Posts Tagged ‘unity’

(Some Questions for Readers)

Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.  (Matthew 12:25)

I cannot comment on other religions and whether they have the same problems, but Christianity seems to me to be terribly fragmented, along sociological, ideological, and denominational lines.  All of these divisions are rendering our faith ineffective and even laughable to those outside of Christianity, so I wanted to post an essay addressing one issue:  division along racial lines.

I wrote this piece a year or so ago, and have wanted a forum to discuss this problem for a long time.  I hope that you will read it and comment on the questions at the end.

Peace & Grace,



Sacred Segregation in the South

“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.”  -Martin Luther King

Black and white people work together, attend school together, and frequent the same restaurants and theatres.  But here in the south, they usually choose to worship separately.  I have been the sole white member of an African-American church for the past ten years, and I find this mystifying and disturbing.  When I have invited whites to come with me to church, they usually make excuses not to come.  If they do visit, they never return. I am curious if this is unique to this area, or if it extends further.  I will share a few experiences that have made me wonder about this.

When I was a child attending a Baptist church in North Carolina, I heard the preacher ask the congregation not to bring any of their black friends to church.  Although I was so young at the time, it didn’t sound right to me.

In more recent times, I asked a prison chaplain for information about the ministerial association in my area and was told that there are two; one for white ministers and one for black ministers. I could not understand why.  Are they afraid of each other?  He also told me “it is very unusual for a white person to willingly come under the leadership of a black preacher, although it is not as rare for it to be the other way around.”

I read a newspaper article by a black preacher who remarked that their church had “broken the racial barrier” because one white person had begun attending there.  I found that to be a bit of an overstatement.

I heard a black preacher speak at a juvenile detention center during Black History Month a couple years ago, and he proudly stated that all of the great patriarchs in the Bible were men of color, including King David and Solomon.  He said that Jesus Christ Himself was a man of color.  I have no objection to any of these statements, because it makes no difference to me whatsoever.  But it raised questions in my mind about whether this is evidence that people still harbor racist feelings, causing them to want to preserve one segregated realm.  It is my desire to explore this issue with more depth and find out why blacks and whites seem to prefer to remain separate in this one arena of religion.

My parents participated in civil disobedience in north Florida in the sixties to show their support for oppressed blacks.  They were arrested while trying to integrate buses in Tallahassee.  My father described how the bus driver looked in the rear view mirror and saw what was happening, and radioed the police. The driver said that the inside of his bus looked “like a checkerboard.”

The Ku Klux Klan has also had many demonstrations in St. Augustine, and in the center of the town, the remains of a slave market still stand as a grim reminder of the town’s history.  Although city officials deny that the spot was ever really a slave market, a close friend of mine says that she remembers her father telling her that when he returned from World War I, he saw an auction of slaves taking place there.

A Flagler College student named Jeremy Dean produced and directed a documentary called “Dare Not Walk Alone” about the civil rights movement in Saint Augustine, Florida. At the end of the film, he photographed the part of town where many of the blacks live, to raise the question of whether there is truly “equality” for blacks in the present time.

I have met two ladies from the “Saint Augustine Four” who were arrested in Woolworth’s for trying to order lunch in 1963, when it was a “whites only” restaurant. One of them still has pains in her knees from scrubbing floors while she was in prison for this “crime.” I apologize that their names escape me, but one of them showed me a scrapbook with photographs and articles about the demonstrations in the “oldest city.”

I joined a black church in 2003, and I know that the Spirit led me there.  I had a dream about a group of black prophets many years ago, and I will discuss that in a separate memoir.  My experience has been that God always leads me to places where He can take me to the next level in my spiritual growth.

I am not the first white person to find my calling and fulfillment in a black church.   Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Christian martyr from Germany who studied at Union Theological Seminary in New York, attended the First Abyssinian Church in Harlem.  He states that this church transformed him from a Christian scholar to a man of God.  My experience is quite similar.  Through a black church, I found my identity as a daughter of the King.

Like Bonhoeffer, I found that the liberty and passion of the black worship services enabled me to pour out my heart to God and to establish a relationship with Him in a new way.  This is the most marked difference between white and black worship services that I have been a part of.

In my church, people can worship outside the program- they can sing a spiritual, give their testimony, run to the altar to cry and pray, or whatever is necessary to find their wholeness in God.  There is seldom a time limit, and the service continues until everyone feels refreshed and equipped to deal with their personal trials.

There are many amazing practices in my church that remind me of the early church in the Book of Acts.  Pastors take their entire congregations and choirs to visit other churches.  They cross denominational lines to have fellowship with each other, and uphold the doctrine of the house that they are visiting when they enter.

Also, if someone in my church is in a nursing home or hospital, the pastor and his wife and sometimes the whole congregation will end the services and go to visit the church member who cannot be present because of their infirmity.

Also, it is beautiful to see the high level of respect shown to the “church mothers”. These are the older women who are called upon to render their wisdom in important church decisions.  Several of them are widows.  Though many of them are desperately poor, they are treated like queens at church.

The chaplain I mentioned earlier told me that he attends a black church once a month to compensate for the hugs that he is deprived of in his white church.  I can attest to the warmth of my own experiences in the black churches as well.

So I would like to ask my question again:  Why do blacks and whites prefer to worship separately in the south?  I find it odd that the black congregations are willing to cross denominational lines to visit one another, but they don’t cross racial lines.  Is it merely cultural differences that cause races to remain separate in church, or is it something deeper?  Is it just a tendency to remain in our “comfort zone”?

Perhaps we are comfortable with superficial interactions across racial lines, but we still want to keep other races at “arm’s length”?  I’ve had whites ask me if I am at all scared to go to “that neighborhood.”

I understand that the style of worship in black and white churches is very different in many ways.  But some of the livelier Pentecostal and charismatic churches seem to be similar enough for the different races to feel comfortable worshiping together.

Are the churches so radically different as to warrant this separation?  Or could it be something else?  A friend of mine told me recently that there are two national gospel competitions- one for blacks and one for whites.  He said that if they competed together, a black singer would win every time.

The first time I took my sons to a black church, my eldest son said “I never want to go anywhere else again.”  He said it because it was so joyful and passionate and exciting.  I have seen many a black preacher set fire to his congregation, and I’ve seen many white preachers put my children to sleep.  It makes me think of a poster I’ve seen on the wall of a professor’s office.  It depicts Jesus sitting in the front row of a church, asleep with a newspaper on his lap.

I have heard members of quieter churches raise questions about whether some charismatic churches are just engaging in “theatrics” or creating a “show business” environment. Some people are convinced that many of these services that include prophetic messages and wonders are “staged.”

I’m not trying to insult anyone, but to simply share my own experiences.  I want to raise some questions to my readers, and I would covet your responses:

Is your church integrated in terms of race? 

In your area, are churches mostly segregated or otherwise?

Have you ever visited a church where the congregation is a different race than yourself? 

Did you feel comfortable or uncomfortable?  Please explain.

What are your views about why many churches are still so segregated? 

What possible solutions do you see to this problem?


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