Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Presbyterian Outlook: Desegregation or re-segregation?

Presbyterian Outlook: Desegregation or re-segregation?:
"Show me a major city that has a significant African-American population, and I’ll show you a school called “Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary (or Middle or High) School.” Its students will be nearly, or 100 percent, African-American. Wasn’t MLK promoting racial integration?

Show me a denomination that has spoken prophetically against race hatred, against apartheid, against segregation, and against all kinds of social injustice, and I’ll show you any one of thousands of Presbyterian churches, where nearly 100 percent of each congregation’s members come from the same race. Aren’t we promoting racial integration?..."

Jack Haberer, in this Presbyterian Outlook editorial, raises a question that keeps coming up -- but never seems to be resolved.

The answer seems deceptively easy -- be welcoming of visitors of different backgrounds than ourselves -- but how do we get people through the front door of our churches?

It is a two-way street. Not only do we need to welcome strangers who come through our doors, but we need to be strangers who enter the doors of unfamiliar congregations.

This is something that cannot be forced or legislated. Most people will attend services in a congregation where they feel comfortable, whether they are Black, White, Korean, Hispanic, or Chinese. (The last three describe congregations in Columbia, MO which have an ethnic identification as part of their name).

I still have not personally resolved this issue, and neither has my congregation. The topic has come up on a regular basis in the 17 years my wife and I have been members. Is the fact that people go where they are comfortable a symptom of evil in our churches? Is self-imposed segregation the problem? Is denominationalism the underlying problem?


Gruntled said...

Anything that forces congregations to be racially segregated is bad. Anything that forces them to be racially integrated is also bad. The forcing is the bad part. Congregations have to be homogeneous on some axis, or they will not hold together. Faith and practice are the right units, and race, as such, is not. But there is still a strong correlation between race and preferred worship practice. As long as that is so, free people will be drawn to different kinds of congregations. I do think, though, that Presbyterians should make a strong effort to reach out to educated, married, bourgeois African-Americans -- the kind of people who make up most of our congregations.

Denis Hancock said...

Thanks. I think you raised some good points.

What concerns me most is the implied indictment that because our congregations are mostly of one race or another, it has to be a failure on our respective parts.

Regarding your last sentence -- Is it because the values of educated, married, bourgeois Americans are similar across racial boundaries? And thus provide the "homogeneous axis" needed?