In Christ there is neither…

You may well know the rest of the verse … In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female. The verse comes from Galatians, that great magna carta of liberty in Christ, from the 3d chapter at verse 28. A number of models have been constructed to figure out what Paul had in mind, including the one that says “salvation is equal for all but after that there is plenty of division or distinctions.” So, maybe men and women are equal in redemption (in Christ) but there is still hierarchy within the church. I could go on… the issue I want to discuss with you today starts with “Jew nor Greek” and the issue is today — African American and white American.

Anything touching on race creates challenges for public discussion, something noticeable on this blog, but what do you think are the major challenges for creating a genuine interracial church? What are the marks of interraciality?

To help us I want to dip into some central ideas in Korie Edwards, The Elusive Dream: The Power of Race in Interracial Churches. She is a sociologist at Ohio State University, a Christian sociologist, and her concern is interracial churches. Her question is this: Are interracial churches really interracial? (Equality is at the heart of the meaning of genuinely interracial.)

There are problems in American culture for interracial churches: since churches are disestablished, people can choose which church they attend. Since people are smitten by “homophily” (we choose people like us), we choose churches like us … and that means white folks choose white churches and African Americans choose African American churches.

What’s more: white people, or better yet white hegemony, are both structurally powerful and blind to what whiteness means. Whiteness is about power in the deep structures of society; race is about structured power.

Her contention is that interracial churches are more or less white-based churches and not genuinely interracial churches. They are merely a dish of white ice cream with sprinkles spread all over the surface. Whites have a structural advantage, there is white normativity, and white transparency (not seeing whiteness) means white normativity will prevail. This whiteness is inherent to interracial churches, so she argues.

African American churches have been places of refuge, so interracial churches — remember the element of choice — is not the choice of most African Americans, and those who do choose the interracial church are usually those who were reared in multi-cultural contexts.

Korie Edwards examines church worship, church participation in extra-church activities, in spiritual affirmative action, in racial identity, and in why folks attend interracial churches … her conclusions mesh across the board: interracial churches are shaped by whiteness and not genuine interracial elements.

What will those be?

Must embrace a dream of racial justice and equality.
Places that all racial groups can call their own.
Where all races have the power to influence the minor and major decisions of the church.
Where the culture and experiences of all racial groups are not just tolerated, but appreciated.
Where white normativity and structural domination are resisted.

The central issue then is power. The central solution is the cross, where those with power lay down power to those without power. The solution is not to reduce the saliency of race but to embrace diversity.

The best Biblical example: the collection for the widows in Acts 6 when the Jewish leaders handed over the power to the Hellenistic leaders with the possibility that those Hellenists now in power might just use their power against the Hebrew speaking Jews.

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  • Jon

    The problem with interracial churches isn’t white hegemony. If that’s what it is then Black churches could easily become interracial since they don’t have white hegemony. The problem is people prefer their way of doing things. In a society that is segregated either by law or by choice it is natural that the different segements will develop different styles. I was always amazed as a child that the Black churches didn’t get out until 2:00 in the afternoon. There was no way the people in my church would go for that. I would say there are many people who would have no problem with a person of another race participating and having leadership in the church, as long as they don’t change the style. This may not be very Christian, but it is reality. People want to do things the way they like. And this doesn’t only apply to race, as the traditional verses contemporary worship wars have shown. There are churches filled with nothing but white people which I wouldn’t want to join because I don’t perfer their style.

  • David Moore

    “This may not be very Christian, but it is reality.”

    So we have a choice between being Christian and being real.

  • JoeyS

    Jon, I’m not sure this says that THE problem is white hegemony but that white hegemony is a problem because of its blindness.

    I wonder how she would classify Bridgeway Community Church in Columbia, Maryland. It seems interracial to me. Pastor David Anderson and his racially diverse staff have worked incredibly hard to integrate multiple cultures into one church.

    He contends that each culture has to give up parts of their own culture to create something new together. His book Gracism goes more in depth with his contentions but I feel like folks would be hard pressed to say his church white ice cream with sprinkles.

  • Jon

    “So we have a choice between being Christian and being real.”
    Perhaps a better way to express what I meant when I said, “This may not be very Christian, but it is reality” would have been to say, “This may not be the right thing to do but it is what people are doing.” I never said this is the way things should be, I’m simply stating what I have observed, and what I believe is the biggest stumbling block to interracial churches.


