After visiting a predominately African-American church as a child, I had a question: “Why is our church mostly white, and theirs mostly black?” Reverend Thomas Barclay, the new head of the United Pentecostal Council of the Assemblies of God had a similar experience with Assembly of God churches. Since being elected four years ago, he has now tried to bring the two denominations together. While they are not yet trying to merge, they still intend to try to bring the two denominations closer. The UPCAG has around 70 predominately black churches in America and a couple other countries. The Assembly of God operates over 360,000 worldwide churches with around 300 predominantly black churches in the US.
While I am not Pentecostal, I can still relate to the racial differences in churches. Growing up in South Georgia, I was raised in a very traditional Southern Baptist Church. We had black members who attended regularly, however they were by far the minority, as 99% of the congregation was white. However, being in South Georgia I had many friend who attended predominately African-American churches, and I visited with them on many occasions. The style and feeling is so different between the two, that I was uncomfortable at their church and they were uncomfortable at mine. It had nothing to do with race, it had to do with the style of worship and praise you grew up in.
A recent LifeWay Research poll shows that 85% of Senior Pastors when asked said that every church should strive to be racially diverse, but only 13% said their church had more than one predominant racial or ethnic group in their congregation. Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research said that this is due, in part to human nature because, “Everybody wants diversity, but many don’t want to be around people who are different.” While I do not agree with this statement entirely, I do think there is some truth to it. While most people do prefer to be around people like them, I would like to believe that many other people are more comfortable with anyone that worships the same God being in the pew beside them.
In America: Religions and Religion by Catherine Albanese, we talked about historical churches during slavery, and how while many slave owners brought their slaves to church with them, there was also a large slave religion in the background, sometimes even unknown by the slave owners. As the last blog post pointed out, most churches in Tuscaloosa were integrated before the Civil War and slave owners and slaves worshiped side by side, however today Tuscaloosa’s churches, like most around America are predominately one racial or ethnic makeup. However, this time period in American history also divided lots of religions and denominations in America, because of the issue of slavery. Segregation is the time period where, like the rest of America, the church you attended was decided by color. Although in present day America, a black man and a white man can sit side by side at a diner, they are still most likely not going to sit side by side in church, even if they adhere to the exact same religion.
Even when a church is multi-racial in America, they do not tend to stay that way. In this slightly dated, but still relevant CNN Article, some stories from interracial congregations are shared. Pastors of interracial churches share that, when preaching and even talking in normal conversation to their congregation, they have to pay careful attention to what they say, because one slip of the tongue could start a firestorm. They share that it is like being in a campaign. The article says that, just like in normal culture, skirmishes can still arise over who’s in power and racial issues like interracial dating. Curtiss Paul DeYoung, co-author of United by Faith, which examines interracial churches, was once the pastor of an interracial church in Minnesota but as he puts it, “I left after five years, I was worn out from the battles”. The church he was a pastor at eventually went all black.
This raises a question in my mind. While yes, most people believe that all churches should strive to be interracial as the poll pointed out, is it really a bad thing if they are not? Shouldn’t people be allowed to worship wherever they feel comfortable? As long as no one is forbidding people to worship in interracial setting, is it such a bad thing if people don’t? I just feel that people should worship where they feel comfortable, and if that is in a small intimate sanctuary full of people exactly like them or a mega church with many races and ethnicities represented, they are free to do so.