Church Segregation is Deeper Than Skin Tone

May 2, 2011

If Rob Bell did nothing else with the release of Love Wins, he gave us a chance to put our differences as aside and come together in Christian love.

Well, maybe not so much.  It was pretty much a nuclear bomb dropped into our part of the online Christian community.  Flippant dismissals were made on Twitter.  Pastors were fired for sympathizing with Bell’s beliefs.  The Southern Baptist bookstore, LifeWay has stopped carrying all of Bell’s books.  Better to be safe, then risk people thinking for themselves.  Way to go, Baptists.

But in the midst of it all, a voice cries out in the wilderness for unity.  This week, Rachel Held Evans is hosting what is dubbed the “Rally to Restore Unity.”  Yes, it’s a shamefully delightful rip-off of the Stewart / Colbert rally from last year.  All this week, bloggers all over the place will be blogging about unity, making funny signs, and raising money for Charity: Water.  Should be fun.

I’m dropping my thoughts on unity today too.  Scott Williams just released his book, Church Diversity, which is a call to the church to make stronger efforts toward racial unity and integration.  I’ll agree, Sunday is the most segregated day of the week…but for another, and completely different reason than race.

Segregation Deeper Than Skin Tone

Though I haven’t read his book, so I can’t endorse it, I sympathize with Scott’s cry for racial integration.  I don’t know any white churches that wouldn’t like more minority folks.  I don’t know if black churches or Hispanic churches want more white people, but I’ll guess that they do.  I don’t know how we start being more integrated, but it would be great.

But I think the segregation in our churches goes far deeper than skin tones.

I read what Paul says in his letters about the Body of Christ.  He says we all have gifts and jobs to do, like the parts of a body, and all are important.  Some people are made to be prophets.  Some people are able to heal others.  Some are pastors, evangelists, or apostles.  Some speak in tongues.  Some interpret tongues.  And when they are all put together, the body functions as it should.

And what do we do?  The same thing we always do: something stupid.

We go to church, looking for Christians just like ourselves.

Christian Racism

I’ve gone to church for almost thirty years.  And every church I’ve attended, the people have been a whole lot like myself.  And I’m comfortable with that.

It’s when I go to church where the people aren’t like me, that I’m uncomfortable.  I’m out of place in a church that emphasizes prophecy.  I would be as obviously different at a tongues-speaking church as I would at a black church.  I can hardly believe it when I hear someone who I know and trust tell me someone was healed at their church.

I’ve gone to segregated churches my entire life, and you probably have too.  Paul says we’re all made to be different parts of a body.  So what do we do?  We gather up all the “eyes” and put them in a church.  All the “hands” go to church together.  All the “feet” are together.  If a “foot” shows up to a church for eyes, what do they do?  They tell the foot he has to be an eye.  It’s not enough for churches to welcome speaking in tongues.  Everyone has to speak in tongues, even if that isn’t their gift.

It’s not enough for everyone to be Christians in church.  Everyone is required to be the right kind of Christian, the kind that fits in, so everyone is comfortable.  Then when everyone’s the same in church, everyone gets to say, “We’re not like that church down the street.” It’s genuine Christian racism.

A Problem of Body Image

Our churches are often rigidly segregated, not just by race or theology, but by the gifts given to us by God.  That kind of segregation almost makes the issue of race “pale” in comparison…ha.

Segregation of race is a matter that is skin deep.  Segregation by theology is a matter of minds.  But segregation of our gifts is dividing us by how the Holy Spirit has made us.  I think it is the deepest kind of segregation.

And it has crippled our churches.  How well can a church work if everyone is gifted the same way?  How well can a bucket of eyes work?  How well can a church work, limping along without feet?  I wouldn’t even know what to do with a bucket of eyes if I saw one.  Imagine how the church would work if we really welcomed every kind of Christian and really became a working body?

What say you?  Is your church “spiritually integrated” the way Paul describes, or is your church a bunch of the same body parts?  What do you think your gifts are?  Do you have a hard time accepting Christians with other gifts?

44 responses to Church Segregation is Deeper Than Skin Tone

  1. Honestly we are mostly the same body part. A smaller church on the upswing though so look out!
    Matthew Snider recently posted..Saturday Six- Movies

  2. Hi Matt,

    I’d never heard of Bob Bell before reading on your site. So I don’t know for sure what you are talking about here.

    My initial reaction is Screw unity. I’m with the guy who said, “He that is not for me is against me”.


