Segregated Churches

I wish I had seen this article from AP before writing my post What were they thinking? I would surely have added this story in.

A Mississippi couple says the church where they planned to get married turned them away because they are black.

Charles and Te’Andrea Wilson say they had set the date and mailed invitations, but the day before their wedding they say they got bad news from the pastor of predominantly white First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs: Some members of the church complained about the black couple having a wedding there.

The Wilsons, who live in nearby Jackson, said they attend the church regularly although they are not members.

Pastor Stan Weatherford told WLBT TV (http://bit.ly/QSNlf8 ) he was surprised when a small number of church members opposed holding the wedding at the church.

“This had never been done before here, so it was setting a new precedent, and there are those who reacted to that because of that,” said Weatherford.

Weatherford performed the July 21 ceremony at another church.

“I didn’t want to have a controversy within the church, and I didn’t want a controversy to affect the wedding of Charles and Te’Andrea. I wanted to make sure their wedding day was a special day,” said Weatherford.

WLBT reported that church officials now say they welcome any race. They plan to hold internal meetings on how to move forward.

It seems rather incredible that something like this could happen in this day and age. In fact, segregation in the church is one of the greatest scandals of American Christianity. In the past, almost every Protestant denomination split along racial lines with Black churches forming to avoid the discrimination suffered by Blacks who worshipped in predominantly white churches, especially in the South. This sort of segregation continues to this day, albeit on a voluntary basis, as I read in this report from 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.

There is much more, and although this was written back in 2008, I do not think things have changed much.

It is understandable that people tend to want to associate with those who look like them and think like them, but this is contrary to scripture. As Paul wrote.

27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:27-29)

and

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands) — 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:11-22)

It would seem then that the existence of segregated churches is contrary to the desire of Jesus Christ who wants all Christians to be united in one body.  I don’t honestly know how to make that happen. Maybe white churches could pair with black churches of the same denomination and worship together for one Sunday a month. Preachers and pastors could make an effort to reach out to the unchurched of different races, etc.

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2 Responses to “Segregated Churches”

  1. thesgg Says:

    I truly believe that education in the church and outreach demonstrated first by the pastors are the way to end this. What we do not remember we repeat and this seems like a lot of ignorance that bred the same mistakes of the past. God bless you brother. Life, love and learning to you.

    • David Hoffman Says:

      Thank you. I have a feeling that Christians will not long have the luxury of being divided along racial or denominational grounds. We had better learn to hang together.

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