It seems astonishing that 50-plus years after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at the height of the civil rights movement, individual Christian churches in the U.S. continue to be made up predominantly of one racial group and, beyond that, often seem either unwilling or unable to confront issues of race head-on.
That's pretty clear across the nation, including in Cincinnati, where I'll be later this week for the annual conference of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.
The Cincinnati Enquirer just published this helpful look at how churches in that region are struggling to find ways to talk about race.
"Uncertainty about race in the pulpit," the story says, "often stems from the racial makeup in the pews. Almost 9 in 10 Christian churches nationally are predominantly of one race group, according to a Tennessee-based religion information firm. That company, LifeWay Research, also did a survey in 2014 that showed two-thirds of American churchgoers agreed with the statement 'our church is doing enough to be ethnically diverse.'
"The lack of racial integration in the Christian church contributes to the overall lack of meaningful contact among people of different races and ethnicities throughout American society, say sociologists."
Some congregations have been leaders in promoting racial diversity and harmony. A good Kansas City example is the Sheffield Family Life Center, an Assembly of God congregation on Winner Road.
The congregation to which I belong, Second Presbyterian, is predominantly white, though we've recently received as new members several more people of color. But at Second racial questions tend to be dealt with openly from the pulpit as well as in classes. And our relatively new worshiping community called The Open Table has sponsored several events and workshops about systemic racism and the responsibility of Christians to confront that.
But the sad reality is that throughout our nation's history Christian churches often have been part of the racial problem, not the solution. When they haven't been openly hostile to people with racial identities different from most of their members they have been at least passive about promoting a vision of what King called the "Beloved Community," in which people of all backgrounds would be welcome.
Using the Cincinnati story today as a springboard for discussion, I raise the question of what your faith community is doing to advance dialogue and understanding among people of different ethnic identities. If your answer is nothing, that's a problem I hope you will help fix.
(The graphic here today is from a 2014 study by LifeWay Research.)
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THIS 'GOD' HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH RELIGION
A federal court has ruled that the phrase "In God We Trust" on our money is not a religious endorsement. It's one more reason not to let the government be in charge of religion or religious symbols. What you end up with is a god who has nothing to do with religion. What you end up with is a Nativity Scene no more meaningful than Santa Claus or a reindeer with a red nose. Put up the Ten Commandments on a courthouse lawn and you strip them of their power.
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P.S.: Kansas City's Festival of Faiths organization, which has been producing excellent interfaith programming for more than a decade, is passing its work on to the Faith Always Wins Foundation, which sponsors the annual "Seven Days" events. Representing the Festival, Donna Ziegenhorn explained the move in this press release: Download Festival of Faiths Release 2018. The Seven Days events were created to remember and honor the three people -- Reat Underwood, Bill Corporon and Terri LaManno -- murdered in April 2014 by a neo-Nazi at Jewish institutions in Johnson County. Those events, via the foundation that supports them, have become an active avenue for interfaith dialogue and understanding.