why many americans prefer their sundays segregated

Read this recent article [below] from CNN entitled “Why Many Americans Prefer Their Sundays Segregated.”

There are many things that are important in one’s search for a church, right? How important is a diverse church community to you – particularly race?  Bluntly, do you care about racial diversity in the church?  Why or why not? 


And one more question:

If you could make ONE suggestion to a church community that desires to embrace a vision for multiethnicity, what would it be?

Hoping for an honest, respectful, and insightful dilogue…


(CNN) — The Rev. Paul Earl Sheppard had recently become the senior pastor of a suburban church in California when a group of parishioners came to him with a disturbing personal question.

They were worried because the racial makeup of their small church was changing. They warned Sheppard that the church’s newest members would try to seize control because members of their race were inherently aggressive. What was he was going to do if more of “them” tried to join their church?

“One man asked me if I was prepared for a hostile takeover,” says Sheppard, pastor of Abundant Life Christian Fellowship in Mountain View, California.

The nervous parishioners were African-American, and the church’s newcomers were white. Sheppard says the experience demonstrated why racially integrated churches are difficult to create and even harder to sustain. Some blacks as well as whites prefer segregated Sundays, religious scholars and members of interracial churches say.

Americans may be poised to nominate a black man to run for president, but it’s segregation as usual in U.S. churches, according to the scholars. Only about 5 percent of the nation’s churches are racially integrated, and half of them are in the process of becoming all-black or all-white, says Curtiss Paul DeYoung, co-author of “United by Faith,” a book that examines interracial churches in the United States.

DeYoung’s numbers are backed by other scholars who’ve done similar research. They say integrated churches are rare because attending one is like tiptoeing through a racial minefield. Just like in society, racial tensions in the church can erupt over everything from sharing power to interracial dating.

DeYoung, who is also an ordained minister, once led an interracial congregation in Minneapolis, Minnesota, that eventually went all-black. He defines an interracial church as one in which at least 20 percent its membership belongs to a racial group other than that church’s largest racial group.

“I left after five years,” DeYoung says. “I was worn out from the battles.”

The men and women who remain and lead interracial churches often operate like presidential candidates. They say they live with the constant anxiety of knowing that an innocuous comment or gesture can easily mushroom into a crisis that threatens their support.

“It’s not all ‘Kumbaya’ and ‘We are the World,’ ” says Sheppard, the pastor of the Northern California church, who was raised by his father, a Baptist preacher, in the black church. “There are plenty of skirmishes.”

Can’t we just be Christians?

If it’s so tough, why bother? That’s one of the first questions interracial churches must address.

DeYoung says he encountered many blacks who said they wanted a racial timeout on Sunday.

“They would say, ‘I need a place of refuge,'” he says. “They said, ‘I need to come to a place on Sunday morning where I don’t experience racism.’ “

Whites also complained of their own version of racial fatigue, other scholars say.

Theodore Brelsford, co-author of “We Are the Church Together,” another book that looks at interracial churches, says whites often say that church should transcend race.

“They’d say, ‘Can’t we just get along without talking about race all the time? Can’t we just be Christians?'”

Not really, say advocates for interracial churches. They argue that churches should be interracial whenever possible because their success could ultimately reduce racial friction in America.

American churches haven’t traditionally done a good job at being racially inclusive, scholars say. Slavery and Jim Crow kept blacks and whites apart in the pews in the nation’s early history. Some large contemporary black denominations, like the African Methodist Episcopal church, were formed because blacks couldn’t find acceptance in white churches.

Large denominations like the Methodists, Baptists and Presbyterians split over race in the 19th century when their members clashed over the issue of slavery, Michael Emerson, a scholar on interracial churches, recounted in his book, “Divided by Faith.”

But interracial church advocates say the church was never meant to be segregated. They point to the New Testament description of the first Christian church as an ethnic stew — it deliberately broke social divisions by uniting groups that were traditionally hostile to one another, they say.

DeYoung, the “United by Faith” co-author, says the first-century Christian church grew so rapidly precisely because it was so inclusive. He says the church inspired wonder because its leaders were able to form a community that cut across the rigid class and ethnic divisions that characterized the ancient Roman world.

“People said that if Jews, Greeks, Africans, slaves, men and women – the huge divides of that time period — could come together successfully, there must be something to this religion,” DeYoung says.

Biblical precedents, though, may not be enough to make someone attend church with a person of another race. Something else is needed: a tenacious pastor who goads his or her church to reach across racial lines, interracial church scholars say.

The Rev. Rodney Woo, senior pastor of Wilcrest Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, may be such a person. He leads a congregation of blacks, whites and Latinos. Like many leaders of interracial churches, he is driven in part by a personal awakening.

Woo’s mother is white, and his father is part Chinese. He attended an all-black high school growing up in Port Arthur, Texas, where he still remembers what it was like to be a minority.

“Everyone understands the rules, the lingo, the mind-set — except you,” he says. “It was invaluable, but I didn’t know it at the time.”

When he became pastor of Wilcrest in 1992, he was determined to shield his church members from such an experience. But an exodus of whites, commonly referred to as “white flight” was already taking place in the neighborhood and the church.

