In my years of being a Christian School Bible teacher, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked “Why are there black churches?” Of course, this child is wondering why some African Americans tend to belong to churches made up of predominantly African American people with a distinct culture and tradition. To be honest, I don’t have a great answer to that question. Normally, I pivot back to slavery. I suggest that this goes back centuries ago when a predominately white nation chose to enslave an entire race of people and take away their humanity even. Of course they would never be welcome in white churches and were forced to start their own. Even after abolition and the end of slavery, racism and segregation continued throughout the South and other placed still not welcoming those of a different skin color into our churches. So, now – not that many years later – why would the majority of African American even want to try coming into our churches.
That answer usually suffices the student in the moment. However, I’ve never been completely comfortable with it myself. It was not until recently when I discovered the source of my dissatisfaction. In His grace, God has seen fit to place me in a congregation that is seeking to be multi-ethnic. Our once white, upper-middle class, suburban church has been radically uprooted and now finds itself in the middle of the inner-city with the ninth highest crime rate in the U.S. God has impassioned our pastor to break through our comfortable routines and begin to see God’s love for all people and His command for us to see our own sins in being so racially blind.
Being in this setting has forced me to think through things on a deeper level. This past week I began reading the book Building a Healthy Multi-ethnic Church by Mark DeYmaz. after only a few pages in, it finally dawned on me. The question “Why are there black churches” is a flawed question from the start. The question assumes the problem is with the black church. We still have a mentality that they need to assimilate into our church, adopt our culture and traditions. After all, why don’t those self-segregated churches want to be a part of our all-inclusive, Jesus-loving church? How offended would the questioner be if I asked “Why are there all white churches?” Or, “Why doesn’t your church set itself free from its distinct culture and way of doing things and instead work on attracting all of God’s children?” Why do we assume we (white evangelicals) are the ones in the right?
I’m looking forward to reading through this book and opening up this discussion in our church leadership meetings. Maybe then I’ll have some better answers for you…