Effecting Change in the Church

Our church is divided. Across our country their are two conferences for each region. One white, one black. This is a point that has been on my mind since the 2006 GYC in Baltimore when the subject was spoken about in depth by one of the presenters. The problem is even more evident now in light of Obama’s election, showing just how much of our country is moving past the racial divide.

The fact is our church is not alone in racial segregation. Most churches you visit in our country are of homogeneous tones. And much of our country is still segregated, meaning churches will be segregated simply because of their location. But the fact remains that in America the segregation of our churches is institutionalized. There are churches that are not in disparate locations, and yet are segregated by race. So the question is, what are we going to do about it?

Should we wait on God to sort things out? Wait for him to scatter and dissolve churches on either side of the color line so they are left with no option but to regroup as a single unified body? It has happened. Wait for him to call together mixed couples so that we can no longer distinguish ourselves along these lines? Something becoming more common in our churches. Wait for collegians, who are used to interracial church groups, to take the reigns? He certainly can and will do it. But what are we actively called to do? As the problem is within the church, God is certainly calling us to take part in this reform.

chessAs Raymond Holmes pointed out to us this last week, revival comes from beneath. If we are to expect any action it must come from us. And the passive actions listed above do not go all the way as they don’t address the issue of merging overlapping conferences. If this is not done, we may have conferences that are not racially divided, but remain ununified none the less. Action must be taken.

But how to take the action without drawing negative attention from outside the church or causing negative reactions inside the church. In order to have a smooth and peaceable transition the concerns that keep the conferences separate must be addressed. Who will retain their position and who will lose it when the merge happens? How can we safeguard against racial politicking where one side is left out? How will individual churches merge? Will both buildings be kept, and people locate their house of worship according to proximity, or will they no longer be officially segregated, but segregated none the less? What will happen to pastors if the one church is sold?

I hesitate to answer these questions as my political skills are lacking. Nor do I understand all the factors involved (a quick look revealed that some conferences on one side of the color line geographically covers multiple conferences on the other side, a fact I was ignorant of). Though one action to start on the way has been suggested. A unity day in which two churches on opposite sides of the divide come together. Though such a goodwill effort is certainly not the ends, it can do a lot to move things along. The connections created will do a lot to remove suspicion. If one church was to suggest merging in the future it would no longer appear as a hostile takeover. And if the unity continued beyond that day there is no doubt that the churches would begin to question their organizational separation as they become more unified.

Though we must be persistent in our push for unity. This is not a new idea. My grandpa once organized a choir exchange between the local black and white churches. I’m not sure what became of it, save to say it did not end the conference divide.


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February 2009
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