Membership fell to about 200 people. At least one church member suggested that Woo could change the church’s fortunes by adding a “d” to his last name.

“The fear there was people would think I was Chinese,” he says. “There would be a flood of all these Asians coming in, and what would we do then?”

Woo kept his last name and his vision. He made racial diversity part of the church’s mission statement. He preached it from the pulpit and lived it in his life. He says Wilcrest now has about 500 members, and is evenly divided among white, Latino and black members.

Woo doesn’t say his church has resolved all of its racial tensions. There are spats over music, length of service, even how to address Woo. Blacks prefer to address him more formally, while whites prefer to call him by his first name, (a sign of disrespect in black church culture), Woo says.

Woo tries to defuse the tension by offering something for everyone: gospel and traditional music, an integrated pastoral staff, “down-home” preaching and a more refined sermon at times.

But he knows it’s not enough. And he’s all right with that.

“If there’s not any tension, we probably haven’t done too well,” he says. “If one group feels too comfortable, we’ve probably neglected another group.”

Going from “they” to “we”

Sometimes, though, a determined pastor is not enough. Interracial churches can also implode on issues far more explosive than worship styles — like sex and power.

One such issue is interracial dating. Some scholars and leaders who deal with interracial issues say it’s not unusual for parents in racially-mixed churches to leave when their teenage kids begin dating.

Woo saw that exodus at Wilcrest. Some parents talked about the importance of a multiracial church, until their kid became attracted to someone from another race within the church.

“As kids began to date, some things get revealed,” he says. “They didn’t want their kids involved in interracial dating — and that’s not just whites.”

Accepting black leadership is another touchy subject. Most interracial churches are led by white pastors. A congregation typically becomes all-black if a black pastor is hired, says DeYoung, the “United by Faith” co-author.

“As long as the top person, the senior pastor, is white, power sort of resides with whites,” DeYoung says. “But when that shifts, it does something psychologically to people. People usually leave.”

Black pastors who do gain the acceptance of interracial congregations still have to watch themselves. Some white parishioners, even progressive ones, get uneasy when a black pastor gets too fiery in the pulpit, says Brelsford, co-author of “We are the Church Together.”

“A black church sermon that could be understood as impassioned might be interpreted as angry and defensive by a white congregation,” Brelsford says. “It could kick into fear of black men.”

Sheppard, the black minister of the church in California, says he modified his style to appeal to all sorts of people.

He says he abandoned the pulpit pyrotechnics he learned growing up in the black church when his congregation’s racial mix changed. He also carries his authority lightly, dressing casually in the pulpit and consulting with church committees before making decisions. In conversation, he’s relaxed and accessible.

“I’m very aware of how rare this is,” he says of being the black minister of an interracial congregation. “I’m humbled by it.”

The people in the pews must also do their share of adapting, scholars and ministers say. Only when ethnic groups no longer feel compelled to abandon their entire culture on Sunday morning can a church claim to be interracial, Brelsford says.

An interracial church isn’t one in which all the black members act, dress and worship like the church’s majority white members to make them feel comfortable, he says.

Interracial churches resist “taking one dominant identity and forcing everyone to fit into it,” Brelsford says.

That appears to have happened at Sheppard’s church in Northern, California. Since its rocky early days, it has now grown to a multiracial congregation of about 6,000 people. Whites, blacks, Asians, Latinos – all now attend.

“We refuse,” Sheppard says, “to be a one-flavor-fits-all church.”

Interracial congregations often include people who probably wouldn’t have become friends in any other circumstances. They are people like Dwight Pryor, a black man who grew up in segregated Mississippi seeing blacks brutalized by whites. He says he grew up disliking white people.

Today, Pryor says he is best friends with a white member of Wilcrest, a man who grew up in Alabama during segregation in a family that hated blacks.

When Pryor sees his friend on Sunday, he says he no longer sees a “they” or a “them” trying to invade his world.

He sees his brother in Christ.

“We come to love each other,” he says. “When I look into his eyes, I can see the love of Jesus Christ. He and I have become friends.”

54 Replies to “why many americans prefer their sundays segregated”

  1. It’s important to me but it’s amongst many important things that I seek for in my church community. I think it’s so easy to highlight one aspect like diversity that we can lose sight of the most important thing – Jesus Christ and the gospel.

    My one suggestion would be this – even if it sounds lame: What would Jesus do?

  2. Thank you for posting this. This is close to my heart and is very important to me. The problem is, I live in white-ville and there is very little diversity. I have intentional began building relationships with non-white residents to diversify my life. I need it.

    Since I’ve never lead a segregated church into being multiethnic, or been in a health multiethnic church, I can only say fight for it. The diversity of God’s Kingdom is worth struggling for. Unity is possible and is a powerful way for us as the Church to be counter-cultural.

  3. It will never happen here on earth but we have to fight for it. That would be my suggestion to all Christians and by “it” – I am speaking about the Kingdom of God which includes the every people and every tribe.

