The church has been widely regarded as a place of worship, a temple where followers of Christ and believers of God gather to praise and worship Him. By saying followers, we do not pay any regard for race or ethnicity as long as we are one in our belief in an all-powerful Creator. Somehow this line of thinking is slowly dissipating with the passage of time. Over the course of history, there have been different cultural and racial engagements and encounters across different countries. Some turned out to be friendly and beneficial, while some also proved hostile and destructive. When it comes to religion or religious denomination, why are we segregated?
America has been considered a melting pot of global cultures, races and ethnicities. Since the time of its discovery and colonization, America has been welcoming different races into its lands. Merchants, explorers, immigrants, even invaders. With their occupation of the different tracts of lands come the different cultures, heritage, religions and practices. Religion has played an important role in unifying and stabilizing societies. From the families as the core societies to the communities of different sizes, we find different religions and denominations.
One striking observation we see is that there is almost total exclusivity in most denominations when it comes to race. While it seems that America has moved past the racial era and is at the “post-racial era”, the church is one of the institutions that is very resistant to this change. We could only rarely see an even of well-diversified distribution of multiethnic church-goers across America.
For a congregation to be dubbed as a multiethnic church, the church body can’t include more than 80% of a given racial group. Thus, these should be no supermajority of a certain race in a multiethnic church. Presently, there is only 5% of all Protestant churches across the country to make this threshold.
If the 80% metric were to be strictly applied to all American denominations, few would be considered multiethnic. According to the 2015 data gathered by Pew Research Center, only Assemblies of God and Seventh-day Adventist Church made the cut using this metric. What does this reveal about the racial diversity in American religions? A lot actually.
Historically, this present scenario of segregation wasn’t the case back in the old days. Actually, for some time during the colonial America, whites and blacks (whether either slave or free) worshiped together at the same churches. The early churches during those times were Methodist, Anglican, Presbyterian, and Baptist. What happened as time passed?
Most churchgoers believed it was how the messages of the denominations’ teachings, services and practices effectively reached the followers that mattered. Some denominations have selective openness in their policies, encouraging preaching and exhortation for all members, but limiting members of other races (mostly African American) from taking on church leadership roles. Although some denominations such as the Methodists allowed African American members to hold leadership positions, it was not free of the reaches of racial segregation. Eventually, the black members and leaders were excluded from the church because of “wrong” practices.
This could only be part of the explanations on why there are more members of a certain race in different churches and denominations in the US. There could a lot more underlying reasons and causes for this racial disparity of church members.
Regardless of the reasons, a church or denomination should not be open to only a handful of non-Hispanic Whites, African-Americans, Asians or Latinos. There should be no favoritism or racial bias as taught by God. (My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. — James 2:4) The church should be an open place of worship for everyone, just as God showed His love for everyone (the world) that He gave us Jesus who made the ultimate sacrifice for us (John 3:16). The “world” apparently includes all ethnic groups.