Churches confront challenges in racial reconciliation

Today, 86 percent of American churches lack any meaningful racial diversity, according to the Equal Justice Initiative. A study published by Baylor University reported that “the percentage of immigrants in multiracial congregations decreased from over 5 percent in 1998 to under 3 percent in 2012.” The same report wrote that although the number of racially and ethnically diverse congregations are increasing, they do not fully represent the racial and ethnic diversity of the neighborhoods in which they reside.

Trisha Posey, associate professor of history at John Brown University, said that churches can learn a lot from congregations of different races and should incorporate these differences in the worship.

“In the white Evangelical church, we tend to have more of a focus on an individual relationship with God, whereas in the African-American church we can learn a lot about the importance of community and the relationship of the community with God,” Posey said. “Also, again, in the white Evangelical church, we have an individual concept of sin, but the experience of the African-American church can help us understand…sin as a communal experience as well.”

Posey said that there are at least three reasons why the church should lead on this issue. The first is that racism is still alive in the church. The second reason is that when any member of the church experiences suffering, the church should address the suffering.

Lastly, Posey said, “Those of us who are in the majority culture have a lot to learn from our brothers and sisters in Christ of color who have particular experiences and perspectives that can give us a better understanding of the fullness of God’s kingdom. And we cannot have a full understanding of God’s kingdom if we don’t hear the voices of persons of color in our church.”

According to Lifeway Research, many Americans believe that the U.S. has come a long way when dealing with racial reconciliation, “but few are satisfied with the state of race relations. Eight in 10 people agreed with the statement, ‘We’ve got so far to go on racial relations.’ One in 6 disagree.”

Rachel Hustedde, junior intercultural studies major, said that the church should look to Jesus’ teachings as an example of how Christians should live.

“In the Bible, he showed esteem to those who were despised by society. He spent the majority of his ministry and time on earth trying to break these barriers that we set up for ourselves,” Hustedde said. “The more I read the New Testament, the more I know he’s not about this [conflict].”

According to a New York Times article, the 2016 election of President Trump changed the way some people of color viewed the white Evangelical church.

Chanequa Walker-Barnes, a professor of practical theology at the McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University in Atlanta, told the New York Times, “It said, to me, that something is profoundly wrong at the heart of the white church.”

Posey, however, said she has hope for the next generation. “I see that young people, college students here at JBU care deeply about this and there’s this desire to learn…but I think we also can’t be naive about how hard the work is … It’s very, very difficult, but we have to be willing to engage in the difficulty.”

Hustedde said that this hard work should include people reaching across cultural barriers and forming relationships with people who look different than you. “Minorities should not have to teach you about the struggles they face. Don’t treat them like books that you’re just trying to learn from, they are people.”

Posey said that today, the church can and should find ways to incorporate the experiences of people of color into the services.

“When it comes to racial reconciliation and particularly bringing together people of color and white majority members of white majority culture in single congregations, often it’s the persons of color who have to give up what they’re used to, what they would see as comfortable for them in order to join,” Posey said. “I think white Christians need to be willing to give up some of their own comfort in this process of coming together.”