  4. Hey from South Africa.
    Very important, but we also experience the complexity of this. I preached at a black congregation on Sunday, and my own white congregation think it’s cool, but if 20% or more of the congregation become black members… well, I think this nice group of white people might not like that so much…

  5. I think this is a very interesting article.

    It seems that while many people like the idea of multi-ethnic churches, the stark reality is that there is very little interest from the different ethnic groups. Good or bad, right or wrong, the vast majority of different ethnic groups desire to worship within their own cultural norms and context. Also doesn’t it seem that most of the people that are interested in starting/creating multi-ethnic churches are white?

  6. @DK

    What would Jesus do? He talked all the time about reconciliation and unity. In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ prayer at Gethsemane spoke about unity as a sign to the world pointing to God’s love.

    When you mention losing “sight of the most important thing – Jesus Christ and the gospel,” I can’t help but think that one of the most important things about Jesus Christ and the gospel is the idea of unity despite diversity and as globalization puts more races in more parts of the world, unity in multi-ethnic churches is more of a priority than ever.

    Yes, it’s difficult and messy and thorny but we must work through these issues if the church is to be a portal for the kingdom of God to pour through into todays’ world.

  7. DK: Jesus Christ & gospel. yes. but, goes to a bigger question. what is the gospel? is it simply our sole eternal salvation, or does it include things like… loving your neighbors (ie. samaritan loving the jew…or in our context…. racial divide)

    I love the point that Kevin points out. If churches are to reach out to their community, and their community lacks any diversity, then, how is a church to be multiracial? Which leads to the fact that this racial divide goes far beyond the problem that sunday mornings are so racially divided. It’s a huge systematic problem that involves socio-economic classes along with racial segregation.

    I’m convinced the only way America can begin to overcome racial division, is if it begins with churches. Nobody else has an incentive to accept people of different culture/skin color besides those who must comply with affirmative action. Christians have that ingrained in our misison to not only accept people, but to love them. And if we’re not, we’re not doing a good job. I think if church can be the impetus to racial healing and reconciliation, that may be a huge witness to those rejecting Christ.

    I’m in a multiethnic church. about 45% asian, 30% white, 25% black, and a few years back, when we were transitioning from a predominantly asian church to a multi-ethnic church, I don’t think there was much in terms of preaching/teaching on diversity… rather, it was more driven through prayer. It probably also helps that 90% of our congregation are <35 years old, and are more comfortable with diversity.

  8. I enjoyed the article as well. Interestingly, Paul Sheppard was my pastor at ALCF for my five years in Cali before I moved back to Seattle and started attending Quest. That church is amazing in how it holds together a mix of black, white, asian and hispanic populations, in, essentially East Palo Alto (once upon a time not a safe place to be) with large proportions of super low income folks and silicon valley tech millionaires. I know it was very difficult for many members of the church when the AA majority faded, but so many people were so intentional about showing love to people they’d never met or seen (it’s a big church), and were clearly from different walks of life. It was a powerful testimony. It’s also one of the biggest factors I ended up at Quest.

  9. @ Brad:
    “Also doesn’t it seem that most of the people that are interested in starting/creating multi-ethnic churches are white?”
    I don’t know what u r insinuating w/ this statement but I think in most cases I’ve seen the reverse is true.

    This was a good article but I felt like it over-complicated the issue. Painted a picture like multi-ethnicity was an impossible, exotic endeavor, when increasingly, it should be the norm.

  10. People go to worship on Sunday, and they worship as they have been raised to worship. Since our church style, traditions, and techniqures are all influenced and developed withour our culture, and the ethnic groups of america have very different cultures…. our churches are very different from each other.

    Therefore, for me to go to a black church is stepping out of my comfort zone not just because of my skin color but because I have no idea what the cultural norms or traditions are. I feel like an outsider, and it would take a lot of time to learn the culture and adjust to the traditions. Much like settling into another country.

    Since we’d rather not have to go through all of that in order to approach God and find a community to fellowship with, we stick with what is most comfortable – our own culture.

    I think that ethnically mixed churches thrive best in the city because the city is where ethnic groups are forced to mix the most and learn to be comfortable with each other. You have the common culture of the city that provides a bridge between the culture of your ethnic group.

  11. First of all, true worship is applying one’s faith to life, not simply
    in gathering together within a building and listening to a preacher

    However, Sunday worship provides a positive benefit to its members.

    Multiethnicity can only be obtained by those of KINDRED HEARTS.
    This is a challenge for different peoples because they can have
    positive but unique ways to approach the Lord.

    Nothing needs to be forced. If multiethnicity is desired, a higher goal
    must be identified that brings people together and harmonizes the
    beauty they can each bring to worshipping God. If another ethnicity can
    augment the quality of love in a church then there is nothing to
    fear. “Control” is not the issue. Mutual love is.

    The whole point of spiritual salvation comes from making real changes
    in our lives – not preserving the status quo. The Lord has promised
    to make ALL THINGS NEW – this new world is not abstracted from the
    qualities of the regenerated human mind and heart!

    Spiritually ypurs,

  12. I just wrote on this myself.. it is an important topic.

    Diversity is obviously more than race, but race is a part of it.

