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‘Why are so few churches racially integrated?’

Children from the Southern Oaks Church of Christ and First and Georgia Church of Christ, both in Chickasha, Okla., sing songs during a unity meeting in 2005. (Photo by Erik Tryggestad)

As we celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., Lu-Ann Farrar of the Lexingon (Ky.) Herald-Leader asks:
“Why are so few U.S. churches racially integrated?”
Roger Bruner, a regular blogger for the newspaper and minister for the Mill Street Church of Christ in London, Ky., offers his thoughts:

“The congregation Church of Christ is integrated and always has been.
“The church of the Bible was to be composed of people of all nationalities This is not new, for integration was the major issue in the church from the outset.
“Integration between Jew and Gentile was the big obstacle addressed in every New Testament epistle. Passages addressed to either an individual Christian or church condemned prejudice and called upon them to accept one another as brethren, equals, ‘fellow-citizens’ in the household of God.
“Racial prejudice exists because a perverted message is proclaimed. Perverted messages exist because of the selfish motives of false teachers.
“A true church that follows Christ’s teachings will accept all upon the terms that God has ordained: faith and obedience to these commands of Christ.”

Do you agree? (Read the full story.)

The Christian Chronicle strives to highlight efforts by Churches of Christ to bridge the racial divide in our country. Bobby Ross Jr. reported on churches in the Detroit area that shared the goal of “getting beyond the handshake.” Bobby also reported on the Florissant Church of Christ, a 500-member congregation in Missouri that is about 60 percent white and 40 percent black. A few years ago, I wrote about unity talks and mergers among predominantly white and predominantly black Churches of Christ in Oklahoma and Mississippi. Illinois church member Loventrice Farrow wrote a “Views” column, “Desegregating Sunday is a spiritual imperative.” Finally, here’s an editorial on the subject.
There is no lack of discussion on the subject of integration. What are we doing about it?
On a personal note, several Churches of Christ here in the Oklahoma City area are planning a weekend of worship and outreach for April 15-17. My congregation, the Memorial Road Church of Christ, is participating, along with a number of predominantly black churches.
In preparation for the event, groups of Memorial Road members spent Sunday night visiting African-American congregations. My family was part of the group that visited the Eastside Church of Christ in Oklahoma City.
The Eastside church had just started learning the song “How Great is our God” and asked us Memorial Road folks to help them out. The result was a rousing, extended version of the song that nearly took the roof off the place.
After the song, my 3-year-old daughter said, “That was great!” Her friend, Karli, sitting next to her, said, “No, that was super great!”
Amen, Karli!
What strides are Churches of Christ in the U.S. making toward racial integration? Is it difficult to integrate? Should racial unity be a primary goal of the Lord’s church?

  • Feedback
    Come visit the Lakeview church of Christ in Tacoma, WA if you want to see diversity in action! We have an amazingly diverse group on multiple levels and we have a love for one another that is palpable!
    Lori Willis Morse
    January, 17 2011

    In a city that is still racially divided, here in Memphis we have at least two congregations that are “mixed.” I really don’t like that term because we are ALL Christians. Holmes Rd and Ross Rd churches of Christ are both essentially integrated congregations. I have been a member at Ross Rd since 1984 and have seen a great deal of changes. We are about 60% Black, 40% White with various other cultures represented, i.e., Asian and Hispanic. Holmes Rd has similar demographics. What is interesting is that the Holmes Rd minister is white and the Ross Rd minister is multi-ethnic; Black, Choctaw, and White. I can’t speak for the Holmes Rd congregation, but at Ross Rd, we make community outreach a priority. We are all aware of veiled criticism that we have had in the past because we are integrated. From predominantly white congregations, we get a polite acknowledgment of our efforts. In the predominantly Black congregations, there is some acceptance. However, we know of one congregation that planted a predominantly Black church less than two miles from ours. I find it sad and confusing that we still can’t see past the externals. Yes, African-Americans have not had the opportunities that Whites have. But there is a point where we have to say to those who even passively resist integration, “What do you think Heaven will look like?” Sigh.
    Bruce Reed
    January, 17 2011

    Churches of Christ do have a tradition of segregation. Our worship styles are different. Our approach to singing is different. The Churches of Christ have an HBCU with Southwest Christian College. It was not until my family moved to Long Island with the Exodus Bay Shore that we worshiped with anyone but white people. As we continue to work on breaking down racial barriers, I hope that we can also work on doing the same with language and other cultural barriers.
    Teresa Nystrom
    January, 17 2011

    EriK, I know of several. I would include Campus Church of christ in Norcross Ga as a large integrated church. East Cobb where I serve as a worship minister, I would include as a very integrated church. I am sure there are a lot more. Not being too critical, but your title is very misleading in my humble opinion. Thanks for what you do.
    Terry Davis
    January, 17 2011

