great things that makes a particular cultural icon like the black church unique, but at the same time we want to bring everyone together. I think it would probably suck if we all assimilated into one big boring church, all doing the same service.

    I think we all feel comfortable with our own. I know I have more Jewish friends than anyone else, being Jewish myself. The question is now how much comfort with your own is bad, but how much discomfort with others is bad for society in general.

    Even in college, I thought it was weird that there were black fraternities, Jewish fraternities, etc. -- and that different groups would eat at different tables. I don't think this is racism per se, but it would be nice if we were a little more comfortable with each other.

    To truth is, I know I'd rather go to a black church than my temple. At least I wouldn't fall asleep.
  12. Rell Says:
    tell me about it, I just got this part "Lord, I promise I'll be back in church in just a few more weeks."

    LOL, I haven't been to church since football season started, every week I go to a sports bar and just watch football from like 1 to halftime of the 2nd games.

    Sad isn't it?
  13. James Manning Says:

    Thanks for commenting. I think the church is a microcosm of our society at large but there is something different about it since it is more about us reflecting the presence of God within us as opposed to reflecting how we worship God.

    I can understand different frats and other organizations that are meant to highlight a person’s culture, but you would think that God would not be a part of it.

    And you are right, there is nothing like some good Gospel singing to get the blood going.
  14. Anonymous Says:
    I am (very) white, but I find much much more comfort in a predominately "black" church. I was raised in a mostly white church and went because I had to. I was bored out of my mind whilebeing forced to recite passages and sing a song out of a big fat hymnal every Sunday. When I moved to the east coast, I discovered Brooklyn Tabernacle Church and fell in love. The church did have all races, but was about 70% African American... I have always been a huge follower of gospel music, and I found that that's what really brings me close to Christ. They have a grammy award winning 300+ member choir. Even though church was 2 hours longer than I was used to, I found myself not ready to leave when it was over. I cried EVERY service, and sang til my throat hurt. Since moving back to Cali, I have tried several churches, the first two I tried were ALL black... I didn't have a problem until, at the first church the pastor's sermon was all about white folks... i swear I was like a pimple on the forehead of life, the next one had a crappy choir, and I now have finally found a church with an accepting population, and a good choir.
    I personally think its a shame how segregated many churches are... I feel it would be a great place for different cultures to get to know one another and praise Jesus together.
  15. Dell Gines Says:
    I would argue James that in a larger society such as CA the odds of having an interracial ministry are much higher. I can name a few off the top of my head in CA.

    Cynthia make I disagree that integrated churches sacrifice the blackness in lieu of whiteness. I think about Rod Parsely's church among others as an example of the opposite, I see more of a merging.

    My friend says it also relates to the difference in how we see God. Whites see God as an extension of themselves, and blacks see God as a seperate entity, and therefore we react differently.

    At the end of the day it is how Christians relate to Christians. Race in America has distorted Christianity the same way it has everything else.
  16. James Manning Says:
    I have tried several churches, the first two I tried were ALL black... I didn't have a problem until, at the first church the pastor's sermon was all about white folks... i swear I was like a pimple on the forehead of life,

    Anony, that's pretty funny.

    @ Rell,

    yeah, the first week I wasn't there the pastor asked my girl about my whereabouts and she being the honest type told him I was at home watching the Bears. I felt guilty just thinking about but what's a brother suppose to do. (My grandmother would answer this by saying 'take you little black butt to church) But the Bears are 7-3. Considering thier offense, I figure God is just as big of a fan of the Bears as I am. So he's probably feeling me. But just in case, I'll be taking some extra communion bread in February and April. (I might not go to church during March Madness - Lord have mercy on my soul).
  17. Diane S. Says:
    What a great post! This is actually an issue I've spent a lot of time pondering about, and it's good to get some input from someone outside my own race (white in case my picture doesn't show) about it.

    1) Does the church you attend have members of different races?

    Yes, my church includes members of a lot of other races, but it is still mostly white.

    2) Would I attend church that had no members with the same racial makeup as yourself?

    I'd actually like to. But I worry about it. I love black churches. I like the music. I like the style of preaching. I love the way black women dress up and wear hats (white women don't wear hats nearly enough). I like the whole thing. But I worry about intruding and being seen as a "tourist". I'd really love some feedback on that. Bear in mind that I live in Texas and the black churches are almost exclusively black churches.

    3) Do you consider the race of the congregation when you decide to attend a church? Why?

    Only for the reasons stated above.

    4) Does it make a difference that most churches are segregated?

    I used to think this was a really sad thing. Now I'm not so sure. Why not? Because our churches are part of our culture, and there's no denying that there are different racial cultures in America. I see that as a good thing. I think our cultural diversity enriches us all. So I'm with Neil on the disadvantages of a single watered down church. It would be boring.

    Also, as a Christian, I believe there are a lot of ways to minister to the body of Christ, and not everyone can be reached in the same way. The Church I attend, while still mostly white, is a very "spirit filled" church. A long way from the Episcopal church of my youth.
  18. sonyared Says:
    My old church used to have members of different races.

    Honestly, I know race shouldn't matter especially during worship...cause the lord doesn't care...but I would feel more comfortable to see a few of my people.