  3. Holy Epistles, Matt! What a message – though the bucket of eyes illustration was a little too gory for me.

    “I read what Paul says in his letters about the Body of Christ. He says we all have gifts and jobs to do, like the parts of a body, and all are important. Some people are made to be prophets. Some people are able to heal others. Some are pastors, evangelists, or apostles. Some speak in tongues. Some interpret tongues. And when they are all put together, the body functions as it should.”

    I can only say amen, I wrote a book about it.

    Here are 5 reasons why Christians don’t have unity.
    -1 Perceived Agreement: They think unity is agreeing, it’s not. The actual verse says “unity in the Spirit”. It is saying you are red, and I am blue, but because of God, we are purple! The Father, Son and Spirit have unity in the Spirit. The work together to accomplish the work of the Kingdom.
    -2 Religion: it is practicing to look like a Christian, tossing around the word of God like a text book, and never connecting with the power. Belief is not faith. A lot of people believe in God, but do not know him. There can’t be in unity without the Spirit.
    -3 Theology: It is supposed to help us understand God, not become a subject in cemetery.
    -4 Culture: Some how we transpose culture onto the church like the Corinthians did, and they made a lot of mistakes. A lot of Christians miss the supernatural side of things because they won’t seek it out and use discernment. They’ll read some blog or book or listen to a TV preacher, but won’t go and check it out in person. Sad.
    -5 People: The message is with us, that is why we need to know him! He doesn’t live in a book.

    I say go visit a dozen church where people claim that things are happening, you might be amazed. Our church held an event Expecting Miracles. 40+ people showed up, and 4 were instantly healed of of their symptoms. I wished that I had been one, but the testimonies were published on Facebook with names. Randy Clark sees a lot of healing – mostly overseas, and now has a doctor on staff working to medically verify them with x-rays and other test results.

    Jesus is deep, very deep, and we sit on the surface saying show me, but he said “go.”

    We do need to think for ourselves, but we need to be grounded in the truth. Books are not truth; they may be revelation, or they may just be modern day Pharisaical blather.
    David recently posted..Take the Bull by the Horns – Health Care Reform

    • “I’m out of place in a church that emphasizes prophecy.” [Matt, I used to be a part of a ministry that emphasized prophecy, and trust me, EVERYONE is out of place there, even the people on the team. ; ) Mostly joking there.

      In all seriousness, I don’t think it would really be an issue if different “churches” were so homogenized, if different churches and denominations would do a better job of working together. If one church is a bucket of eyes, if they get together with other churches that are the hands, feet, etc, that could serve the same purpose. I mean, technically, we are all THE church, right?

      But I don’t know what’s easier– diversifying the body of believers in one church building or getting diverse church bodies in different buildings to work together.

    • Great thoughts, David. I especially like you analysis of “unity in the Spirit.”

    • I love your definition of unity! Somewhere a long the line we got the idea that unity means we all agree and think the same. It does not, we can be united in Christ and be blue and red separately and purple in Him! Great points, David!
      Carla recently posted..Schism Sunday Vol III- The Death Penalty

    • I’m sorry to disagree, but unity IS having the same mind. Amos 3:3 – “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” Is it possible to be unified and not walk together? No it’s not, no more than it is possible for me to walk in two directions at the same time.

      If we don’t have the same mind, we can’t be in unity; just like a choir can’t sing in harmony and unison at the same time (sorry for the musical reference, I’m a p&w leader). Christ has given us His word to renew our mind, to give us HIS mind. All Christians have the mind of Christ…we DO have the same mind. The NT is full of exhortations to have the same mind (Phil 1:27, 1 Cor. 1:10, and more) and Christ prayed that we would be ONE as He and the Father are one (John 17:21).

      If there is any example of like-mindedness among a group it would certainly be found within the Trinity. How can we be united, as Christ is with the Father, if we don’t have the same mind (as they do)?

      We don’t have to have the same preferences, or hobbies, or diets – but we certainly have to have the same mind. We have the tools for unified relationships, but we have to put the work in to build those relationships (which is where the church is struggling).

      And as a black woman (whose father is a pastor), I can attest to the fact that we would like more white members lol:)

  4. Hahahah….bucket of eyes….priceless….

    Only you Matt….only here at church of no people…

    Arny recently posted..Happy Monday- Usama is Dead

  5. Wow, great post/topic! I’d add that another factor segregating our churches is the ministry-laity divide. I’m convinced by what Paul said: “as each part does its work” the church “grows up in unity”. Churches die in the long term when only a few are doing the work of the many. Add the bucket of eyes, and it’s even worse.
    Frank recently posted..Are We Spoiled

  6. Integration is difficult when our approach is “come joint and us and become just like me.” It can work if we say “I am really interested in you and how you do things. Teach me so I can understand better and participate.” There has to be a shift from “me” thinking to “you” thinking.
    Jeremy’s Confessions recently posted..Fake plastic Christians

  7. Our churches doors are open to everyone.

    What are we supposed to do, force them in?