    In Flint, MI, I don’t think the congregations intentionally make an effort to continue the segregation that began in the early 1900’s. It’s been my experience that both blacks and whites feel very welcome at each other’s buildings and are invited to return and that the black church has a continuing white presence and the white churches have had black members. It’s very difficult to break tradition and comfort levels to integrate. As mentioned before, there is a difference in our worship styles, just as in traditional/non-traditional worship styles, and people go where they feel comfortable and ‘correct’ (whatever that means). As long as the segregation isn’t exclusive of each other in a discriminatory manner, I think we’re fortunate to have several congregations in the area to choose where to worship. In an ideal world, as it will be in heaven, we’d all be worshiping together with true love and perfection.
    Janet Cybulski
    January, 18 2011

    I would agree with Teresa that the styles of worship are different, but I would challenge that it is not purely due to an all-black or all-white congregation. I grew up in the South in a predominantly white congregation, but I married a Northerner and we initially moved up North to a small, mixed congregation. The preacher and the song leader were black, but the singing was so bland compared to what I was accustomed. I’ve been up North for over a decade and still miss the singing. My family attended an all-black congregation for a season. The singing was slightly better, but still not as vibrant. We had the “traditional” black preaching, which was enjoyable. However, “territory-ism” combined with racism was still alive. I would say that half the congregation loved us and was excited that we came. The other half wished we would just go back to whereever we came from. I am much more comfortable worshiping in an all-black congregation, but we couldn’t be more than visitors if we didn’t want to be divisive. When our presence started dividing the congregation, we eventually left.
    January, 18 2011

    Why are so few churches racially integrated? Because congregations reflect the leadership model they are using. This now-popular method of separate services for those who speak English as a second language only polarizes congregations even more. Some effort has to made to intentionally integrate congregations or they will die. It is up to the leadership of congregations, Elders to teach and show true love by mentoring others of different backgrounds to leadership roles in the church.
    January, 18 2011

    Why so few churches are integrated? I don’t know the answer to that question; however, at the church that I attend, Bammel Church of Christ in Houston, TX, the people there are very loving and really live out Galatins 3:28 (There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you all are one in Christ Jesus). Our elders, ministers, staff and leaders do a great job of opening our facility to the community and being the hands and feet of Christ to the community and by pouring into others the love and the hope that only comes from Jesus. It also helps to get involved through small groups and using peoples talents to minister to those in need both in the church and in the community at large outside of the walls of our campus.
    January, 18 2011

    North Atlanta Church of Christ is very intergrated. I love it!
    January, 19 2011

    My church in Milwaukee, Wi was intergrated which is encouraging being that the City of Milwaukee is pretty segregated. Some of the Churches of Christ in the city were pretty segregated.
    January, 19 2011

    Our new congregation in Cambridge, England, from the outset has brethren from various backgrounds and nationalities working together for Christ in fellowship together.
    Keith Sisman
    January, 20 2011

    The topic is probably more difficult and troublesome than even some intentionally integrated congregations like to think. Racial separation now is called cultural diversity by some and praised. The idea is not a melting pot but a stew where groups are encouraged to keep their racial or national identity. When does that end and segregation begin? Having worked and worshiped with churches in LA and other places, I have seen brothers of different races both oppose and support separation. What we should be as Christians is too easily lost in what we still are as people with a past. Until we die to self and live to Christ in a very real and deliberate way, we probably will only see change in a succession of funerals. The past is still with us. Let’s pray for a better future.
    January, 20 2011

    Another great example of integrated church of Christ is Manhattan Church of Christ. My husband and I visit there a few times a year when we go up to see friends and the church is truly a community church. I wish we in the south, Oklahoma, could learn from them.
    Tia Dugan
    January, 20 2011

    Why? Because of sin. “If you show partiality, you commit sin” (James 2:9). This passage refers to rich/poor partiality, which also exists in some congregations. I knew a personal worker who would only take poor contacts to visit certain congregations in the city because he knew they would feel uncomfortable in other congregations. The more we have the mind of Christ, the less we will even notice such unimportant differences. The shade of one’s skin is the the most ridiculous thing anyone ever came up with for categorizing people! In the Bible I have not even be able to find an example of such a distinction! The “fairest among women” in the Song of Solomon is dark (Song 1:1-10).
    Roy Davison
    January, 20 2011

    Not only is our congregation integrated at Westside church of Christ in Bakersfield, Ca., but my immediate family is also integrated. We are white, but we have black, and hispanic inlaws, and LOVE it!! God is color blind.
    Norma Schmit
    January, 20 2011

    As sad as it is One could only feel sorry for those who hide their prejudice. They have not come to terms with the Eternal God, Invisible,Omnipotent,All knowing and all seeing God. God knows our thoughts afar off…(PS.94:11)… There is nothing you or I can hide from God. Do they know God or His power or His word? Color will have no power beyond this physical realm, and losing eternity just for the sake of ones Skin is tragic.Unless you have died to self, and you have been transferred to the Kingdom of Gods dear Son, you have no hope. We need to pray for those churches where a “Black” congregation and a “White” each have a building just two blocks away in the same city …(They sing out of the same”Songs of the church” hymnals) A Divided church cannot survive.(Travel around and see the decline) Cf Acts 17:24-27. Question..Is Luke Lying? are or are we not all children of God Heirs of the promise of Abraham,through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord,IF we obeyed from the heart the pattern of Doctrine recorded for Us by His eyewitnesses in the Bible. It is time to unite!!!
    John Jansen
    January, 20 2011

