Have you ever been asked the question “where do you go to church?” Have you ever considered the word picture that is created when they hear your answer? Does the picture speak to people of every tribe and nation, or does it speak to just your tribe? Have you ever thought that perhaps your faith has been racialized?
Racialize: To impose a racial interpretation on or place in a racial context; to categorize or differentiate on the basis of race. Racialized society is reproduced in our everyday decisions. As a result, racialization can be identified by the make-up of our friends, who attends our parties, our weddings and funerals, what schools we attend, the neighborhoods we live in, and our places of worship.
Race has been so deeply embedded in American society that it shapes our everyday behaviors. The authors of This Side of Heaven: Race, Ethnicity, and Christian Faith indicate that “Segregation occurs partially through intentional choices, and the unintended by-products of other choices." Whether consciously or unconsciously, when our decisions allow for identifying distinct lines of demarcation or separation based on race, then we have been racialized. Major elements of our lives have become structured by race. This dynamic may have demographic constraints beyond our sphere of influence, i.e. more opportunity to engage in cross-cultural relationships in urban areas rather than rural areas. Nonetheless, unlike the racialization of the pre-Civil rights period, post-Civil rights Americans separate racially by choice rather than by law.
The American church displays this same racialized pattern. Upwards of 90-percent of American congregations are influenced by the world’s view that racial and cultural differences are inevitably divisive factors that prevents or inhibits the possibility of multicultural and multiracial expressions of One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism. Society’s racial worldview and categorizations contribute to this lack of unity. For generations, Christians carry and perpetuate these divisive beliefs of race into their interactions with scripture and into their worship centers.
Our biblical worldview provides a solution for unity and oneness. The early church was cross-cultural – meaning that multiple ethnicities and cultures regularly fellowshipped and worshipped the Lord Jesus Christ together. They learned how to remove stumbling blocks in their path for the sake of making every effort to bring harmony, peace and mutual edification. And when necessary, they learned that due to our tendency to offend one another, confession, forgiveness and repentance (change - stop repeating the offense) produced relational restoration and reconciliation in order to maintain bonds of unity and love [Colossians 3:13-14].
The Church has the commission for leadership in demonstrating how the Kingdom of God transcends racial and cultural barriers. Christians are called to moral integrity, or righteousness, in aligning our choices with our beliefs. In this regard we have fallen far short as a reflection of God's heart and embrace of love in multiracial community. So this consideration: if you’re attending a congregation where the vast majority of its members are the same racially or culturally, then yes, your faith may have been racialized. Racial division is an indication of spiritual disorder – the Church has lost its saltiness (Matthew 5:13). It is spiritually problematic that Christians accept the state of racial division in the church without alarm or action.
Race is a matter of spirituality in our transformational journey towards reconciliation and community. An area of our lives we are to submit and conform to Christ's values. Jesus exhorts us to love God with our heart, mind and soul, and to love our neighbor (all the people around us in our community, next just residing in the immediate living area) as ourselves. There is no biblically acceptable rational for segregation in the church as a matter of personal preference. We pray that you discover and engage in the practice of reconciled community – by transitioning your church, or by beginning to attend a church that is striving to break the pattern of racial segregation, or by being part of an intentional multiracial church plant.