    People go where they want to go.

    “Unity, yes. But NEVER at the expense of the pure gospel.”

    Steve Martin recently posted..What can we offer to God

  8. //I read what Paul says in his letters about the Body of Christ. He says we all have gifts and jobs to do, like the parts of a body, and all are important.//

    I forget this sometimes. Thanks for the reminder Matt.
    Charlie Chang recently posted..285 Bathroom ballistics

  9. I guess I am usually wary of any discussion of spiritual gifts. I have been told by people they had one that they most evidently did not possess. And I have no idea to know if a gift is “spiritual” or not. I have talents and strengths, but don’t non-Christians?
    David N. recently posted..My late-to-the-party Love Wins Review

  10. I do think the race issue is pretty serious, but not enough to blog argue about it right now. And I think you are quite right that we are “spiritual giftist.”

    You really ought to run with that bucket of eyes image. It is super gross but really vivid.

    I just hung out with someone who married a pastor of a church she would never have chosen to go to. Maybe that is the cure? Don’t give us a choice. Just have people go to whatever church is nearest them and get to work.

    It could also be true that there are all kinds of gifts that exist within the church we attend but we just have no value for them or no idea how to look for them and bring them out.

    Nice post.

    • “Just have people go to whatever church is nearest them and get to work.”

      Sounds good in theory, but doesn’t always work in practice. I come from a church where church community and fellowship are very important. I went to a new church where community and fellowship weren’t very important, but it was the nearest church to me and I poured myself into the people there. It didn’t matter that they were charismatic and I wasn’t; they were my brothers and sisters and I was going to love them.

      We formed a small community group. We shared with one another. We encouraged one another. And then everyone else got “busy.” We stopped meeting. The leader/ pastor’s daughter stopped responding to my emails when I asked her how she was doing. Then one of the church leaders (NOT from the group) emailed me telling me the group would no longer meet. It was like getting a break-up email from someone else.

      The whole situation made me really sad. This isn’t what the church is about, you know? Before you all and before God, I really feel like I tried, but things didn’t work out. I’m sad, not because “I failed” but because it was a sad awakening to the state of the American church. I’m sad because I think it makes God sad.

      That being said, I still believe in going to a church and making things work. I’m just not expecting that it always will.
      Jo_of_TSN recently posted..Finals

    • That’s a great thing you bring up. How many people have gifts, but they aren’t encouraged to use them unless they fit within the “vision” that the pastor has built for the church?

  11. This is brilliant. One of the (perhaps the only) good thing(s) about my church search is that it has forced me to try out different churches and see how people worship. A lot of the times the differences are too great for me to want to stay and worship there permanently (thus the searching), but at the same time, it has given me a deeper appreciation for the body of Christ as a whole.

    I’m convinced that when God looks at his church, he doesn’t see Baptists, Methodists, Presbeterians, Charismatics (with or without seatbelts), Arminians, Calvinists, Catholics, and Protestants. I think he sees his children, purchased by the blood of Christ.

    Christ’s blood is thicker than water, skin tone, or theological nitpicking.
    Jo_of_TSN recently posted..Finals

  12. I think this is what happens when we are looking for a church. We go to different churches and then we find one which has the type of speeker we like, or the type of music we like, or yeah just the type of people we like.

    But wouldn’t it better if we just found a church in the community we belong. I think the first disciples and the early church were onto something because their churches were just where they were. And I think that we are all so different that when we form church in a community then we are in a Church that isn’t the same throughout.

    But then its still tempting to fall into the trap where we say we are not like the church down the road. So we say, ‘oh we are all different in our church, unlike them down the street where they are all the same’. So we have actually become the thing we were complaining against.

    If that makes sense.

    We just need to be open that everyone is different. And when we start to think badly about other Christians , remember that God created us all. If he created us all then we need to respect that, and celebrate that our GOd is a God who doesn’t need to fit into a set of attirbutes (which he has but he is so much more creative than that) and so he has created us in his image i.e. all different
    Paul Robinson recently posted..Quick! Stop the Duke!

