I think it is one of the tragedies of our nation, one of the shameful tragedies, that eleven 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 should 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.” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., April 1960, Meet The Press

Today Sunday mornings remain one of the most segregated hours in American life.

More than eight in 10 congregations are made up of one predominant racial group. And herein lies the rub, most Christians surveyed like it this way: Two-thirds of churchgoers say they believe their church has already done enough to become racially diverse.1

The continuing tragedy of our choosing to remain effectively segregated — and/or not doing enough to make space at the table for people who do not look like us — is that, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, our churches, in essence, “stand against the spirit and the teachings of Jesus Christ.”2

It’s easier to cite the plank in the eyes of our local communities. However, we must accept our individual call to live our prophetic witness.

Before we can truly welcome diversity into our congregations, we must welcome it into our everyday scenes.

To do so, we must grow in three areas of awareness.

1. Self-Awareness

David cried out, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).

When it comes to diversity and breaking down the walls that still separate us — this must be our prayer as well. Consistently asking God to clearly reveal our hearts, praying for forgiveness and strength to walk in the way of the everlasting, is where to begin.

We have all breathed in the smog of racism. Often, we are subjects to structures and institutions designed to keep us apart, institutions also designed to give preference to some over others.

Welcoming diversity means hearing narratives contrary to our ownknowing that on this journey, the Spirit or our marginalized sisters and brothers will quite often bring light to our blind spots.

So rather than responding by being defensive, controlling, passive aggressive, dismissive or resorting to bullying — we must ask God’s heart to be revealed — thanking God for bringing to light our blind spots.

We then pray the Spirit grows us to becoming more and more like Christ. In conversations or in relationship, if we desire to welcome diversity, lack of self-awareness is a great enemy to any progress.

Self-awareness is a great gift you can give to your world. Self-knowledge of your character, feelings, motives, and desires is foundational to your own growth. Especially when paired with an honest vulnerability before God and others.

How do we grow in self-awareness?

  • Ask God to reveal your heart and motivations: Increased self-awareness includes growing into who God has called us to be, surrendering to the Holy Spirit.
  • Ask the Spirit to know God’s desires. We ask the Spirit to reveal God’s character, feelings, motives, and desires. Knowing God’s desires enables our hearts to break for the things that break God’s heart.
  • Embrace a clear vision of our Father’s Kingdom. To understand our Father’s Kingdom (and our place in it), let’s learn, teach, and model what we believe and what God has called us to. God’s chosen people were created diverse. After leaving slavery in Egypt, they became a powerful earthly kingdom that housed a temple for all nations. A kingdom comprising strangers and foreigners. Likewise, when Christ came to Earth, he initiated a Kingdom welcoming every nation, every tribe, and every tongue.

2. Active Awareness

Active awareness moves us from the largely intangible to the tangible; it is a call to action. Here are several practical steps to gain active awareness:

  • Listen: Get in the habit of listening to marginalized people and people most negatively impacted. God has always lived at the margins; we should, too.
  • Stand up and speak out: Your voice matters to those you know. Because you are not a stranger but a friend, you will be best heard in your circles. So, be diligent to refuse racist comments or to stereotype others, be it in person or online.
  • Build relationships with people of color: Most white Americans consistently only see people of color through sports and entertainment, on the internet, or the news. Pledge and work to change that for you and your family; it will be a blessing.
  • Invest in your local community: Take time to learn what is happening locally and discover a way to help. Identify your neighbors. And find a way to connect.
  • Expect hard conversations: Differing opinions can lead to heated conversations. So, in every discussion (e.g., with friends and family and people who are different than you or think differently than you, etc.), enter not to win, but to introduce different ways of viewing and understanding the topic at hand. 

3. Growing Awareness

Self-awareness gifts us a foundation to see our brothers and sisters of all backgrounds as God sees them.

Active awareness serves as the framework to intentionally welcome diversity into our communities.

Growing awareness is pledging and committing to racial reconciliation with what we know, learn, and discover:

  • Commit to learning: Consider this your continuing education: Push yourself to learn more about people from different backgrounds. For example, check your bookshelf: Are all the authors you read white males born in your generation or older?? Diversify.
  • Find an accountability partner: Do not navigate this journey alone. People praying for you, helping to guide you, and modeling a life of faith have helped you develop into the person you have become. It’s no different when it comes to embracing diversity: Find a coach and/or mentor to walk with you and help you to learn and to grow.
  • Embrace the marathon: Rome wasn’t built in a day. And you, or any one person, will not undo America’s sometimes church-aided centuries of white supremacy and the smog of racism. So, breathe. Breathe and embrace the marathon. Get in the habit of stopping to acknowledge how far we have come … how far you have come.

There’s much work to be done. Our challenge is to not let it paralyze us.

Yes, some who identify as Christians have grown too comfortable with the intentional segregation curated in our country over centuries. Yet, the Church is still comprised of we who have been saved by grace through faith and are empowered by the Holy Spirit that dwells within. And through the Church, the manifold wisdom of God is made known here on Earth and in the heavenly realms.

The Kingdom of God as dreamt by Isaiah, as revealed to John, and as preached by Jesus our Christ — is a Kingdom that has already come and is also coming. God’s Kingdom is home to every nation, every tribe, and every tongue. And our life and witness is to make on Earth as it is in heaven possible.

1. Bob Smietana, “Sunday Morning in America Still Segregated — and That’s OK With Worshipers,” LifeWay Research, accessed November 7, 2017.

2.Interview on ‘Meet the Press,’” The Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project, Stanford University, accessed November 7, 2017.

Hank Johnson
Hank Johnson is pastor of discipleship and youth at Harrisburg (Pa.) BIC and also serves as assistant moderator of the BIC's Atlantic Conference. He and his wife, Shell, live with their two children in Harrisburg, Pa. Hank loves Jesus, people, and sports (in that order).

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