    I think the most important biblical thing is that our church reflects our community. If someone lives in a predominantly black or white community, then obviously racial diversity is not going to be the mark of a healthy church, but other kinds of diversity will…

    Most importantly, we should seek a diversity of Spirit-gifted servants who will expand the Kingdom.

  13. @JRMiller,

    I agree with the latter half of your post. The first half I disagree because if we base the external community as our litmus test, we might be in trouble. What if the community the church exists in is unhealthy?

    Isn’t this what the author is saying? The church needs to lead the way because society as a whole is divided…

  14. Wayne, I hope I wasn’t insinuating anything by my statement, although it probably comes off that way. I am afraid I choose my words poorly. I wasn’t saying that whites are the only ones “interested” starting or creating multi-ethnic churches because other ethnic groups were not (in fact I find that in our network of churches). What I meant was that it seems that we (whites) are the ones who are many times misguided/misinformed about how to go about it. We think that other ethnic groups ought to somehow begin to “show up” to what we are already doing.

    I work for as a church planting strategist for a network of Baptist churches in a large metro area and my experience has been that it is the planters that are white that “complain” that we should have multi-ethnic churches – even in suburban areas that are 95% white. While our Hispanic, Asian, African American, Arabic speaking, etc. churches don’t “complain” about the lack of diversity in their churches, they simply focus on ministry to everyone and diversity begins to take place.

    I apologize for my poor choice of words, although this may not have been much better 🙂

  15. BRAD – I have made the same observation… multiethnicity, as it is commonly conceived and practiced, is cool for white people and exceedingly costly for minorities who have to live and interact with the dominant (i.e. White) cultural norms all the time.

  16. The creed is all I care about: Roman Catholic. Race, gender, ethnicity should all be non-issues to a real Christian. All of the non-issues I mentioned started with the protestant reformation. From that point forward people ‘church shopped’ causing fragmentation.

  17. Brad, you write, “…churches don’t “complain” about the lack of diversity in their churches, they simply focus on ministry to everyone and diversity begins to take place.”

    Right on. We are planting in a community with only tiny percentage of any minority, but one day I realized that we are about 25% minority. We never tried. It was not our goal. It just happened because we value people and value the things that make us unique.

  18. When we start talking about what Jesus would do, I think there are great examples: he himself said that he came to the Jews, but he also went out of his way to minister to a Samaritan woman and bring the Gospel to her and her ethnic group, which was shunned by the dominant culture. So if the focus is on Jesus and the Gospel, then I would agree with Randall that diversity is an important part of the Gospel.

    I think the challenge comes in the how: we can talk about how great multicultural, multiethnic, reconciliation-focused churches are, but how do we make that a reality? Does it really just happen? We’ve been talking about this with regards to our worship ministry: how do we be authentic and yet explore the diversity of the church on a global level?

  19. As I pray and prepare for a church planting project in the Puget Sound area, what I realize is that the centrality and the missional thrust of the gospel is the key in seeing the church of all nations. I prefer to use the term cross-cultural and cross-ethnic over multi-cultural or multi-ethnic.

    Cross-cultural/ethnic/church experiences confirm the depravity that is pervasive in human hearts and habits. Even within the same cultural/ethnic/church environment, people face generational/economic/educational/theological differences that are often overlooked.

    It’s amazing to see how even within Protestant circle of churches, theological commitments divide, exclude, withdraw, and expel in the name of purity and orthodoxy.

    I believe that when each one of us in the context of community (family, church, or work) God has placed us obey the Great Commandments (Loving God and loving one’s neighbor: parents, spouse, children, co-worker, employer, employee, dogs, cats, and trees) and the Great Commission (Going and making disciples, which means learning to follow Jesus and carrying out the implications of Christ’s Lordship in all areas of life), we will witness the transforming power of God and manifestation of His glory and our joy in everything.

  20. I can only speak from a perspective here in Chicago, but well meaning white people who want “more diversity” are flocking to the city but are congregating in quickly gentrifying (hip young white) neighborhoods. The migratory paterns we’re experiencing here is that pockets of the city are becoming “whiter” as young suburbanites move in while the inner ring of suburbs is becoming more ethnically diverse at a spectacular rate. The irony of things here in the midwest is that multi-ethnic ministry is happening in the suburbs.

    The way migration in the US is going, multi-ethnicity will be found in any place.

    I was in a small rural town in Wisconsin a few months ago. I stopped at a Chinese restaurant where the cashier appeared to be Korean, the cooks appeared to be southeast Asian, there was a Buddha statue in the corner and the dishwasher wore a “Real Men Love Jesus” T-shirt– and 3/4 of the customers were speaking Spanish– in rural Wisconsin. Young people moving urban looking for diversity will likely find more homogeneity. People in traditional homogenous regions will find themselves in multi-ethnic settings.

  21. “There are many things that are important in one’s search for a church, right? How important is a diverse church community to you – particularly race? Bluntly, do you care about racial diversity in the church? Why or why not? ”

    I was raised in the Seventh Day Adventist church and they still don’t even have a unified church governing board- the white and black churches are separate. Although, to be honest, I think it is a matter of both sides feeling more comfortable that way.

