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American churches become more racially diverse

One of the oldest, most-repeated statements about American Christianity, often attributed to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., is that the most racially segregated hour of the week is 11 a.m. on Sundays.

Worship-diversityIt's time to update that observations at least a little. First, fewer and fewer congregations start worship at 11. Second, as a new study by a Baylor University sociologist and two colleagues shows, racially diverse congregations have become much more common in the last 20 years. The link I just gave you will take you to the study itself. For a Baylor press release that summarizes the study, click here.

The results of the study sound like encouraging news. And, indeed, it is good news to find racial segregation breaking down in the U.S. in various ways.

But if you dig a bit deeper into the study you find evidence that not all is on the right track.

For instance, one of the researchers who did the study, Michael O. Emerson, professor of sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, notes this: “The path to diversity seems to be a one-way street, with people of color joining white congregations but very few whites joining Black churches. Until congregations confront the historic structures that keep racial groups divided, diversity inside congregations may function mainly as a superficial performance.”

The study also was unable to find much evidence that racially diverse congregations are active in promoting racial justice.

Some predominantly white congregations, including mine, are becoming more intentional about doing anti-racism work, as I reported a few months back in this Flatland column. And that's a good thing, of course. But given the history of how white supremacy was baked into our nation's founding and into how Christianity has operated in this land from the start, there still is much reparation work to do.

Still, it was good to read this in the new study: "Our central result is that racial and ethnic diversity within congregations steadily increased between 1998 and 2019, with no signs of having reached a plateau."

By the way, if you want to experience what I think is one of the most racially diverse congregation in the Kansas City Area, visit the Sheffield Family Life Center, an Assemblies of God congregation in the northeast part of the city. I wrote about it here last year.

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A cardinal who resigned under pressure from Pope Francis over financial matters has sued an Italian magazine, claiming that his ruined reputation now prevents him from ever being elected pope. Similarly, Pete Rose never got to be MLB commissioner and Jeffrey Epstein never got to lead the Girl Scouts.


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