    Some of the most uplifting services that I experienced as a youngster was when two congregations (both of different ethnicities) in North Tulsa exchanged pulpit preachers for the Sunday evening service, and then both congregations met for a fellowship afterwards. This occurred many times in the 1965-1967 time period. Looking back, I sense that it was the “brainchild” of the two men of God that filled the pulpits – A.C. Christman and D. Norman Easter. Sometimes it takes but one servant to break through. Each of us can be the “Rosa Parks” in reaching across to all our brothers and sisters. My prayer is that we all have a spirit of boldness in shattering the wall of separation, not a spirit of timidity.
    Guy Jackson
    January, 21 2011

    In my Willis Church of Christ…we have lovely families of all nations. In our church we also have deaf and hard of hearing,African American,Africans,whites,young and old,hearings,Asians,and Hispanics. We are very close knit family under one roof. This is how it should be like God want us to be brothers and sisters in heaven. People learned sign language to communicate us and have us feel part of the family. Everybody know everyone in our church…we eat together,weep together,laugh together,support each others in worse situation,share stories together,study together,and keeping LOVE to each others. They are amazing to me…I felt really part of them:) I don’t know what to do without them. I am hard of hearing with hearing aids on but totally deaf without hearing aids. I have been in that Willis Church,my Home,for almost 10 years. My six kids grew up going there and they know them very well. I would say this place is the safest and secure for us:) I could feel God IS there as well:)
    Debbie Freed
    January, 21 2011

    I agree with some especially about the Ross Rd and Holmes Rd Churches of Christ in Memphis, Tn.( I go to White Station CC)
    I have vistied both Churches and fine that it is as they say as far as precentages of white and blacks. But, the neighbor hoods that they come from is not reflective of this type of intergration and as pointed out by one of the respondance greed among our ministers is a big problem.
    But, a bigger problem is ignorance concerning the early.
    1.Jesus was born to Jewish parents and was a pratcing jew until death.
    2. Jesus was and is not Christ, Jesus is the christ.
    3. Jesus is the greek word for Joshua.
    4. Jews are not a race of people but a religous grouping.(Abraham
    the first Jew came from what is now Turkey or Iraq)
    5.In ancient history there is no race mentioned.(Egypt, Assyria, Babylon,).
    6. Egypt is in Africa and even the Greek, Roman, etc that occupied the northern it is still Africa.
    These are a few things that should be taught and pressed upon our minds.
    One more.
    Christians must stop assigning the neighbors where they live to Blacks when the first black family move.
    One of the response above was what will heaven look like. Think.
    Robert Sneed
    January, 22 2011

    The vestiges of a shameful past,dies hard in both the predominately black and white Churches of Christ. It is a mistake,however,to assume that the black congregations are not contributing to the racial polarization on sunday.I am an elder at the Nichols Street Church of Christ in Bay City, Texas.I am also African-American serving in leadership of this predominately white congregation of three hundred.WE have made numerous attempts to fellowship with the all black Church of Christ here in Bay City only to be rejected each time.SO,we should all remember that the legacy of segregation is an equal- opportunity phenomenon.Also please be certain that we will continue to reach out to the smaller congregation of approximatly twenty with the fervent hope that some day we will all worship together as one.
    Willie Rollins
    January, 25 2011

    In my limited perspective, the racial segregation of course has nothing to do with melanin content. There are a couple of reasons that stand out in my opinion. 1) There are deep cultural incentives that cloud integration. It is hard to put into words but there are political and historical litmus tests that so often trump the superficial hand shaking and “God bless you brother” that typically take place basically one hour a week. There will be little fellowship the other 6.8 days days of the week. (Cultural concerns will heavily influence the desire for extended fellowship) 2) The theological hot buttons and sound bites will likely sound familiar to many of our shrinking congregations but will sound like battles long since fought back in the 50’s to many of our “white” congregations that are wanting to reach out to our established “black” and hispanic congregations (there is a language barrier – in both)
    New converts are not likely to carry the theological baggage we divide over, but the cultural and historical barriers that have defined our distinctive groups and give us our unique identities and unique struggles quite honestly will carry more weight than to give that up. (Perhaps not said out loud) I don’t believe that is racism per se (though it will lead to that quickly!) It is more ‘race identification’
    Mike Nance
    January, 31 2011

    I worship at the Allentown Church of Christ (Whitehall, PA), but we keep the name Allentown because of travelers finding Allentown on the map; Whitehall is a suburb. We are racially integrated and that’s a great thing because as one of your previous writers suggested “God is color blind”. There is an African-American family that has a family reunion in our area (mostly every summer) and as mentioned, they do have a different worship style. Just hearing that extended family sing along with us is awesome! It is spiritually uplifting. They put their heart and soul into the hymns and make a “joyful noise unto the Lord”…just beautiful! When they aren’t worshiping with us, we still sound pretty good (we think), but just love to hear them sing with us. Sometimes I even forget to sing and just listen to them. God must also enjoy the singing!
    Lois Schlegel
    February, 5 2011

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