    As for me, do I go looking for a multi-ethnic multi-racial church? Not really. I look for a church that is doctrinally sound and expresses genuine love and community. The color of the people sitting in the pews is irrelevant.

  22. Samuel, I like your use of cross-cultural over multi-cultural…Honestly, I’m not a fan of details but I think it’s going to be changes like that (your vocabulary) which will eventually open church doors to all people. That’s awesome.

    Diversity in a church is a big deal for me…partly due to my position as a biracial child, but more importantly because the kingdom of heaven is for all people. We as the church will need a lot of grace to lay down our ideas of the “right” way to do church and accept other’s input…and we will need to be much more aware of the biases that we may find ridiculous but which are a big deal for someone else…I guess that would be compassion.

    Good post! I like that this issue is being brought to light. I think it’s a bigger deal than most people would like to admit.

  23. I tend to agree with a lot of the posts above. If a church is homogeneous, the problem is not that it is homogeneous, this is a symptom of a greater ailment. I can’t diagnose the true problem, probably a mix of many things, fear, comfort…

    I believe that a diverse church is very important. However, when I say diverse I do not only mean skin color/race/ethnicity…. I mean background, history, beliefs, world-views, education, career paths, age and socio-economic status. To me this is huge because God created so many types of people… they are valuable to Him… they broaden my perspective and help me to see things in new and amazing ways.

    My advice to Churches… Love your community. Reach out and love the people next door in a way that is uncomfortable and inconvenient and challenging.

  24. @Samuel: great comment.

    i wonder if while we MUST engage and serve our local community, this is another reason we have to embrace a theology and vision of the larger Kingdom. for folks that live in predominantly Anglo communities for example, what would it look like if they choose to intentionally engage faith communities from other areas. While it may be implausible to “worship together on Sundays,” there can certainly be opportunities to serve the larger city or area together. this is possible if and only if respective leaderships have a heart and willingness to engage such matters.

    one other thought i would have is to have to go beyond “diversity” in numbers. i think we often stop there or pat ourselves in the back when we find a certain % of folks that don’t look like us. they become trophies or dare i say, “exotic” congregants, that make us feel good.

    we can embrace a vision for “cross-cultural” ministry even if the numbers don’t necessarily reflect that during our sunday numbers.

  25. @eugenecho I agree… diversity in a Sunday morning worship service isn’t necessarily diversity. In fact, trying to get churches to reflect diversity in numbers the way workplaces or college campuses do may in fact be destroying diversity rather than celebrating it. The 5% of churches that are racially integrated probably share many other cultural similarities. While they may be “multi-ethnic” they are not “multi-cultural.” The racially integrated churches are just as homogeneous as any other church.

    By setting “multi-ethnic” congregations as our goal, what are we really doing? We are asking people to leave behind their own cultural morays and even languages in order to adopt another culture and language… why? Just so we can worship together in the same building in the same worship service.

  26. @randplaty: but why would you assume that the goal of “multi-ethnic congregations” is to ask people to “leave behind their own cultural morays?”

    Isn’t the goal Relationship – relationship with God and relationship with one another; to join together to be the Body of Christ?

  27. I think the problem is primarily culture. The culture of how different ethnic groups worship is what’s causing the rift. How do you integrate two separate cultures?

  28. Race and Culture. big stuff.

    For me, the most compelling reason for working to build a context that invites, encourages and supports members of a diverse group to each have a stake in what’s going on, regardless of ethnicity or color, is the Gospel story itself.

    my natural context: working poor, great grandchild of Okinawan immigrants to Hawaii, public school. When I met Jesus, it was in that context. The Jesus Story I grabbed on to was one that made sense in that context. It was enough to change my life.

    the context I have been re-shaped into today: (the above mentioned plus), married to a Pawnee and Irish woman, father to Okinawan/Japanese/Pawnee/Irish, adopted into an Athabascan village, invested in a mostly white city, still technically working poor (although I don’t feel it), mixed church. The Story that I am learning has grown, changed and challenged my original understanding of the Good News because my context has been (often uncomfortably)blown open to include other contexts.

    Hearing the Gospel through the lives of American Indians, Polynesians, Africans, Black Americans, White Americans, has transformed how I see the Gospel and how I see the world.

    I can’t think of a christian who has not been discipled in some way by the faith of the descendants of African Slaves or thef faith of Native people targeted for centuries of extermination, who can reconcile a loving God with the cruel facts of history.

    Its the big questions that are haunting the church now. Economic Injustice. the Roots of massive inequity. Torture. War. Suffering. If you only hear the gospel in contexts that have not been exposed to the big questions, I would think it is really hard to join the revolution.

  29. @jessephillips

    I don’t think integration is the goal. I think churches need to be a place where differences are at least appreciated but more ideally, celebrated as a reflection of the wildly creative God that we worship and serve.

    I can’t think of a specific verse to back this up but in addition to worship, one of the primary functions of the church (and the individuals who make up the church) is to serve as a harbinger or preview of the Kingdom to come. So the one of the reasons to strive for a diverse, multi-cultural congregation is to show the world that it is possible, to show the world what the world will be like at the return of Christ.

