How To Know If Your Church Is Racist

By Lillian Armstead

Is your church racist?  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said “…at 11 o’clock on Sunday morning, we stand to sing… we stand in the most segregated hour in America.”  King was referring to the Sunday morning church service, quite often not representative of the diversity that exists in the real world.  Does your church fit in this description?

According to Trey Lyon, the racial divide in the church is upsetting, partly due to the white church in America.   During a church conference he witnessed first handedly black and white church leaders attempting to bridge the gap in terms of racial boundaries.

One of the speakers, an African-American recalled his experience of meeting a white man for the first time when he was 18 years old, as part of a “Brotherhood Exchange” program he participated in with his high school.  Later that same day he found out that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. the civil rights leader had been killed.  Born in the 1950’s the speaker stated, he experienced racism during his entire childhood.

Although we have made some strides in terms of the racial divide, we still have quite a way to go.  The panel members brainstormed for solutions to the problem, however, one member stated, “I don’t think my generation can do it.”  He made this statement because of what he witnessed through the Jim Crow South.  He had seen first handed how white Christians treated blacks in the most disgusting manner – the memories would be hard to wipe away, added the member.  The member added that the younger generations have the ability to wipe away the racial divide because of the “rainbow” they represent in terms of different ethnicities, cultures and lifestyles coming together as one.

“A few weeks later my wife and I saw “12 Years a Slave,” a film both brilliant and disturbing. No cinematic punches are pulled. The horrors of slavery are gruesomely depicted, along with the frequent complacency of supporting characters.  More than once a drunken plantation owner lashes a slave while quoting Scripture that enshrines his power to hold slaves as property and treat them accordingly.  The film’s protagonist, a free musician who is drugged and hauled off to a slave market, never joins in the spirituals the other slaves sing until the burial of one of his fellow slaves who was tortured to the point of death. His pain, grief and sorrow wells up and he begins singing about the river Jordan,” recalls Trey Lyon.

After viewing the movie, Lyon struggled with why African Americans are enamored with the Christian faith and philosophy, being that it was used to annihilate and suppress them during slavery.  Ironically, a history of abuse with the very book used to abuse a race of people, the Christian church was formed which participated in civil rights and equality movements.

Although some would like to emphasize that racism is a thing of the past – that is not quite true, and all because of the subversion and a history of racism by white Americans who professed Christianity in the past – and in the present.  However, most white Christians would disagree with this, explains Lyon.

“In calling out the predominantly white American church as a reason for this widening gap, I am not just naming an institutional evil. I’m talking about our direct complicity.  The survey said 10 percent of surveyed white respondents think about their race daily, while 52 percent of African-Americans every day consider the implications of their race. The best definition of privilege is the thing you don’t know you have. The fact that as a white male I do not have to consider my race places me in a majority culture and a place of privilege, whether I acknowledge it or not.”

According to Trey Lyon, if you attend a church where most of the population is white; you have the power to do something to change the racial dynamics in your church.  Church leaders can start in their own neighborhood.  Seek out other groups from the supermarket, post office, children’s school, and playground to invite to your church – and make sure, they are not white.

Your church should be indicative of a rainbow coalition – with more than one race represented.  Meet with leaders from different cultures.  This can be accomplished without the help of a consulting group.   Getting to know others on a personal level is a great way to forge strong, united relationships.  Once the leaders are comfortable with reaching out to other cultures they can teach their church members how to be a “fisher of men.”

Dr. King said, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.

The bible illustrates different ethnicities.  The bible also illustrates, tax collectors, fisherman, magicians, and other characters from diverse backgrounds – and so should the 21st century church, explained Lyon.