Breaking Down Barriers
On April 17, 1960, Martin Luther King Jr. famously stated that eleven o’ clock on Sunday mornings is the most segregated hour in America. That statement was made almost 60 years ago and yet, it still remains true. Despite the fact that racially diverse churches are increasing in the US, they remain a relatively small percentage of all churches in the country.
Although this is not news, this data has social and theological significance. To start with, the Gospel is not only able to tear down racial hostility between two parties (cf. Eph. 2:11-14) but also give a unique sense of brotherhood, kinship, and intimacy. After all, in Christ, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). In the Greco-Roman world, all of these distinctions were identity shapers, just as in our globalized twenty-first century. But according to the apostle Paul, being a son of God clothed in Christ (vv. 26-27) gives you a new identity rooted in Him. Race, culture, gender, and socio-economic status do not define us anymore because Christ becomes the one thing that defines and unites us the most.
As Tim Keller once remarked: “An American Christian has far more in common with a gospel-believer who lives a nomadic existence on the Mongolian plains than they do with a non-believer who lives on their street, drives a similar car, and whose children go to the same school as theirs.”
If these implications of the Gospel are true, churches ought to be the least homogenous places in the world. However, there are caveats to this statement. For instance, there is a sense in which we cannot honestly incriminate churches for being mostly composed of X race if demographically, there is a significantly predominant race in the area. But, why do we often fail to see minorities fairly represented in our churches?
Consumerism, the Heart of the Problem
Honestly, although racism is very much alive, I think there is another major cause of modern segregation. The truth is that we all give lip-service to diversity, but if we are honest with ourselves, we really do not find the concept to be very attractive. We gravitate towards that which we know and are comfortable with. We naturally feel more comfortable and identified with those who share our own race, culture, political worldview, age-proximity, walk of life, hobbies, tastes, and general interests. Oddly enough, in many of our churches, we’re not just racially segregated; we are also segregated by taste, age, and socio-economic divisions.
We rightly criticize consumeristic approaches within the church, where the church is seen as a sort of seller of religious goods and services meeting our demands as customers, but subconsciously we all tend to gravitate towards that path. Think about it: how many times have we made a decision to join a small group based solely or primarily on the age-group, gender, or a shared interest of said small group or Sunday school class? How many meaningful relationships do we have with other church members who aren’t like us at all? How many of these kinds of relationships do we have with others outside of the church who do not even hold our basic worldview or set of interests? I will be honest, I struggle with this, too. I have made similar decisions based on a consumeristic approach. The truth is that we tend to view relationships from the perspective of a consumer because our assumption is that we cannot really connect at a deep level with those who are not like us in certain ways.
How the Gospel Breaks Consumeristic Barriers
However, if Christ and His Gospel is the thing that defines and unites us the most and if He is our common denominator, the church ought to be the most diverse place in the world. Churches ought to be a band of brothers and sisters with perhaps very little in common, except the Gospel.
In my experience, stepping out of my comfort zone has led me to develop relationships with very unlikely people. Why can a brown Puerto Rican millennial like myself have a meaningful relationship with a white Baby Boomer with whom he has very little in common? Because of Christ and His Gospel. Why can a blue-collar worker like myself have a meaningful relationship with a white collar public figure? Because of Christ and His Gospel. Why can multi-generational and multi-ethnic small groups have meaningful relationships in the church? Christ and His Gospel. These questions are not hypothetical. I have experienced all of those scenarios, and they came at a price.
Only when we strive to root our identities deeper and deeper in the Gospel and not in anything else can we step out of our consumeristic approaches within the church and reach those who are different than us. And only then can Sunday mornings at eleven o’ clock become one of the least segregated hours in America.
Jose was born and raised in Puerto Rico, being fluent in Spanish, English and Spanglish. He mostly enjoys Theology, Philosophy and Literature. Currently, he is an M.Div. student at SWBTS and has contributed articles for The Witness and TGC . You can follow him on Twitter @JASG787.