    The strength of an ecosystem comes from biodiversity – wildly different organisms working together in harmony to create a thriving, sustainable environment. From afar it seems well oiled and organized but when you look closer and see how the different pieces fit together, the picture becomes messy and complicated and sometimes violent. But it continues to work and thrive as a whole and if seen from the proper perspective, it all points back to the genius of God.

    That’s the best metaphor I can think of to describe what the church should look like.

  30. @eugenecho — I don’t think its the goal of “multi-ethnic” to leave behind culture; it’s the inevitable logistics of it. Why do we call it “multi-ethnic” and not “multi-cultural?” Because it’s impossible logistically to have a multi-cultural church. Can we all listen to a sermon in our own language all at the same time under the same roof? Can a sermon address how to live out the gospel in an African American context, Hispanic context, Korean context and Native American context all at the same time while really connecting with each one of those ethnicities in a truly “heart language” sort of way?

    So by asking people to come to multi-ethnic congregations, aren’t they giving up a little bit of their own culture? Just a little bit?

  31. @daniel: obviously. of course, i can concede that a person may need to “relinquish” for 90 minutes a bit of their comfort or “culture” if that pleases you. consider what might be the benefit though.

    i’m curious. are you married? do you have children?

  32. @eugenecho I am married… no children. I thought the point that you were making is that diversity is much more than the 90 minutes in a church service. I guess my point is just that the 90 minutes matters much less than what happens to our “diversity” outside of that 90 minutes and that perhaps we should focus on appreciating diversity and working together outside of church walls. I thought that was your point too. Maybe not?

  33. A question I have regarding multi-ethnic church services is that – under what cultural context should the church conduct its service? I’m guessing that all multi-ethnic churches in America conduct the church service under the dominant American cultural context (after all we are in america). One way or the other, the church must make a decision to subscribe one culture over others. Someone from Korea or other countries who comes to this church will have to sacrifice a lot more of their own culture than someone who’s native. Some people probably don’t need to sacrifice at all culturally. The dominant culture always prevail in a multi-ethnic church. Not everyone will have to relinquish their own culture. Those who are already in the dominant culture will not have to give up anything but only those who are from a different cultural context.

    That said, I’m not saying that multi-ethnic church is wrong or whatever. I believe that multi-ethnic church is a good thing. People from different background coming together to worship God under the same roof – awesome. But I don’t think we should elevate the idea of multi-ethnic church to a higher spiritual level.

    I think it’s fine to remain segregated on Sunday. Different cultures have different distinctive. They are all good. They reflect the diverse nature of God. Together we still worship the same God yet we celebrate him through different means (different languages, expressions, music, cultural contextualizations). There’s diversity in unity. It’s a beautiful thing.

  34. Wow, this is becoming a little heated. I am surprised.

    @ Cindy: What if the “dominant” culture was the culture of Christ? A church most likely will subscribe to one language, but do they really have to subscribe to one culture?

    To use your example of a Korean who attends a multi-ethnic church… he is still Korean. He did not “relinquish” his culture. Furthermore, God does not call us to defend our culture in this world. I see that there will be sacrifices made. However, I believe there is more to be gained through diversity than lost.

    I recall a book I read and unfortunately can not remember the name… but the book had a scripture and then commentaries by Christian leaders around the world… it was incredibly enlightening to see passages from a totally different perspective… passages seen from peoples eyes who are persecuted or live under an oppressive rule or countries with serious economic struggles. The perspective of others, even those unlike oneself, is not irrelevant, but rather enlightening and challenging.

    There is diversity in unity (ok)… but is there is NO diversity in segregation.

  35. @ Daniel. “Appreciating diversity” is exactly not the point. That’s a tokenism. What we’re striving towards is not so much appreciating diversity, rather, moving towards mission. And you just can’t do that if you can’t invite your non-asian neighbor to a church that is all asian.

    I think you make a cogent, intelligent argument for single-ethnicity churches. But I think it’s a sinking ship that you’re still clinging on to.

  36. @daniel: i think we agree on the “end product” but i think our process is different.

    while you cite some of the concerns of multiethnic/cultural churches, it doesn’t seem balanced or at least on these comments. i agree that our LIFESTYLE and WORLDVIEW is more important than our 90 minutes services but why not strive for both. And again, I don’t believe it can only be accomplished by a church passing the 20% threshold of another non-dominant “ethnic group” to be engaging cross-culturalism.

    the culture i seek to elevate beyond the many many layers of Cultures that are evident in ANY community is RELATIONSHIPS. Stories – beautiful and depraved – can be shared in Relationships. Reconciliation is possible through relationships.

  37. Matt EHH,

    Excellent point. Darrell Bock wrote a book six years ago entitled “Purpose-Directed Theology.” Getting Our Priorities Right in Evangelical Controversies.

    Bock mentions evangelicalism’s growing international makeup, Jesus studies, biblical criticism, spiritual formation, the women’s issue, globalization, cultural analysis and open theism.

    You emphasis on economic injustice and disparity as well as inequities that exist developed worlds, developing, and the Third world often fall in the blind spot of Western civilizations and worldviews.