    No race isn't the first thing that pops into my head..when considering joining..but eventually it may play a small part

    Yeah...I don't think churches should be segregated..especially if we all worship and praise the same lard and father...but because of reasons like the ones I gave above..that may be a reason why they are partly...sigh..

    good post.

    Oh and ps....I'm having a hard time hosting my avatar pic for my's not working...( crying..LOL)
  19. James Manning Says:
    Welcome Diane,

    I love your blog but I haven't commented yet.

    I think there is something to the cultural aspect to the church but while we celebrate the cultural differences are missing out on an opportunity to go beyond those differences and discuss openly the racial problems?

    I would not want every church to be the same - what fun would that be? But I'm wondering if there is a deeper issue here that we're not looking at.
  20. Dan-E Says:
    i went to narbonne hs over in harbor city. after which, did a few years at el camino. i don't go to a church now, having fallen off the wagon a while ago but the last one i went to (newsong los angeles) was a pretty ethnically diverse church.

    1. yes

    2. yes

    3. i only consider the race if it seems too much of one thing, be it black, white, asian, etc.

    4. i can undestand the need for a comfort zone and being around those like you helps a lot but i find more comfort in diversity. but that's just me.
  21. Cynthia Says:

    Then it must depend on where you live. I've never seen a truly mixed (50/50) congregation in Chicago or in the deep South (where I was born). In the Chicago area if the church is predominantly black, then the style of the church is black and the same thing is seen with the predominantly white churches.

    The few integrated churches that I’ve visited, the white people do have Kwanzaa celebration or they do sponsor some things for black history month, but this is the extent of the integration. The majority of black people would never compromise the way they worship to accommodate white people and I wonder if white people in general would really compromise the way they worship too. I don't think there is necessarily anything wrong with this either. In fact, I think people should have some things that are unique to them.
  22. NewYorkMoments Says:
    I don't go to church. I'm not a huge fan of organized religion. But, I grew up Roman Catholic, and my church was all white. And super boring.

    OK, who am I kidding. My whole town was white. Well, there were a couple of black families, but they were actually even more white than I was. (I'm serious!)

    It was Wisconsin. What do you expect.

    Thank God I left when I was 18 & learned about the real world!
  23. Malik Says:
    I think you've brought up a crucial issue in our society James. I don't have time to go into all my reactions and thoughts right now, but I hope you keep this conversation going for a while. Thanks for raising the issue.
  24. Malik Says:
    I guess I have two initial thoughts. First, it's always been necessary to minister to ourselves in America, because white churches could not or would not do so. You can't expect people to abide in a house that belongs to them as much as it belongs to anyone, and live in it under someone else's terms, without ever considering their own needs. That's what the white church has effectively demanded of black Christians for decades, that they merely be silent decoration, and keep their peculiar needs and aspirations to themselves. Incidentally, much the same phenomenon occurs with Islam in America. Arab muslims are generally more concerned with orthodoxy and doctrine, whereas black Mosques are generally more concerned with community development.

    I guess my second comment is an extension of the first. Black people in America have always demonstrated a peculiar spiritual genius, ever since they took a doctrine that was intended to reinforce their enslavement and transformed it into the principal instrument of their liberation. Our worship is direct, passionate, and focused on our daily realities. That's what has enabled us to play a leading role in social change generation after generation. Most white churches are far too enamored of their comfortable illusions and conventions to accomodate that.
  25. Malik Says:
    One other observation. It seems to me that when conversations about segregated churches come up, there's often an unspoken, and sometimes spoken, expectation that black folks should leave abandon their churches and folkways and assimilate into white churches, as if that's the only proper thing to do. Why don't white Christians demand of themselves that they go to black communities and attend black churches?
  26. Jo Says:
    1) The church I attend (Lutheran) is mostly white, but there are non-whites as well.
    2) I think it would be SUPER hard to find a Lutheran congregation with no white people in it, but yeah, I'd attend.
    3) I don't consider race. Ever, I don't think. I hope.
    4) It makes a difference, yes. In an ideal world we wouldn't even have the concept of segregation cuz we'd all be one people. All of those little mole hills add up to a really big mountain in the end. Not that we shouldn't appreciate our separate cultures, but we so need to realize that we're all in this (life) together.
  27. woodrow241 Says:
    I think the problem is that far to many christians or church folk are in it for the social convention and perceived righteousness of merely attending. Otherwise that type of segregation would have not been tolerated for so many years. Church to often becomes an extention of our weekly routines. And of course im generalizing.
  28. stuffle Says:
    Does the church you attend have members of different races?

    A few, not many, mostly white.

    Would you attend a church that had no members with the same racial makeup as yourself?

    If they had a solid biblical foundation and I felt comfortable there, then yes.

    In reality, most predominatly black churches easily meet the first criteria. Feeling comfortable there would take a while. I am acclimated to a "stiffer" style of worship.

    Do you consider the race of the congregation when you decide to attend a church? Why?

    I look at the following:

    1) tradition

    2) how solidly biblically based the church's teachings are

    I realize those two should be flipped, but I would be lying to myself if I flipped them.