    Scot: Your “Equality is at the heart of the meaning of genuinely interracial” imo could also be stated “Equality is at the heart of the meaning of church.” I have never experienced nor seen this in white churches, black churches, or interracial churches. Power, whether it’s “What I want,” or whether it’s “What I believe is right,” or whether it’s a subconscious culturally-assumed “This is how things are supposed to be done” has been expressed in every church situation that I have experienced. I long for a church experience that focuses as much on what it means to BE the church as it does on what it means to DO church.

  • Nathan

    I can see the challenge, and the need to address. I also think you have to look at context of the particular church.

    If you live in an overwhelmingly majority area where less than 3% of your population is hispanic and even less are african-american, then is it reasonable to have a problem with the lack of any obvious “interracial” character to a church? (there’s only so much all the churches in the area can access, work with without it all being reduced to tokenism)

    There are other issues too around race perception. at the church I currently work at we have a ton of Asian attenders. I get weekly printed visitor reports and they are constantly filled with Korean, Chinese, Taiwanese, etc. names.

    BUT we consistently get complaints (always from white people) that we are NOT diverse. It’s clear that in our cultural psyche blacks and hispanics “count” when it comes to diversity, but Asians not so much (which, ironically, is a form of racism/ignorance since Asian are obviously “honorary whites” in the eyes of some people).

    All that being said, when I pastored in L.A., this was a pressing question because of the obvious contextual diversity not reflected in many churches.

    It seems to me it’s all about context and what is actually reasonable given the demographics of your community.

  • scotmcknight

    Nathan, Yes, that’s true about Asians.
    Demographic match is the bottom-level goal, but there’s a reason for the demographics, and that means there’s racism in the demographic numbers.

  • David Moore

    Nathan, you may be answering your own challenge. You ask if the population of hispanic and blacks is small if it’s reasonable to expect inter-raciality. Later you mention high number of Asians in attendance. What is your population?

    Do the complaints arise because the Asians commute while other minorities are close by? If that’s the case then those complaints should be taken seriously.

  • Kenton

    What Korie said.

    My experience is that the desire for an interracial church is given lip service by white men in leadership. I love the guy in my church who holds the title of “outreach minister”, and he tries to reach out to the multi-racial community our church is in. But no matter how you slice it, he’s a white guy. A predominately white church that’s serious about outreach to an interracial community would hire a woman of color for that post, and put people of color on the elder board and on the staff and be vulnerable to the changes that will lead to.

  • I’m convinced that the issue is one of power, as you say: “The central issue then is power. The central solution is the cross, where those with power lay down power to those without power. The solution is not to reduce the saliency of race but to embrace diversity.”

    I have served and planted multicultural churches, and as Korie Edwards illustrates, as an African American pastor, i have felt more pressure to conform to white cultural norms in order for the church to keep its white members. For example, African American Christians often have a high view of clergy and show considerable deference. Generally speaking, in white congregations, even across denominations, the pastor is viewed more as an employee who is managed by a Board (of some sort: elders, etc). I”ve had African American attendees (and members) disappointed that i didn’t have more authority and white members nervous that I would try to have more authority.

    The worship wars are actually just a small part of multicultural churches. arguments over style is a symptom of a larger issue: power. Much of our survival as an multicultural fellowship depends upon who is at the table giving leadership and making key decisions.

    There are some good examples of multicultural churches, and i do believe that everyone must give up in order to gain (a biblical concept regardless of the church context). but there cannot be marginalization.

    and i stress that the goal of such fellowships is to be obedient to Scripture to make disciples of all different kinds of people and break down walls of hostility. it isn’t just to be cool

  • Phil Miller

    Generally speaking, in white congregations, even across denominations, the pastor is viewed more as an employee who is managed by a Board (of some sort: elders, etc). I”ve had African American attendees (and members) disappointed that i didn’t have more authority and white members nervous that I would try to have more authority.

    It’s kind of funny, our experience was almost the opposite of this. My wife and I left a large church that was predominantly white largely because of issues with an over-authoritarian pastor, and we ended up in a majority African American congregation. I always felt that the African American church went out of its way to make sure as many people as possible were included in decisions, even to the point that it seemed sometimes to us that almost nothing could get done without having a committee for it. We used to joke that they wanted to form a “planning to plan” committee but they needed form a committee to decide who would be on that committee.

    The biggest difference I notice from a cultural perspective between the African American church and a white church is that the former tends to value relationship over efficiency, and because of that, white people can sometime feel as if everything is moving too slowly. The services are longer (as someone already mentioned), you hear announcements about the death of everyone’s distance relatives, and it seems there’s always something in the church building that has been broken for at least a year. For my wife and I, though, it was the love of the people that kept us there. Really, these people adopted us. We had to move two years ago, and we still consider this our spiritual home.

