American racial and socio-economic segregation is anti-gospel. . . but don’t blame those who find refuge in churches of color, the responsibility lies solely on the historic traditions of white churches and people groups.
Church segregation is due primarily to the ideals and values of white supremacy that are maintained by white church leaders, members, and organizational practices. Recent research confirms some things we are still doing that cause Black members to leave “multicultural” churches:
- Ignore race and racial problems that our ancestors created and that we have maintained
- Refusal to lament and share grief with communities of color
Ignoring race and racial issues is the most hurtful issue of concern for Black congregation and community members. The practice of “colorblindness” is part of European American culture in general. European American culture has long considered discussion of race or racial issues (other than in slurs) as taboo, improper, and inappropriate, particularly in public. It has always been self-serving. There is also a pseudo-Biblical justification that we have used to preserve the status quo.
Change is required. We must disclose and discuss racism and its practices. We must come to understand its consequences for Black and Brown people, we must be willing to become uncomfortable and to change our practices that fortify our callous disregard.
People of color have daily experienced inequity and taken it home to process safely over the dinner table. Meanwhile, European Americans have retarded our own understanding and ability to have adult-level conversations about race and racism by avoidance and self-segregation. We often lack the emotional intelligence and language skills to discuss matters of racialized experiences ethically. White people have been playing see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.
We refuse to share in lament, grief, and/or acknowledge racialized attacks and other historic events that are still hurting the Black community.
Most people of color in the United States are collectivistic in culture. Collectivism requires community, and it is a strength of communities of color. Collectivism is socialization from birth with the “we” being at the center of both group and individual identity. “I am because we are” and “I stand on the shoulders of those who came before me” are phrases that come out of the collectivistic way of being. It is the responsibility of the “we” to take care of each other during every stage in life. Collectivists emphasize interdependence and collective action.
Thus, in grief and tragedy, Communities of color tend to share grief. The community expression of grief is highly valued as healing and strengthening.
By contrast, in the individualistic culture of European Americans, we prefer to grieve in private. Individualist cultures socialize their young to “stand on your own,” “take responsibility for your own self,” and “raise yourself up by your bootstraps.” We teach our babies to “self-soothe” to help them learn independence. This cultural orientation does not encourage taking responsibility for each other in general. It is this paradigm that divides us instead of uniting us in love and concern and action for and with each other. We see the other person’s problem as their fault and their responsibility and often ignore the evidence of our own complicity.
Because of the individualistic cultural paradigm, most European Americans misunderstand public grief and protests. The mass protests responding to racial injustice such as the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd were interpreted by many as “riots.” In fact, justice-seeking protests are collective expressions of grief and anger at the callousness of white America. Since European Americans assume grief is to be done in private, many totally twisted the expression of grief in the streets with old stereotypes used to marginalize the legitimate anger of Black folks.
Our first correction if we are to cure the sin and sickness of the segregation of believers, we must conform our own cultural ways to Biblical love, and action for each other. We stand to learn a lot from the practice of collectivism, which is in fact the way the New Testament church operated.
Roman culture was conquest-oriented and very individualistic (and also the root of much of European American culture and law). By contrast, the New Testament church “shared all things in common.” “We” were more important than “I.” All of the New Testament encourages us to “lay down our lives” for others . . . in essence put the “we” of the Kingdom of God over the individualistic pursuits for “me” or the ethnocentric pursuit of “us vs. them.”
Secondly, we need to show up to grieve and discuss injustice and its current impacts on our brothers and sisters. We need to do this in personal conversations and from the platforms of our places of worship. We need to enter in to listen to people who have been historically silenced. Part of that is grieving in tragedy and joining in celebration. Since we celebrate July fourth, celebrating independence from Brittan, we should also join in the celebration of Juneteenth celebrating when all enslaved people received the word of their freedom from slavery.
I encourage you to equip yourself further and learn more about individualism, collectivism, white supremacy, implicit bias, and church practices by accessing Gilbert’s dissertation and purchasing my book, Loving Our Neighbors for transformative insights and action steps.
Courage, A. (2021) Loving Our Neighbors: A transformative relational communication guide, https://www.amazon.com/Loving-Our-Neighbors-Transformative-Communication/dp/B09LWP18WV
Gilbert, E. (2022). An Exploration of Why Integration Efforts are Largely Unsuccessful in Predominantly White Christian Churches. Digital Commons@ACU. firstname.lastname@example.org
By Doc Courage