The Church of Homogeneity

My wife and I were privileged to visit our favorite city in the world this weekend. We came back to Nashville to help with some of the cleanup work from the recent flooding, but that is not what this post is about. Nonetheless, tonight we visited a church that meets downtown and it sparked a conversation between Rachel and I about a topic that has been on my mind a lot lately, homogeneity and diversity.

This church, where many of my good friends attend, seems in many ways to be a wonderful family seeking to love God and the people around them. They are involved in the community, even meeting in a local bar. The worship service was creative and contemporary, but not shallow. It seemed to be “seeker sensitive” without compromising the truth of God’s word or neglecting the needs of the members. But, one important detail was so glaring, so conspicuous that it was impossible to miss, yet so subtle, so plainly hidden that it could easily by overlooked; the church, like many others, completely lacked diversity. I have come to expect this from traditional, institutional churches, but this church has made a concerted effort to overcome the other shortfalls of more conventional church gatherings. Yet, most of the church body was made up of young, middle class white folks from the suburbs. This just goes to show how powerful of a force our desire is to be with folks like us.

I see it everywhere now. Our home church in Kentucky almost entirely lacks racial diversity, as does the organization where I did my internship in DC, though both are deeply concerned about helping the oppressed of all races and classes and nations. Somehow though, we have found ways to “help” those who are most different from us without joining them in their struggles or inviting them to join us in ours. I don’t mean to be overly critical of the church we visited tonight or our home church, but I do hope that we all become more aware of the diversity that exists in the body of Christ. One of the best pictures I have seen in recent years, or maybe ever, of what I understand the Kingdom to be is the annual international potluck at the seminary; people from all over the world make their favorite foods to share and we all feast and fellowship, praise and party. During the festivities we take communion together and celebrate the slaughtered and risen Lamb. After all, heaven is described as a banquet table at which people from all nations, speaking all languages gather together to share in God’s abundance and give him praise. Shouldn’t we seek such a communion here and now as we pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven?

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8 Comments on “The Church of Homogeneity”

  1. pastormack Says:

    Seems to me it has a lot to do with where you live. There are places where having a diverse church is all but impossible. And even where it is not, worship style is an important component. Different groups tend to worship in different ways. My town is heavily hispanic; those folks are probably not going to like the old Gaither family gospel that my congregation likes.

    I agree that heaven will look very different from my church; but most of us live seperately, eat seperately, and shop seperately – do you really expect worship to be different? Perhaps we should – but it seems to be a rare gift.

  2. rogueminister Says:

    Absolutely, the makeup of the community is relevant. I used to attend a church in rural AR where everyone was white. I didn’t think much about it because it accurately reflected the demographics of the community. But, the two churches I mention in this post are in the middle of their respective cities.

    I agree that there is something to be said for the differences in worship styles, but it also seems that we should work to overcome that for the sake of unifying the body of Christ, both in our congregational settings and in our personal lives. This will no doubt make some folks uncomfortable, but comfort seems to be pretty far from what we are called to as Christians.

  3. Emma Says:

    This hurts me deeply. Part of the reason is because I see such a need for diversity among the church, but it seems so ingrained in us to be where we are most comfortable. I love all cultures and thrive on our coexistence but it still is uncomfortable being the only one that is different. Several times I have been a part of a church that has merged with a “black church”. One succeeded, and two did not. Ultimately, people were not as open to leaving their comfort zone as they initially thought they would be.

    I find this interesting. We live in downtown St. Louis and have been looking for a church family for YEARS. Let me tell you how many people have invited us to be a part of their church. About 10, all African American individuals. Hebrew Islamic, Jehovah’s Witness, Baptist, church of Christ, and United church of Christ.

    Food for thought.

  4. John Says:

    Justin, I hope you are doing well. My wife(!) and I had a friend up from Nashville last week who definitely agrees with your high opinion of the city.

    My wife and I (both white) had essentially this conversation last night about one of our two churches, which is located in a neighborhood of probably 60-65% African Americans. The congregation, on the other hand, is more like 10-15%. Leaders of the church past and present have expressed a desire to reach out to and include more black people and to be more culturally diverse in general.

    That desire and those efforts, when they appear, are a good manifestation of the heart of God and the coming Kingdom, but I think they’re jumping ahead a few steps. We shouldn’t be comfortable reflecting the neighborhood unless the entire neighborhood shows up on Sundays! We don’t just pray for a micro-kingdom in our own worship services, we pray for “Your kingdom come.” So even if we reflected the neighborhood, or the city, or whatever, there would still be people in need of fellowship with God’s people outside the doors.

    Fortunately, one of the reasons the whole neighborhood doesn’t show up to our church is that some of them are at other churches. There are several within walking distance, and many of those are black churches.

    So if I talk about church with an African American neighbor, do they get an invitation? Yes! But I also want to take any invitations I receive (a Deacon at a church down the street is very good about this) seriously. I’m not just trying to sheep-steal in order to improve our image. And if said neighbor is not a believer and doesn’t go to church, mine is not the only congregation I would recommend.

    In the event that that person didn’t end up at our congregation, it would be a grave disservice to his or her spiritual life to leave out the fellowship offered by our Christian neighbors. True, they aren’t particularly diverse either. We could both use some reconciliation and some diversity. But one step in that ministry of reconciliation can be to mutually look to the needs of our neighbors without reference to who gets them in the pew. After all, glory and honor os to God and not to one or the other church.

    Long story short, my point is that in the process of seeking the kingdom, we should be aware and thankful that the kingdom exists outside our congregations. So in addition to diversity and reconciliation within a local body, our churches should also seek to serve and cooperate with other churches.

    God bless,
    John

  5. rogueminister Says:

    John, good to hear from you brother. Thanks so much for sharing. You are exactly right in your assessment!

  6. Alex Haiken Says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiments on diversity. One element of diversity, however, that the church still seems wholly unable to embrace is the acceptance of our gay brothers and sisters in the body. It goes without saying that people with a high regard for Scripture and who are prayerfully committed to ordering their lives in accordance with it are honestly divided over this issue. Therefore, it seems the need for people at this time to exercise all of their interpretive (and other) virtues in an open conversation with all the concerned parties could not be more acute. Sadly, however, such conversations have been the exception rather than the rule. The result is that we have pushed homosexuals in the church to the margins of our church life forcing them to shout their message to us from the few safe havens they have been able to find. An even more heartrending result of this is that gay people have suffered at the hands of (of all things!) heir churches, the one place on this earth where grace, love and fairness ought to be the theme of life for them.

    Food for thought: http://jewishchristiangay.wordpress.com/

  7. rogueminister Says:

    Alex, thanks so much for your comments. You might be interested in some of the other posts I have put up about the church and GLBT folks. Lord willing, I will continue to advocate for my GLBT friends, sisters and brothers, particularly through teaching and writing ministries. Blessings to you!!!

  8. Alex Haiken Says:

    Thanks so much! I look forward to checking out some of the other posts.

    -Alex
    http://jewishchristiangay.wordpress.com/


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