    So I think there is hope in this area, but I think changes have to happen on a person to person basis. I think we’ll be disappointed if we expect huge wholesale changes quickly. Again, perhaps that comes down to the whole “efficiency” thing…

  • RJS

    Here is another question – Should churches be interracial? Is this an elusive dream we should focus on?

    I don’t think so. We should not be racist. Racism, classism … are unChristian. We should take to heart the equality of all before Christ. We should welcome anyone who comes. We should care for each other across all boundaries. We should fight the tendencies of racism everywhere they appear.

    But … I suggest that any church that is focused on “interracial” will of necessity miss the core of what it means to be the church. I don’t even think demographic match should necessarily be the goal. Concentrating on “interracial” will too often lead to bland shows with dehumanized attenders.

    Here is my rather revolutionary proposal: We should concentrate on people, and on community, and on relationship, on participation, on discipleship, on table fellowship, on service, on being there, on being with, on listening, all centered in gospel. If we do this we will make a difference however “diverse” the local gathering is. Sometimes it will be very diverse, at others perhaps not so diverse.

    One of the people I admire is my father-in-law who, in his 80’s, has developed a heart and a ministry for poor youth in a rural (largely homogenous white) community. A big problem … “save the world” missionaries who flit in and out leaving broken relationships and distrust. They don’t come to be with people, they come to use people to satisfy some personal goal and feel good about themselves.

  • Sarah Robinson

    As long as this remains a discussion of “race” and not of “culture” you will continue to run into issues. If we understand it as a discussion of culture and diversity in every dimension, you are starting from both a more broad, global perspective on the church, and a more local, individualized perspective. If all a church is striving for is a superficial “multiracial community” it will continue to remain elusive and bogged down in Ameri-centric history and issues. I’m not saying those issues don’t need to be taken seriously, they do, but the foundation needs to be in a global/local understanding of different cultures and how we as the church create something truly multi-cultural that brings everyone to the table with something to teach and something to learn.

  • Nathan

    @David Moore #8.
    We are university town that is 75percent white, 15 percent asian, and the rest is diffused across the ethnic spectrum, (e.g. hispanics are 3 percent of the population).

    our church demographically matches or exceeds with asians due to a lot of people in our church intentionally connecting with that community, and local campus missionaries that serve in organizations that focus on asians.

    For our church size we are talking about way less than 30 people total (hispanic and black combined).

    So, yeah, we don’t have a lot of that community at our church, so it might not have the “critical mass” when it comes to “feelings/perceptions” about the issue. What i do know is that the people who bring up the issue in our context aren’t actually working with data or the principle of “demographic matching”, their just going off of what they notice from time to time and some vague visual aesthetic that I don’t really know is helpful or really substantial.

  • Robin

    I don’t want to sidestep the race issue, but I think the class issue needs to be considered as well. Our church is a new plant, we have intentionally located in the poorest part of town, and partnered with the poorest school in town. We work constantly with ministries to the poor, etc. This is generally focused on the African-American and Hispanic populations.

    Despite our best efforts our church remains 98% white, but as I have looked at the situation we aren’t just racially slanted, but slanted by class. We don’t have many members of color, but when you start looking at leadership (pastors, elders, deacons, small group leaders) what you notice is not just that they are white, but they are 100% college educated and middle class or upper-middle class.

    I assume that in most of your churches the majority of the leadership isn’t just lily white (along with the members) but they all look like fine, upstanding, college educated professionals as well.

  • Dan

    “Since people are smitten by “homophily” (we choose people like us), we choose churches like us”

    I think that is the heart of the issue. And it’s not just with racial issues. Young Christians flock to the most cutting edge, “cool” church. Older believers hold fervently to what they’ve been accustomed to for years. Our churches’ divisions look just like our society’s divisions.

    I have noticed since becoming Catholic (from Evangelicalism/post-Evangelicalism) that Catholic churches are some of the most diverse I’ve seen. There is no temptation for anyone to go over to a different parish that is of a different racial or age makeup because we are all part the one Church and we all worship with the same liturgy (with some small variations) and especially because we all partake of the same eucharist which makes us equal.
    I think that the difficulty of creating racially diverse congregations stems from the same root problem that also creates church hopping and consumer spirituality. When we understand the Church to be something we choose rather than something we belong to, these problems arise. When our ecclessiology comes after our soteriology (where church is extrinsic rather than intrinsic to salvation), rather than being deeply intertwined (where our relationship with God necessarily entails being a part of the People of God), these problems will inevitably arise.

    A deep ecclesiology that sees the Church as part of the core of the Christian message and life is the only thing that I’ve seen to effectively overcome homiphily.

