April 17, 1960, on NBC’s “Meet the Press” the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama said one of the shameful tragedies of our society is that 11:00 a.m. Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in Christian America.
There are 2 billion Christians in the world. By definition, that means over 30% of the world have a desire to model their lives after Jesus Christ. Most Americans identify as Christians; however, much only worship with their own nationality. Segregation is not a characteristic of Christ.
I have always had the ability to fit in with people who are different. In my early twenties, I dated a Canadian who did not understand the racial issues of the south. She could not comprehend not liking someone because of their race. Some of you reading this are wondering if she was white or black. Why is that?
I have lived in several small communities with narrow racial vision due to limited experiences. I grew up in L.A., not Los Angeles like my former roommate Marvin Hawkins; but Lower Alabama. That’s what some people call Panama City, Florida. Panama City is more like Dothan, Alabama than Orlando, Florida. My ability to blend in is authentic and affords me the opportunity to influence more and be influenced by more.
I am considered a safe Negro. Several white pastors call me when they have a question about the black community. In college, the Daily Oklahoman asked my racial opinion about the Columbine shootings as they were happening. Ironically I identify with my faith more than my race. I consider myself a follower of Christ first and an African American or black man second. When people of another race ask what they should call me I say, Willie.
The church we are members of now is mostly white. The lead pastor is Greek, his wife is German and the pastor on our campus could be considered Cajun. When we lived in Pensacola our pastor was Italian and his wife was Cuban. My wife and I both grew up in traditional southern black churches and have never chosen a church based on race, music or preaching styles. I started following Christ as a teenager and was faithful to church attendance my entire life.
When I went to college in the panhandle of Oklahoma I searched for a church like the one I grew up in but found none. I tried to minor in theology, but my school didn’t offer theology as a minor so I took every religious course available. I unintentionally gave myself an additional religious education by attending different churches.
During my freshman year, I attended the Church of Christ where women weren’t allowed to speak and there were no instruments. In my sophomore year, I split my time between the Church of Christ and First Baptist where the service was organized, reverent, and traditional. In my junior year, I was active with the United Methodist Church and the Wesleyan House. As a senior, I attended the Assembly of God, a charismatic expression of spirituality that replicated the church I grew up in.
Although I haven’t spent much time in Catholic, Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness congregations I have studied many of the founders of these and other well known western religious organizations. John Wesley, Charles Harrison Mason, Joseph Smith, Richard Allen, and others didn’t address a mixing of the races.
One of my pastor’s friends tried to make his church more diverse and his deacons called him in; he ultimately left that church.
The reason people give as to why they only worship with their own race range from style of service, music, duration, location, and tradition.
Here are 5 ways churches can embrace diversity:
- Be intentional
- Have quarterly combined services with other churches
- Talk about it
- Diversify leadership
- Integrate worship service
What do you think heaven will look like in your church?
Willie Spears is a teacher, coach, author, minister, and motivational speaker. He has been awarded the teacher and coach of the year. He speaks to thousands each year through his business The Willie Spears Experience. Willie may be reached at www.williespears.com.