You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
– Galatians 3:26-28
We must face the fact that in America, the church is still the most segregated major institution in America. At 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand and sing that in Christ there is no east or west, we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation. This is tragic.
– Dr. Martin Luther King, 1963
Like attracts like. It’s so simple that there’s even an Immutable Law of the Universe associated with the concept. It’s called the Law of Attraction. And we see the fruits of that law all around us – in our career choices, where similarly-minded and similarly gifted people tend to congregate; in our choice of friends, who frequently share our interests; and in our choice of romantic/marriage partners. We tend to hang out with people who are a lot like ourselves.
The concept also is manifested in the Christian Church. In Mount Vernon, Ohio, where I lived for almost eight years, the local Presbyerian Church was full of buttoned-down professionals; doctors and lawyers and corporate executives who shared common educational backgrounds and a love of order and formally democratic governance. We had a board of elders, but it was still a board, and it functioned dysfunctionally according to Robert’s Rules of Order. Coincidentally, almost all of the dysfunctional doctors and lawyers were white. My current church, a Vineyard Church, is full of highly educated creative types; artists and musicians and writers and entrepreneurs. Coincidentally, almost all of the wounded artists are white.
And it begs the question: is this the way it’s supposed to work? The apostle Paul, quoted above, would seem to suggest No. The Rev. Martin Luther King, quoted above, would also seem to suggest No. In theory, our unity in Christ trumps all other distinctions. Paul even devoted an entire epistle (Philemon, for the curious) to the notion that the old, oppressive master/slave relationship had been turned upside down because of this unity in Christ. And if masters and slaves could find unity in Christ in a relationship that superseded the old power structure, shouldn’t it be possible for, say, white Christians and black Christians to find unity in Christ? And to actually, you know, maybe even hang out together as a way of showing that unity?
So why do we look and act so much like each other on Sunday mornings?
I’ll propose an answer: because it’s the easiest course of action (or non-action) open to us. Like attracts like. To change requires a serious commitment to be intentional about seeking out those who are not like ourselves. That doesn’t happen naturally. We have to work at it.
While realizing that we all (and yes, I certainly include myself here) have a long way to go, I’m seeing changes, and good changes. People in my church are discussing these issues, talking with the minority members in our midst, trying to understand better the cultural barriers we unintentionally erect and that hinder unity. And starting with our church’s minority members is probably the right approach. There are no easy solutions, but it’s probably the obvious place to begin.
But I would like to suggest that marginalization can occur at every point where there is a departure from homogeneity. It can occur if you’re black in the midst of an overwhelmingly white church. And it can occur in countless other ways as well. Kate and I are a part of a church that is growing in many ways, but one of the principle methods is via reproduction. Crank out those babies. And that’s a great thing. It’s what married people in their late twenties and early thirties tend to do in our culture. But it gets weird to hear the unending discussions about disposable vs. cloth diapers, or the best methods to help the kids sleep through the night, when our kids are leaving home. I have no idea if they’re having problems sleeping through the night. I tend to wonder more about who they might be sleeping with. And there’s a disconnect there. There’s nobody to talk to about those things. Nobody’s been there. Usually it’s no big deal. But sometimes it is. And sometimes it’s a lonely place to be.
If I’m pontificating here, I’m preaching to myself as well. I can be as ingrown and as clueless about the needs of others as anyone. But the truth is that we all have unique issues and life circumstances, little and sometimes big joys and tragedies that have made us who we are, and it would behoove us to understand one another as well as we can. I’d like to see 11:00 on Sunday morning become not only the least racially segregated hour in America, but the least stratified hour in terms of all distinctions -- social, educational, political, class, age, whatever. Our oneness in Christ never looks more apparent than when everybody looks different.