Are Evangelicals Doing a Good Job at Racial Integration?


Here are excerpts from the article I mentioned in my last post.  Christianity Today contacted a cross-section of Christian leaders looking for short quotes/responses to the question “Are Evangelicals Doing a Good Job at Racial Integration.”  Here are the responses:

“Evangelicals over the past couple of decades have been the most purposeful when it comes to racial integration. We see this from the 1990s with the racial reconciliation movement, and after that you began to hear a lot about wanting to move toward racial integration in religious organizations. There’s a movement out there. Evangelical churches are hearing about it, and some are committing to it.”

Korie Edwards, professor of sociology, The Ohio State University

“If you look at straight numbers, evangelicals and all churches are not doing well. On the other hand, when you see that evangelicals emphasize that one’s religious identity should be more important than anything else, they have a very interesting capacity for creating a new identity that rallies people of different races and ethnicities. Individuals are willing to accentuate religious identities over ethnic identities within some local churches.”

Gerardo Marti, professor of sociology, Davidson College

“Something is really changing in evangelicalism, and it’s this social movement towards being diverse congregations. The large churches are at the forefront; we’re seeing that. But this is just going to grow over time. Churches have been the most segregated by far, so in one sense it’s catching up to that. But I think it’s way beyond that; because this has theological grounding, it will go way beyond society, and eventually the church will be the place that’s the most integrated.”

Michael Emerson, professor of sociology, Rice University

“It is in a pioneer stage. Ten years ago it was on the fringe; it’s now becoming a topic of conversation. People are just beginning to understand this is more than a good idea, it is New Testament Christianity, and it’s about the gospel in the 21st century. They’ve embraced the conversation but haven’t committed to the idea as a critical component of the Church.”

Mark DeYmaz, directional leader, Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas

“We have the best potential, in that Christians have the capacity to think transcendentally, beyond ourselves. That should lead us to an understanding of how cross-cultural multiethnic relationships can work. We have theological language that should move us in that direction. We have in recent history done a relatively poor job of integration, so in that sense we’re starting behind compared to the rest of society. But … the Church is becoming more diverse at a faster rate than American society.”

Soong-Chan Rah, associate professor, North Park Theological Seminary

“The church is good at coming together in spurts and giving a temporary picture of integration and diversity, but if you dig deeper it raises questions about how authentic that unity is. Integration can look like diversity and wonderful racial harmony, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there is true, authentic, substantive unity or diversity or reconciliation happening. There’s a tendency to settle on looking diverse, but things required to really make it a part of the DNA of those churches are lacking, because it’s a little uncomfortable for the leadership and congregation.”

Edward Gilbreath, editor, Urbanfaith.com

“Good is not enough. We have to go beyond good and be courageous and bold, risk-taking and edgy, willing to stand in opposition. We have to be stronger advocates for justice and righteousness and the issues of injustice. If we can master these things, then we will embrace the issues of racial reconciliation.”

Alvin C. Bibbs Sr., executive director of multicultural church relations, Willow Creek Association

“Evangelicals black, white and Hispanic—none of us are doing a good job of being a diversified body of believers. It’s been my experience that the church is the last sector to really integrate. In 2010, the Sunday morning hour is still the most segregated hour in America. Are we making progress? Some. But it’s still the most segregated hour, and the church has really been behind the curve. We’re certainly not leading the way.”

Rufus Smith IV, senior pastor, City of Refuge Evangelical Presbyterian Church

“Generally speaking, we have failed more than we have succeeded. There are certain sections of the evangelical church where you see a little bit of integration, but most of the big evangelical movements are led by white people, and the evangelical ethnic church is pretty segmented as well. In Chicago … you’ll have evangelical churches in the same denominational group, but the Latino churches are in the Latino branch, and the black churches are connected to the black branch, and the white churches are connected to the white branch. Generally speaking, the evangelical church hasn’t quite figured out how to implement this one yet.”

Daniel Hill, senior pastor, River City Community Church

What do you think?  Does this cover the spectrum of opinions that people would have about this question?

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3 thoughts on “Are Evangelicals Doing a Good Job at Racial Integration?

  1. Racial integration should be a natural result and side effect of the gospel. Therefore, focusing on the gospel should result naturally (though slowly and incrementally) in increased racial integration, cooperation, etc

    Now, some people want it to happen faster, which is understandable, but I’d counsel patience and contentment in the small things. We don’t want to outrun God, only to look back and find out that we’re on the wrong trail entirely.

  2. B”H

    Thanks Pastor Daniel for addressing this crucial topic. I like many of the comments listed above, but mostly I resonate with Brother Ed Gilbreath. A lot of confusion exists in the thoughts and actions of Evangelicals regarding race relations in general. Racial integration is not the same thing as racial unity or racial (cultural) diversity. I imagine that a skilled statistician could do a head count for a given organization over a period of several months and make a fairly accurate assessment of the degree of race mixing within it. An external examination such as this would be of some value, but it misses the mark entirely concerning integration. Efforts towards desegregation have surely produced some noble and notable effects, but integration is a matter of the heart and thus it is far more difficult to track. Contained in the quest for an integrated church would be an emphasis on both inclusion and empowerment of those who were previously excluded and disenfranchised.

    I don’t want to judge or dismiss the efforts of many who are laboring hard in the field of the LORD, but true integration will require more than merely assembling folks together for meetings. In the Book of Acts we read that the believers met together both in the Temple, as well as from house to house, sharing meals and sitting under the Apostles teaching. Unless our Evangelical Vision is expanded to include the mandate of being “a covenanted people,” our expression of integration will be weak and shallow and our corporate witness will suffer in like manner.

    Blessings,

    Shlomo

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