In a current cultural climate fraught with racial tension and division, BIC pastor Hank Johnson shares his insights and experience reaching across the divide to bring his community closer together.
“I think it is one of the tragedies of our nation, one of the shameful tragedies, that 11 o’clock on Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours, if not the most segregated hour in Christian America. I definitely think the Christian church shall be integrated. And any church that stands against integration, and that has a segregated body, is standing against the Spirit and the teachings of Jesus Christ. And it fails to be a true witness.”
These were the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during an interview on Meet the Press on April 17, 1960.
In many American churches at this time, segregation was the intended and worked-for reality. Instead of standing on the forefront of integration, the Church too often blended into the everyday scenes of a segregated America.
I share this quote and observation because I’m burdened as I look around today and see how our brother Martin’s words still ring true.We are not a multicultural congregation because we’re urban. No. It is because God has always called his people to be inclusive, to reach across worldly barriers built to divide us.
According to a study published last year in Christianity Today, more than eight in 10 congregations are made up of one ethnic group. Yes, the historic social, economic, and political shortcomings in America are partially to blame.
Yet we, the Church in America, must also examine honestly the ways we’re culpable as well. In many ways, the Church has justified its racial homogeneity, whether consciously or not, on personal preference, comfort, and numbers-based strategies*.
So we the Church, and specifically BIC, must ask ourselves: Should our congregations continue to look and feel homogenous?
At Harrisburg BIC, we believe that answer is unequivocally “no.”
We see racial and ethnic homogeneity as opponents of the New Testament Church established by Christ and maintained by the Spirit. We are not a multicultural congregation because we’re urban. No. It is because God has always called his people to be inclusive, to reach across worldly barriers built to divide us.
Last month, I had the opportunity to join my BIC family at General Conference. And I was overjoyed to spend time with such an incredible group of people.
Yet as a black pastor in the BIC, I was equally heartbroken to see a room where so few people looked like me.
I don’t believe this is an intentional reality in the BIC U.S. But I want to challenge us to think about how we might become an increasingly diverse body. And that for Christ’s Kingdom—by the power of the Holy Spirit, and for the glory of God our Father—I pray we will be a body who makes space for, learns from, invests in, laughs with, cries with, and journeys alongside brothers and sisters who look different than us.
Adapted from “Bridge Builders: BIC pastors crossing racial divides” for BIC U.S.’ August 2016 Connect newsletter.