Church Segregation is Deeper Than Skin Tone (by Matt Appling)
Is church unity ever going to be possible?
It sometimes seems like a distant, unreachable goal. Christians have been dividing themselves for centuries. We’ve created thousands of varieties of ourselves, and we’re not finished.
We divide ourselves over theology, politics, a book by Rob Bell. Scott Williams just released his book, Church Diversity, which is a call to the church to make stronger efforts toward racial unity and integration.
I’ll agree, Sunday is the most segregated day of the week…but for another, and completely different reason than race.
Deeper Than Skin Tone
Though I haven’t read his book, so I can’t endorse it, I sympathize with Scott’s cry for racial integration. I don’t know any white churches that wouldn’t like more minority folks. I don’t know if black churches or Hispanic churches want more white people, but I’ll guess that they do. I don’t know how we start being more integrated, but it would be great.
But I think the segregation in our churches goes far deeper than skin tones.
I read what Paul says in his letters about the Body of Christ. He says we all have gifts and jobs to do, like the parts of a body, and all are important. Some people are made to be prophets. Some people are able to heal others. Some are pastors, evangelists, or apostles. Some speak in tongues. Some interpret tongues. And when they are all put together, the body functions as it should.
And what do we do? The same thing we always do: something stupid.
We go to church, looking for Christians just like ourselves.
I’ve gone to church for almost thirty years. And every church I’ve attended, the people have been a whole lot like myself. And I’m comfortable with that.
It’s when I go to church where the people aren’t like me, that I’m uncomfortable. I’m out of place in a church that emphasizes prophecy. I would be as obviously different at a tongues-speaking church as I would at a black church. I can hardly believe it when I hear someone who I know and trust tell me someone was healed at their church.
I’ve gone to segregated churches my entire life, and you probably have too. Paul says we’re all made to be different parts of a body. So what do we do? We gather up all the “eyes” and put them in a church. All the “hands” go to church together. All the “feet” are together. If a “foot” shows up to a church for eyes, what do they do? They tell the foot he has to be an eye. It’s not enough for churches to welcome speaking in tongues. Everyone has to speak in tongues, even if that isn’t their gift.
It’s not enough for everyone to be Christians in church. Everyone is required to be the right kind of Christian, the kind that fits in, so everyone is comfortable. Then when everyone’s the same in church, everyone gets to say, “We’re not like that church down the street.” It’s genuine Christian racism.
A Problem of Body Image
Our churches are often rigidly segregated, not just by race or theology, but by the gifts given to us by God. That kind of segregation almost makes the issue of race “pale” in comparison…ha.
Segregation of race is a matter that is skin deep. Segregation by theology is a matter of minds. But segregation of our gifts is dividing us by how the Holy Spirit has made us. I think it is the deepest kind of segregation.
And it has crippled our churches. How well can a church work if everyone is gifted the same way? How well can a bucket of eyes work? How well can a church work, limping along without feet? I wouldn’t even know what to do with a bucket of eyes if I saw one. Imagine how the church would work if we really welcomed every kind of Christian and really became a working body?
What say you? Is your church “spiritually integrated” the way Paul describes, or is your church a bunch of the same body parts? What do you think your gifts are? Do you have a hard time accepting Christians with other gifts?
Matt Appling is a teacher and pastor in the Midwest. He blogs about church and culture at TheChurchOfNoPeople.com.