Days before his assassination, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. mourned, “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning, the same hour when many are standing to sing In Christ There Is No East And West. Surveys today show that 87% of American congregations are homogeneous, with 67% of that number believing that their church is doing enough to be ethnically diverse (See the Lifeway study on Church Segregation)
I am super frustrated with the lack of real dialogue around the issues of interracial worship. I work for a white church. We have small pockets of non-white families that join and participate, a Burmese service that meets in our building but otherwise has no connection to us, and loads of ministries to ESL folk. But any conversations around worship are really just focused on issues that concern white people. Bring up trying to be more interracial in our approach to worship and it gets shut down, as if to say, “Look, we’re having a hard enough time convincing the (white) traditional worship crowd to accept that the (white)_contemporary service is real worship.”
I wrestled with addressing interracial worship in a comic because it is so complicated, and comics by nature oversimplify and make blanket statements to poke fun at nuanced issues. But I couldn’t shake King’s Letter From Birmingham Jail, where he said,
The contemporary church is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s often vocal sanction of things as they are. But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. I meet young people every day whose disappointment with the church has risen to outright disgust.
I do not think I have the answer to all of this. But I have worshiped in intentionally interracial congregations, so I know it’s possible, and it’s beautiful. I have worshiped in AME churches and sung in black gospel choirs, and I know that my worship experience is lessened by the absence of the black community in my weekly worship. My parent’s predominantly white UM church has formed a sort of partnership with the black Baptist church a mile away, where members work together for social justice, and take turns worshiping once a month at each other’s church service. The solution doesn’t have to look like just one thing. My only prayer is that we would actually start praying together, playing together, and worshiping together, until one day our kids will wonder what took us so long to figure it out.