  13. Hey Matt. Great post. I have to admit…I was a little concerned when I saw you re-tweeting the “Rally” last week because when I checked it out it seemed more like “The Latest Attempt by Liberal Christians to Stop Any Criticism of What They Say.” I didn’t see where you would fit into that because you’re not a liberal Christian. :)

    You hit a home run with the spiritual gifts angle. I’ve seen too many churches where they want people who all have the same gifting and then force people who are truly gifted in certain areas to conform to the way the non-gifted in that area want it done. Like an eye telling an ear how to hear.

    Again, great job.
    Jason recently posted..Day 121- Sunday morning coming down

    • Thanks, Jason. Rachel asked me if I’d be a part of the rally, and I said I would, not because I agree with everything she or any other blogger says, but because that’s the point of the rally. We don’t always agree, but we share a Savior, and that should be the tie that binds.

      • Oh, I know what you mean on the general theme of agreeing on a savior. I just question whether the real motivation of the project is entirely what’s being shown on the surface. I’ll just wait until the week is over and see what has been posted and decide then.

        Either way, you hit a home run with this one dude.
        Jason recently posted..Day 121- Sunday morning coming down

  14. though I read every post, for some reason I apply more often to posts I disagree with. Guess that means you know how to get a response out of people! But you make a fantastic and huge point – that eyes try to turn mouths into eyes.

    I used to think if churches were based by geographically then we’d have a truly diverse church (say all the Christians in a 10 block radius met then you’d get eyes, mouths, etc all together) but we so like to be with those we are exactly like (especially in the ‘burbs) that even that isn’t possible.
    Charlie’s Church of Christ recently posted..Something To Keep In Mind- Or 1 Of A Thousand Posts You’ll Skim On Osama Today

  15. Excellent post, Matt. I especially like the body parts imagery. I have been to many churches that are a bucket full of eyes, even joined one. Eventually though, it came out that we weren’t eyes and we basically got dumped by that church.

    Right now we are searching for a new church and have been to many. I really do feel comfortable at many of them, even though they are all different. Maybe because I’ve always been one to seek out different groups of people I’ve become comfortable with being uncomfortable. So it’s difficult to figure out where we are needed- to determine which church needs a hand and mouth married couple in their bucket of eyes. I am confident God will lead this couple of parts to the place He needs us, maybe not the place we belong.

    I am loving the comments about unity! Unity doesn’t mean we all agree, it means we all share a Savior. I’m totally ok with disagreeing and debating with other Christians, as long as it doesn’t become divisiveness. We always need to remember we are all here to do Christ’s work, regardless of what our view of speaking in tongues or infant baptism is. We’ve been cleaned by His blood and we are called by Him. Great stuff here!
    Carla recently posted..Schism Sunday Vol III- The Death Penalty

  16. I agree that Christians should practice saying “Let’s just agree to disagree” when it comes to disputable things. In my case, I use “The Apostle’s Creed” and “The Nicene Creed” as a definition of the indiputable theology that defines Christianity. And thank you to the Catholic Church for coming up with those creeds :-).

    I am going to play devil’s advocate in the area of theology, however. If people don’t agree with a particular variation, like Calvanistic pre-destination vs. Armenian “free will”, would trying to keep the groups together end up creating a rift in the church that would destroy it and void our witness? Like David said, unity doesn’t mean complete agreement. I am thinking of a particular case in our old small group where we had a couple who realized that they believed in man’s free will playing a part in salvation. It led to an arguement in the middle of Bible study, even though the message at the pulpit was that predestination was not to be used as a weapon. Although amends were made in most of the parties involved, the couple decided to leave the church and find one closer to their theology. I was sad that they couldn’t take an “agree to disagree” approach, but also felt that them leaving would be the best thing under the circumstances.

    I also would like you to clarify something, if you would. You talk about gifts of the Spirit and how some churches don’t have all of the gifts. Do you mean that they are entirely missing the gift or do you believe that the church neglects/minizes one or more gifts in favor of focusing on another gift?
    tandemingtroll recently posted..Good Friday- Bread and Saying Goodbye to Friends

    • TT – I think the term you are looking for here is dispensationalism. It simply means that there was a dispensation where the gifts of the Holy Spirit (Rom 12, 1 Cor 12, Eph 4) operated during the age of the apostles and ceased to exist when they died. This is pretty common thinking in many Evangelical circles. For the sake of unity, I will leave it at that.

      I have written extensively on the gifts in the New Testament church and also written a book about them.
      David recently posted..Is the Bible True – The Tale of Two Witnesses

    • To answer your question: both. I think most churches do not have all the gifts represented. Even if this isn’t by design, churches are comfortable with that. Non-tongues-speaking churches are fine with keeping the Pentecostals sequestered down the street, for example. Meanwhile, many churches make a particular gift THE indication that someone is saved (like speaking in tongues.)