  • Scott

    My family and I recently moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana, and I began looking for truly interracial evangelical churches.

    I was thankful to find at least two that I would say are truly interracial, without white hegemony. They are both in primarily white denominations, but as local congregations, they were broadly tri-racial without a noticeable majority of any one race. One of these had bilingual services–Spanish translated into English. There are undoubtedly other truly interracial churches here.

    I felt compelled to say so here since Edwards seems to be saying that this kind of thing is extremely rare.

  • Nathan

    *they’re…not their…

    stinkin’ autocorrect.

  • Jon (different)

    I wonder how many people involved in this discussion are members of interracial churches. We can wax poetic about it all we want, but unless we are doing something about the problem, does it matter?

    My church is very, very white (90%). However, my relationships outside of church are roughly half hispanic, as I work on a farm part time. Even those are weird, as my family owns the farm and I am a supervisor. I consider many of the men my friends, and am as close to them as I am my white friends. There are some employees who view me as just a boss.

    My church does little intentionally to reach out to the hispanic community because we don’t have the resources (i’m one of two people who speak spanish fluently). We do support our local Catholic and Nazarene churches, both pastored by hispanics, as much as we can, including participating in community events that are much more interracial together. We support other ministries and organizations that do a good job of reaching out to the hispanic community because we don’t have the bandwidth to do it well ourselves. We tend to focus more on issues of poverty in the community, which is fairly interracial. I guess we are dealing with having a large harvest and few workers. I don’t know if we are doing it right, or even decently, but that’s what we are doing.

  • J.Lu

    …well Kenton NAILED it! If your outreach pastor doesn’t look the community you are reaching out to, you’re just wasting your time. The Holy Spirit is essential to missions, but so is basic common sense. Jon is also right, if believers who are drawn to posts like this aren’t stepping out of the “box” to do something about it, nothing will ever change…

    Great post Scot!

  • Jon – we’re on a journey here with regards to doing what is pleasing to God; doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God. And as you state, your church is very very white…probably greater than 90% to be fair. It’s not good to try calling out people when your own experience has such limitations…humilty first bro. A reality of the book by Korie Edwards is that no church will be truly interracial until power/decision-making is shared by an interracial community…I would add that economics and gender diversity need to also be included in the power structure of church leadership. Case in point…are there any Hispanic managers at your jobsite? If not, then the power structure is absolutely skewed to the perspective of those in management…namely whites I’m guessing.

    I’m currently planting and intentionally ME church in Columbus, Ohio. Our leadership team consists of six people; three whites, two blacks and Lebanese, four males and two females, four people in the target area and two outside of the area. Our elders-in-training are a Cuban male, a Cherokee female, and a White American female. Without intentionality in our leadership an effort to become ME is limited to a picture or at best a false image of being multiethnic with statements like “I even have ____ friends.”

    We’ve carefully led people to have a bigger picture and practice of an interracial church and we deal with many challenges such as diversity of theology and orthopraxy. Many things are not and should not be compromised for the sake of ethnic diversity. But we also must realize that what we consider sacred is nothing more than personal preference and consumerism rather than finding our true center on Christ. No sacred cows of small groups or worship style, relational evangelism or door-to-door, elevated view of the pastorate or plurality of elders…it’s all a preference on top of the cross of Jesus.

  • John Metz

    At another time when this topic came up, I referred to Colossians 3:10-11, which is even stronger on racial, social, and cultural differences than are the verses in Galatians. The Colossians verses conclude with “but Christ is all and in all.” I suggest that if we pursue Christ and a church life with Christ as the center and let our own differences be dealt with by Him, many of the problems mentioned above disappear. Lest this be dismissed as talk about an impractical ideal, I should point out that I have been meeting in interracial congregations for 40 years this year.

    I am not suggesting that making “interracial congregations” a goal will work; I am suggesting that such will be the outcome if we genuinely experience the Christ who broke down the middle wall of partition, not just individually but also corporately.

  • David Moore

    “The best Biblical example: the collection for the widows in Acts 6 when the Jewish leaders handed over the power to the Hellenistic leaders with the possibility that those Hellenists now in power might just use their power against the Hebrew speaking Jews.”

    This is affirmative action that honors the vulnerable with power.

  • Percival

    We were back in the States in church a few years ago and my daughter, who is adopted, said to me, “Dad, I just noticed that nobody else here is brown. Why is that?”

    Six years later and I still don’t know how to answer her.

  • Richard

    David Moore, #23

    Good naming of it.

  • David Moore

    One of the worst aspects of Christian segregation may be the formation of ideas and worldview without being challenged as much as we all should.