Racial Worship Divisions

September 02, 2007

The Baptist Standard has an interesting article about race and worship. It focuses on how race seems to be one of the last areas where Christians have not yet united for worship. Here are a few highlights from the piece:

Bob Perry, congregational health team leader with the Baptist General Convention of Missouri, refuses to lay the responsibility for lack of diversity in churches at the feet of the church growth gurus. He believes McGavran and others "simply stated a theory that is born out of nature and social tendencies."

But Perry also believes healthy churches put forth the effort needed to reflect the larger communities they serve.

When he served as director of missions in Richmond (Va.) Baptist Association, he realized the association had 15 predominantly African-American churches, about 60 Anglo churches, a handful of other ethnic congregations but not a single truly multiracial, multi-ethnic church.

Perry made attempts at the individual level to bridge divisions. He and his wife, Marilyn, joined a black church. He led the association to call its first African-American moderator and include African-American church leaders on associational councils and committees.

"All of this was just taking small steps to try to move in the direction of greater inclusiveness, diversity and unity," he said. "But I can't claim that we moved very far in my six years there toward truly integrating a church or creating a multi-ethnic church."

Perry became convinced worship style remains the dividing line between races, particularly between African-Americans and Anglos.

"I don't think there are theological barriers to black and whites worshipping together. I don't think there are sociological barriers that prevent it; we have learned to integrate almost every other institution of society. I think the major holdup has been the varying expectations people have developed about what genuine worship of God looks and feels like," he said.

"If everyone would be a little flexible, and if the church would make a real effort to accommodate the preferences of those they hope to reach, we will see more multi-ethnic churches."
Perry, one of my colleagues at the BGCM, rightly points out that there is blame to go around. Although he notes other factors, there is a clear problem with the church-growth teachings that proposed that churches will grow faster if people do not have to cross racial or class lines. To intentionally try to build a church that excludes people because of their race or class is not only unhealthy, it is unbiblical. Christians should be leading the way in bringing reconciliation. As Perry notes, we must reach out to those who are different than us. We should intentionally seek to leave our little bubble.