  17. “LifeWay has stopped carrying all of Bell’s books. Better to be safe, then risk people thinking for themselves. Way to go, Baptists.”

    – Yes, way to go, Baptists! If they don’t want to sell tripe to people, they shouldn’t carry his books. Your rude comments sarcasm isn’t endearing. They are doing what they think is best, and it’s a prayerful decision. Is bashing them a good thing to do, really?

    You also espouse that we should go to churches were people aren’t like us. Okay…so I should start going to a non-evangelical church where they play grunge music (which doesn’t draw me into worship) and the name of Jesus is rarely spoken. Hmm. All in the name of integration?

    You say we should be comfortable. Wrong. Christianity isn’t about being comfortable, it’s about being challenged to be like Christ.

    Music style and theological beliefs and church authority will always separate us. It’s not a bad thing. I’d say it’s pretty important to be going to a church where you can worship and also trust the teaching.

    • Did I say any of those things? I said we should be integrated by our spiritual gifts. It has nothing to do with music. Don’t go to a church that’s not the body of Christ. I think that goes without saying. I didn’t say we should be comfortable. I said that we naturally find Christians like ourselves because that’s where we are comfortable, but we should get out of our comfort zones and be with other parts of the body of Christ.

      Geez man. You kind of came at me with both fists swinging, and it doesn’t sound like you read what I wrote all that closely. That’s not very endearing either. But I love you as a brother in Christ anyway.

    • I agree that we should be challenged to be like Christ! He hung out with prostitutes and tax collectors and stuff. He even let Pharisees like Nicodemus hang around him, too. Maybe I should hang around more people that aren’t like me because it seems like what Christ did all the time.
      Jo_of_TSN recently posted..Finals

    • He didn’t say we should be comfortable, actually I think that’s what he was calling us out on.

      I think what people are desiring is a way to acknowledge our different theology, music taste and churches, while also remembering that we serve the same God.

  18. If a “foot” shows up to a church for eyes, what do they do? They tell the foot he has to be an eye.

    Haha this is so true. I have been told that if you don’t speak in tongues while you might be saved, you most certainly are not acquainted with the Holy Spirit. Different day, different church…my dad was told if he wanted to join the elders he had to sign a piece of paper saying he never would speak in tongues!

    I’ve been told I”m part of the ichurch generation because while I have a “home” church, I connect with groups at a couple others not even including christians I connect with online. This individual made it sound kind of like I’m “cheating” on my church by not being loyal. Isn’t that just another way of say that that church is the only way? How can I cheat on Jesus with Jesus? Is my relationship ultimately with God or my church? I know that it can be dangerous to only seek out people who agree with you, but I think you can do this with one church just as much.
    Jenn recently posted..This is about brokenness and unity

  19. I think a lot of church diversity has to do with location. Seriously.

    That’s why you find in more cultured cities like LA more racially-diversified churches, like Mosaic. But when you pack your bags and hit up Kentucky, you’re going to find very “segregated” churches.

    Personally, I don’t think church planters do enough demographic research on their cities/towns to see the different corners they can reach out to.

    On another point, I know of churches that do reach out but only certain people come despite their best efforts. Like a poster said earlier, you can’t force anybody in.
    Brooklyn Cravens recently posted..Being Happy Someone’s in Hell

    • I think you’re right. So while I’m sympathetic with a call for diversity, I end up saying “how?” My church reflects my community. It’s white. We ought to have a couple of minorities, but am I supposed to go recruit a couple of minority families to satisfy my conscience?

  20. Wasn’t Steve Taylor the last one to be banned by Christian bookstores? I wish he’d make a comeback – Colour Code is almost as relevant to today’s world as it was in 1983.
    Andrew recently posted..Princess Di is wearing a new dress

  21. Spot on about the “Christian racism.” I teach in a Catholic school. I’m not Catholic. Let’s just say it’s been a rough year.

  22. I don’t think there is much that can be done about this. THis is just human nature..People divide themselves..Don’t think we do it to intentionally be bad people, it is just what it is. The church itself doesn’t have much to do with this in most cases. And the churches who do this to themselves definitely have challenges in their Christian identity. The local church is located in certain communities and most of those communities are made up of like-minded and similar people. I lived in the Dixie South for 10 years and there the black population definitely tends to segregate itself. We had a few black friends who attended our church, but for the most part you have your white churches and your black churches. But it wasn’t due to any animosity between people, it is more of a cultural thing. I will tell you that one of the most awesome experiences is a service at a Black church. Awesome!! :)

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