    Does it make a difference that most churches are segregated?

    Yes and no.

    Yes. Any time that we are segregated down any lines, be it race, sex, whatever, we miss an oppertunity to share different perspectives with one another.

    No. A lot of the segregation simply stems from traditions of worship and not from some desire to be exclusive.
  29. MEP Says:
    I posted on this a while ago, and still am not attending any church because I haven't found one that meets all of the criteria that I decided I'm looking for. Racial and cultural diversity is a big factor for me. I don't want to go to a church that is all White, b/c I think the perspective is limited. I've attended plenty of churches where I was the only White person and it's not that I felt "uncomfortable" being the only White person - I just want to attend a church that emphasizes diverstiy as important in your daily life. It can't do that if it's not a diverse church body. I feel really strongly about this because eventually, when I have children I want them raised in a church environment that emphasizes diversity - and has a diverse makeup because they will be multiracial. I wouldn't feel right telling them that diversity is important and then take them to a church that is all one race.
  30. Dell Gines Says:
    Ok, lets put a few things in perspective. Blacks comprise 13% of the population, and still by and large are segregated in where they live. When we discuss this issue that has to be considered as well. So it only makes logical demographic sense that a church would be multi-ethnic if it was located in a multi-ethnic community as most people worship like they shop, as close to home as possible.

    Secondly, you have a demoninational factor. Some denominations historically have been 'black' denominations, such as AME, certain baptist denominations, COGIC, Apostolic to a degree, and so you have a heavier concentration based upon believe and family history that concentrates blacks in these groups, which further limits the potential for 'faith integration'.

    Couple that with simple preference for style and comfortability, and I am not quite so sure it is a big problem, and those who use it as such are probably looking for an excuse not to be in church anyway.

    And we can't not consider the history of racism that lead to the fragmentation of the church in the first place.

    When blacks weren't allowed by whites to worship with them or were forced to sit up top and not participate in any meaningful way.

    White racism has permeated every facet of American society, even faith. That is to bad.
  31. Dell Gines Says:
    Oh by the way, diversity is over rated.
  32. Malik Says:
    Diversity is natural. Assimilation is over-rated.
  33. James Manning Says:
    Thanks guys for the comment. From my perspective, it doesn't seem as though it is that big of a problem with folks. Dell pointed out the different denominations and I think that does play a large part in the way folk worship.


    Welcome to the blog and thanks for your input.

    Malik pointed out something. When we talk about divirsification in church, are we really saying that black folks should seek out white churches? Historically, it was always the black population that forced changes when it came to race. This could be another one except it seems that most black people are comfortable with the way things are and most white people seem to feel the same.
  34. Dell Gines Says:
    Good point Malik :) (assimilation)

    And another good question James.

    A prominent activist down here says the problem with 'integration' is that it is one way integration. Most diverse churches I have attended though seem to have a fair balance.
  35. Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden Says:
    11 29 05

    James: good post and I do recall seeing MEP's on a similar issue. I like diverse churches, but the one I grew up in was mainly Black. Dell brought up the point that it was a denominational thing. Stuffle also had a point about a "stiffer" style of worship. Many Black churches have a more interactive and less liturgical basis than White Churches, although Pentacostals are a whole nother topic. In terms of diverse churches, the most diversity I have seen (excluding fellowships between different churches eg a Black church fellowshipping with a Korean Church) is the newer nondenomination denominations, like the Church of Christ. Pentacostals that I have seen also have a lot of diversity in the membership and I suppose it is how they worship. But diversity doesn't equal sound theology or theology that is conducive to social change, necessarily, as it could be a diverse church is just as small minded as a not so diverse church. A buddy of mine went to a really diverse church in Atlanta a few years back. But then they told her that if she didn't get rid of her friends who were not part of the church, she would be disowned! So diversity ain't my only criteria. Stuffles work for me:) Thx for blogging about this James; a tough issue.
  36. James Manning Says:
    Thanks Mahn, Eveyone seems to be on the same page with this topic so I am curious as to what are the sticking points of the subject. I'll bring it up again.
  37. kansasscott Says:
    I saw Jaime on Sunday, sorry I didn't get a chance to talk to her. What a great topic! It's obviously stirred your readers up! Your post was very helpful to me in understanding why people go to churches where there are people of like color. I cannot tell you why I have become so passionate about making our church more diverse. All I can point to is. . . God. He has stirred my heart to push, and sometimes even fight for the church to be diverse. I believe that is the heart of God. John 3:16 says, "for God so loved the world", and that would include everyone, right? In Ephesians 2 the Bible says that God, through Jesus Christ, broke the dividing wall of hostility between two groups that would under other circumstances hate one another. A church of diversity not only shows the heart of God, but also shows His that His character is not bound up in one race or even gender. Thank you for writing this. I am proud to be the pastor of "your church," and deeply honored that you would see me as your pastor.
  38. James Manning Says:
    Thanks for commenting scott. I was thinking about attending church this week but the Bears are playing the Green Bay Packers - can't miss that one. Pray for me.

    I think it is admirable that you seek diversity in your church. but I would say that I like your teaching style and that is what makes me want to return (after the football season).
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