[ca_audio url_mp3=”http://thecrossinculture.buzzsprout.com/26113/201421-diversity-in-the-body-of-christ.mp3″ url_ogg=”” download=”true” align=”none”] (Download/Listen to MP3)
In a sermon at the National Cathedral, just days before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King Jr., said, “The most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.”
While the church has made great progress as a purveyor of racial healing and integration since King uttered those words, segregation at 11 o’clock on Sunday morning is still a reality for most of America. And I believe that is okay in most cases. You will know why shortly.
According to the Faith Communities Today report, only 14% of churches in the U.S. are considered to be multiracial — that is with at least one out of five church members coming from different racial groups than the majority of the congregation. This is almost double the 7.5% of racially diverse churches that were found in 1998, so some progress is being made.
Today, however, there is a renewed push for diversity, and multi-racial, multi-ethnic congregations in the Christian church — particularly among evangelicals and mainline Protestants. When it broke the numbers down by denomination, the Faith Communities Today study found that only 7.4% of mainline Protestant churches were racially diverse, while 14.4 percent of Evangelical Protestant congregations were multiracial.
As issues of race continue to permeate our news cycle, Christian voices such as Derwin Gray, Russell Moore, Christina Cleveland, Trillia Newbell, Bob Whitesel, and others, are holding up the banner of diversity in the body of Christ. These leaders are to be applauded for seeking to see a part of the heavenly kingdom fulfilled on earth. That should be a goal for all believers, as we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”
However, considering the current racial climate in America, which has only been heightened by the high-profile coverage of the killing of young black men by white police officers and the ensuing protests and legal battles, it is far easier for people to retreat to their comfort zones than to come together in order to address the issues of racial division from a Biblical perspective. Even in a church that is racially diverse, people will tend to gloss over such issues because they are uncomfortable to talk about. Ruth Arnold, co-founder and executive director of 2nd Mile Ministries, said, “It is vital for us to realize that just because we may acknowledge diversity is a gift, and assent to it being non-negotiable, that doesn’t mean we will just fall into thriving diverse relationships. It certainly won’t happen just because I share the same space with people who are different from me, hold hands and sing that we need each other and are all part of God’s family.” In fact, when such actions as Mrs. Arnold described are done in a perfunctory and insincere manner, it will only make all sides involved uncomfortable.
Because the earliest church congregations — gatherings which met in homes — were relatively small and highly localized, racial diversity in the body of Christ was likely never an issue (once the Holy Spirit moved the apostles to begin taking the Gospel to the Gentiles). The people you went to church with were the same people you worked in the fields with, shopped with at the market, and went to school with.
This insight guides us to a cautionary observation when speaking of the desire for our churches to be diverse racially. Yes, Christians should not harbor hatred toward people of other races or ethnicities. Yes, the doors of our churches should always be open to everyone and anyone who seeks to attend. Yes, Heaven will be the place of ultimate diversity where Christian people of every race, language, ethnicity, and culture will sit down together and enjoy God for eternity.
However, in this present age, we must realize that differences between groups of people are more than skin deep. Various cultural norms are unique to different groups of people. In fact, it could be said that God ordained such differences when He commanded the descendants of Noah’s three sons to spread out across the face of the Earth — to populate the land, to live in different places, and adapt to different habitats. When men refused to do so, God confused their languages at Babel forcing humanity to be divided along language lines. Thus, differences among people should not be seen as a negative thing.
Mrs. Arnold goes on to state, “We may have differences in a myriad of ways – from what we consider good food and entertainment, to what we consider good worship, respect, kindness, a good relationship, correct means of conflict resolution…” and so on. Often these differences are demarcated on racial lines. (For example, generally speaking, white people think this way about an issue, blacks think this way about the same issue, Hispanics think this way about it, etc.)
We cannot expect our efforts at creating a diverse church congregation to smooth out these differences easily. As a black man who has preached in and attended many predominantly white churches over 35 years in ministry, I know this very well. I believe that racial diversity in the church is not something we should strive for. It is something that will happen naturally if everyone in a congregation is in tune with the Spirit of God. For example, if a black family visits an all-white church, I believe racial diversity is taking place when the people in that church will welcome that family just as they would welcome a visiting white family in a very normal and natural way. The same thing goes for a white family visiting an all-black church, or a black man bringing his white wife into a black church, or a white man bringing a black wife into a white church. The church is practicing racial diversity if their heart is right with the Lord and they welcome these people in the same manner and with the same heart as they would anyone else.
Some time ago, I visited a predominantly white church in a Southern town with my family. Unfortunately, the people of the church went overboard in their attempt to welcome us seeing that we were the only black family to attend. Their over-the-top attempts to “make us feel welcome” actually made us feel more uncomfortable. I lovingly explained to them that the way they make us feel welcome is by simply treating us the same way they would treat a visiting white family.
Instead, we should pray for our brothers and sisters of different racial, ethnic, or cultural groups, and let the Holy Spirit do the work of unity in all of our hearts so that we may come together in harmony and love for Christ and for one another without any side feeling discontented or uncomfortable. Just as the Holy Spirit worked in the apostles’ hearts to break down the barriers between Jews and Gentiles, He can and is working in hearts today to break down superficial walls and spirits of hatred between races, ethnic groups, and cultures.
In closing, let me leave you with a Scripture and a quote.
Revelation 7:9-10 says, “After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.”
Dr. Pete Menjares, associate provost for diversity leadership at Biola University, said, “Although the Bible encourages diversity it does not preclude the church from experiencing problems in its commitment to be diverse. The promise of the ‘one new man’ in Ephesians 2:11-22, can be easily offset by the challenge of lingering barriers and walls of hostility that often exist between diverse people, including the negative effects of ethnocentrism, partiality, or favoritism. The answer to divisions in the church is the cross by which 1) Jesus reconciled all things to himself and put to death the hostility that exists between us; (2) where we receive forgiveness, peace, togetherness, and renewal; and (3) where united we worship the creator who redeemed us from every nation, people, tribe and tongue.”
In light of what we have discussed today, I want to remind you that in our ever-changing world, there is one Person who never changes. That person is Jesus Christ. The Bible says that He is “the same yesterday, today, and forever.” He is not subject to the whims of society or popular opinion. He has an unchanging, eternal love for you. If you do not know Him as your Savior, I encourage you to get to know Him today. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you so that you can live eternally with Him. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Thank you for listening to this Torch Leadership Cross in Culture Podcast.
Visit us online at www.torchleadershipfoundation.com
Until we meet again, remember to keep Christ first in our ever-changing culture.
Daniel Whyte III has spoken in meetings across the United States and in twenty-three foreign countries. He is the author of thirty-four books. He is also the president of Gospel Light Society International, a worldwide evangelistic ministry that reaches thousands with the Gospel each week, as well as president of Torch Ministries International, a Christian literature ministry which publishes a monthly magazine called The Torch Leader. He is heard by thousands each week on his radio broadcasts, The Prayer Motivator Devotional and the Prayer Motivator Minute, as well as Gospel Light Minute X, the Gospel Light Minute, the Sunday Evening Evangelistic Message, the Prophet Daniel’s Report and the Second Coming Watch Update. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Theology from Bethany Divinity College, a Bachelor’s degree in Religion from Texas Wesleyan University, and a Master’s degree in Religion from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. He has been married to the former Meriqua Althea Dixon, of Christiana, Jamaica for twenty-five years. God has blessed their union with seven children. Find out more at www.danielwhyte3.com. Follow Daniel Whyte III on Twitter @prophetdaniel3 or on Facebook.