    Incidentally, Kenneth Copeland’s multi-million dollar ministry complex in Lubbock, Texas and its low income neighbor surroundings show where we are in reality.

    So I prayerfully agree and hopefully aspire for Bock’s conclusion in his book, “We need as a community to draw on all that he has provided. We work until our time comes or the Lord returns. Surely our disputes and a multiplicity of approaches to each problem will always be with us. But clarification and better movement toward mutual understanding are realistic goals. Let’s be sure to remember the world and pursue our larger mission with a careful eye to how times change and yet remain the same. Let’s debate fairly, fully and with dignity that reflects respect for our fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord, until glory comes. God will complete his vow to make his bride whole. We cannot do it for him.” (p. 114)

    I thank God for Eugene and the courage and hope he instills in others as he pours himself out in the blogging world to move and shake people from their soul stupors.

    “Beautiful are the bloggers who bring the good news!”

  38. @ Aaron:
    “@ Cindy: What if the “dominant” culture was the culture of Christ?”
    Of course the dominant culture in every churches should be the culture of Christ. I wouldn’t call myself a christian if I don’t believe that. 🙂 But the culture of Christ can be expressed and manifested in many different cultural forms. A church in China could be just as kingdom minded as a church in America would. They share the same faith, mission, vision yet they express them differently. At the very least, they uses different languages to worship God – not to mention the type of music they sing, the stories that they tell and the lifestyle that the live are drastically different than one and other.

    Another example – in a Chinese immigrant church, the Chinese congregation worship God differently than the English congregation. The church, collectively as a whole, can have a dominant culture of Christ. Yet they have different worship services in which they express the same values differently.

    In the same way, the universal church collectively should have one dominant culture of Christ, yet we have freedom to express it differently. Again, I’m not against multi-ethnic churches at all. I think they are great because they strive to glorify God to the best they know how, just like we are. That’s the heart of worship. I merely don’t believe that multi-ethnic churches necessarily reflect higher maturity or spirituality of the church members. (BTW, I’m currently attending a ‘multi-ethnic’ church myself). 🙂

    “A church most likely will subscribe to one language, but do they really have to subscribe to one culture?””
    No, they don’t. For example, many immigrant churches subscribe to at least 2 cultures (and sometimes more) – the native culture (be it Korean, Chinese, Hispanic, etc), and the second generation American culture. I’ve seen American churches that plants a Hispanic congregation or a Chinese congregation. To me, those churches truly subscribe to different cultures.


  39. I believe Scriipture does teach diversity, but I don’t think it is to be realized in the fashion of multi-ethnic churches as I’ve seen them today. I don’t believe the multi-ethnic church is really “diverse.” At least, for the churches who claim to be multi-ethnic, or strive to be, my observation is that they are really a single-cultured church. They are X-American churches. The people who go to these churches are really some kind of Americans. They are simply Americanized people with different ethnic origins ( the X). Culturally, they are far from being a diverse church despite their claim.

    In fact, my suspicion is that these people could not tolerate the cultures of their ethnic origins. That is the main reason why they form these X-American churches. They are just as “uni-culture” as the churches they come from. I have nothing against that. If these X-American churches serve them better, and by believing that they are multi-ethnic or multi-culture (when in fact not) ease their pains, I am not going to argue against them. If delusion can heal, I would rather not stay mum.

    But the more interesting thing would be: what is the true theology about diversity as taught in Scripture? It is a great question to ponder about. Perhaps Scripture can give us a clue. Rev. 7:9 states, “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.” The tribes, languages, nations, etc. mentioned here appear to be all distinguishable, distinctive cultures. Scripture seems to embrace a diversity that highlights cultural distinctives, not a diversity that blurs cultural lines. “Multi-ethnic” churches as I’ve seen them today actually blur cultural lines by lumping everyone together. (If my observation is incorrect, I apologize.) They fail to espouse the diversity principle of Scripture. Rather, for the most part, they are just some resting places, or refuges if you may, for people who have been hurt by their original ethnic churches, or those who are more comfortable with the X-American culture. Well, perhaps, that is sufficient reason for these churches to exist. May God bless them.

  40. @ kingdomsheepdog:

    I would add an exegesis of Matt 24:14, 28:19, Mark 11:17 to name a few, as a theological foundation for diversity, particularly a focus on the greek word ethne. The translated word “nations” gives the dubious distinction that countries with their masses of peoples clumped together are the focus (thus the misinformed / malformed idea of “color blindness” and “melting pot”).

    But if in fact the word “ethne” might suggest exactly what it sounds like, ethnicity, then we have a Biblical injunction that would seem to shatter all of our lame, politically-correct notions of “multi-ethnicity”. It forces us to consider ethnic peoples, whether that’s in multi-ethnic or mono-ethnic settings.

    What disturbs me is that in the wake of the backlash against Rev Wright’s so-called “Liberation Theology”, evangelicals are calling for a divorcing between theology and culture. These purists miss the point that theology is done in culture and cannot be extricated as if we can find a pure essential orthodoxy free from the hangups of all culture. I don’t think that is correct. From my perspective, all of Scripture is already stained by the rubric of culture and ethnicity, and that’s not necessarily a negative thing.

    So I would posit that there is a really strong foundation for a theology of diversity.

  41. Fighting Global Poverty…..Aids and the orphan chlidren dying with no food, no cleanliness, no education , no one too hold them in their arms for “love and protection”….Hummmmm…I remember at a Sunday mornings meeting with a Dr. So & So from Kenya , I beleive….as he shared in length with us of their understanding of Their God-witch doctors for healing; as well as others…. I’ll leave it like this for commenting….the last sentence up top sums it up the best….if only the people in OUR culture = churches could just get it……:( Learning to look into the eyes of the other as if they were Jesus starring right back at you—with a love and forgiving kindness He does with acceptions too = Differences …Hummmm…hard to comment when some cutures are deprived with very little education to know any different or “what God to Trust in”… AS for the picture of the baby boy up top with his broken body -slim -tired and all-No Food-stricken with aids….If, I had a sling shot–I’d take out that dang vulture (bird) behind him OUT– in the waits of a death of a baby boy orphan…..hummmm this is sooooo sad….. “R”

  42. Fighting Global Poverty…..Aids and the orphan chlidren dying with no food, no cleanliness, no education , no one too hold them in their arms for “love and protection”….Hummmmm…I remember at a Sunday mornings meeting with a Dr. So & So from Kenya , I beleive….as he shared in length with us of their understanding of Their God-witch doctors for healing; as well as others…. I’ll leave it like this for commenting….the last sentence up top sums it up the best….if only the people in OUR culture = churches could just get it……:( Learning to look into the eyes of the other as if they were Jesus starring right back at you—with a love and forgiving kindness He does with acceptions too = Differences …Hummmm…hard to comment when some cutures are deprived with very little education to know any different or “what God to Trust in”… AS for the picture of the baby boy up top with his broken body -slim -tired and all-No Food-stricken with aids….If, I had a sling shot–I’d take out that dang vulture (bird) behind him OUT– in the waits of a death of a baby boy orphan…..hummmm this is sooooo sad….. “R”

  43. Eugene — Sorry for jumping in a little bit late here; I’m still catching up from returning from Japan. Welcome home, by the way!

    This is a really great discussion. I’ve been especially interested to read the comments from practitioners with their feet on the ground seeking to live out “unity in diversity.”

    Richard Twiss has been enormously helpful for me in seeing how our theology of the Trinity matters (beyond confusing/borderline heretical analogies involving eggs, water and/or ceiling fans) — God has always existed as three, and yet perfectly as one in mutual, submissive love. If we are called to be His people, and are sent to participate in His mission, we must — in some broken way — reflect this “radical community expressed through diversity,” as Twiss says.

  44. “Accepting black leadership is another touchy subject. Most interracial churches are led by white pastors. A congregation typically becomes all-black if a black pastor is hired”
    I am weighing in rather late in this discussion; but i wonder if anyone will care to address this particular point. I believe that is a major issue that needs to be addressed in the white christian community, is there not some deeply ingrained racism when submission to a black leader is not even a possibility for some despite our brotherhood in Christ? So perhaps the plumb line for judging true christian desegregation should be not so much the number of racially integrated churches as a whole but the number of racially integrated churches pastored by black pastors and other minorities.

  45. Eugene—you make some great points here.

    This is an issue for the greater church and is not limited to one segment or another when it comes to theological persuasion and preference. Yesterday I ran across a two part series that sort of runs parallel with your takes here by a pastor named Jin S. Kim on Jim Wallis’ blog—you might appreciate it ( http://blog.beliefnet.com/godspolitics/2008/08/a-multicultural-witness-agains.html and http://blog.beliefnet.com/godspolitics/2008/08/a-multicultural-witness-agains-1.html )

    Anyways, I have enjoyed rummaging through your blog. I gather you and Driscoll aren’t the best of friends but I will pray for you both up there—I’m over here on the other side of the country just about in Michigan. Your global poverty initiative will be posted on a couple of my blogs as well as my FaceBook page.

    Thanks for writing—Ken

  46. I wanted to add that I didn’t realize it was a CNN reporter sharing the quotes and such—my mistake—missed the intro I guess!

    I would say that when a church embraces a single vision for a pastors pet ministries instead of one that encompasses the local mercy ministries or maybe launches their own ministries that are in tune with the needs locally and the attempts to reach those folks (i.e. local jail/prison) it runs the risk of sending a message that says we aren’t diverse. On the other hand, my experience tells me that a church that embraces and casts a wider net of sorts sends a message that in not being selective or prejudice in who it seeks to serve—also tends to breed a spirit of diversity if you will and in turn becomes a place where those worshiping will not be as selective about how they sit by when gathering together.

    And in answer to your question I think racial divides in a local body a huge hindrance. Thanks again—Ken

  47. ken,

    mark and i aren’t drinking buddies. he’s a rock star and i’m basically a rock. but i have much respect for my co-laborer and brother in christ. and while we’re not ‘active friends,’ i consider him a friend and he’s certainly demonstrated that to me and my family.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s