Do You Attend a Racist Church?

black choirEleven o’clock Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America,” is a familiar statement that Martin Luther King, Jr. used in many speeches. What you probably don’t know is the identity of the man who first made that statement in a 1950s Reader’s Digest article on racism. The article was written by Dr. King’s friend, evangelist Billy Graham.  For the purpose of this article, let’s agree that the statement is true.  Is that necessarily a bad or racist thing?  If most of your church members have the same racial identity, does that really make your church a racist church?

Let me give you some background.

I am the Pastor of a church on the border of Texas and Mexico that is 95 percent Hispanic. The church was established 50 years ago in an effort to reach out to immigrants from Mexico by preaching the Gospel and worshiping in Spanish. Over the years, the church has evolved into a bi-lingual, bi-cultural body of believers that still reaches out to new immigrants from Mexico (still pouring over the border), but now also to a growing number of bi-lingual Mexican-Americans, who follow the Dallas Cowboys, the San Antonio Spurs, enjoy Olive Garden cuisine, are often more comfortable speaking in English in their daily conversation, and are just as American as a man in North Dakota.

Although the demographic makeup of deep South Texas is 80 percent Hispanic, some people would still call our church “racist” because we are so homogonous. I recently listened to a sermon on the internet in which the pastor said that if every church does not have a “diverse” membership, they are tacit “racists”.  Is that a fact?

My dictionary defines a “racist” as  a person with a prejudiced belief that one race is superior to others or discriminatory especially on the basis of race or religion.

Speaking for our church, we certainly don’t believe that one race is superior to others. Anyone is welcome to worship at our church, regardless of race or background.  Over the years, we have had a wide variety of races speak from our pulpit, including Indians, Philipinos, African-Americans, Mexicans, and, of course, Scandinavians.  Several years ago, we invited a Black choir to come and sing during our New Year’s celebration. Our door is open to the world.  So we are not superior or discriminatory. 

But, you might be thinking, maybe the Pastor is a racist. I’m a Swedish/Norwegian-American/Texan married to a beautiful Mexican lady (who recently became an American citizen). We have a daughter who is half Mexican, one quarter Swedish, one quarter Norwegian, 100 percent American, and a Texan by the grace of God.  To suggest that I, as the pastor, would have a problem with multi-culturalism would be insane.  (While I’m on the topic, Pastor John Piper has a great sermon on Racial Harmony and Interracial Marriage, why cross-cultural marriages are Biblical and to be encouraged, available on his website.) 

So why, though our doors are open to people of all races, do mainly Mexicans and Mexican-Americans attend our church? The answer is not that they are all racist. The answer is that our church’s local mission/vision is to reach out to and minister primarily to those families who have a language and cultural connection to Mexico, and secondarily have familiarity with the Spanish language.

In our church, many Mexican traditions are followed in our wedding ceremonies, such as the “exchange of coins”, “the love knot” and “the lasso”. Every year, we officiate “Quinceañeras“, a special party for a girl’s 15th birthday. Much of our worship music is influenced by Mexican worship composers, like Marcos Witt and Jesus Adrian Romero. So why would African-American people, or Anglo, non Spanish-speaking people not be comfortable worshiping every Sunday in our church? Because they would probably be more comfortable worshiping God within the context of their own culture. I don’t view this as racist at all, as long as everyone is always welcome.

 I do think, however,  that someone who attends a particular church to “escape” fellowship with Christians of other races is not a Biblical Christian.  And the unfortunate church member who believes that their church’s cultural expression of worship is the only “legitimate” style of worship is also missing the Biblical mark.  No particular cultural style of worship is superior to another (are you reading this, my Messianic friends and my “anti-rock-and-roll-in-church pharisees”?), but I would submit that the cultural differences in our expressions of worship to God are what make our churches unique and special.

Any time we go on vacation to San Antonio, my wife and I always visit Black churches, because we really love the way they worship God, and really enjoy their enthusiastic choirs and hooping” style of preaching. We have always been warmly welcomed, and, in some cases, celebrated, by each church we have visited, even though no one else in the building shared our skin color.

My point is this: Sometimes diversity is what makes our churches interesting! I wouldn’t want every church to look alike, and worship exactly the same way in the same style. Maybe we are knocking down a straw man, when we righteously bellow, “Eleven ‘o clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America.”

Do you want to see something interesting? Look at what John sees in heaven in Revelation 7:9-10:

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

Do you notice what I see in that passage? Even in heaven, John recognizes differences between people of diverse nations, tribes, peoples and languages. Will we still have cultural, national and racial identities in heaven? Hmmmm…

Let’s love each other as brothers, regardless of race, but let’s stop calling churches that minister within a particular sub-culture, (or to a particular sub-set of Americans) racists.

*Here is a link to a very intersting discussion of church segregation on National Public Radio.


16 Responses to Do You Attend a Racist Church?

  1. Brad says:

    What you are is a Statist! Texas by the grace of God indeed!! :-))


  2. Texas born; Texas bred; and when I die, a Texan dead.

  3. RubeRad says:

    My church is not racist. I’d guess we are about 25% Dutch, and 75% Not Dutch. And one black guy (who is my oldest’s 1st grade Sunday School teacher)

  4. Daniel B says:

    …just as American as a man in North Dakota”.

    Correct me if i’m wrong but isn’t North Dakota part of Canada now?

  5. Alex says:

    It’s all about comfort and preference. I realate it to food. I enjoy all kinds of different foods but home made salsa, rice and beans will always have a special place in my heart. I just “feel right” when that home made tortilla is melting in my mouth. I prefer my carnitas a little crispy, you may not. This is OK. I just made myself really hungry(sorry Jim) is it lunch time yet?

  6. Apparently Alex missed this post. In the words of Boy George, “Do you really want to hurt me?”

  7. Bruce S. says:

    we are so homogonous

    Glad to know you don’t shut your doors to the rectal nerve ending excitement crowd.

    FWIW, I bet MLK’s church didn’t have a lot of South Koreans.

  8. Echo_ohcE says:


    I’m not sure how to put this. I have an opinion, and it is different than yours. But on this, I’m not very opinionated, and don’t wish to come across as accusatory and condemning.

    So, if I may politely disagree?

    I disagree that the verses you mentioned out of Revelation help your case. I think in those verses we see a mulititude who is racially, ethnically diverse all praising God together. We do have Black churches, White churches, Mexican churches, Dutch churches, Korean churches, whatever. Often this is linguistically based, and that certainly can’t be helped. I mean, services should be conducted, for example, in Spanish where you are to be sure, and obviously a typical white guy like me wouldn’t go to that service and no one is wrong there.

    However, despite the fact that this largely doesn’t apply to you, since you conduct services in Spanish, I would still ask you to consider what the basis is for the unity of the multitude in Revelation. I would submit for your consideration that it has nothing to do with culture, which is why John points out that it’s multicultural, multiethnic, etc. Their unity is based around something else, namely Christ and his gospel. Namely that they all believe in the gospel, they’ve all been redeemed by the blood of Jesus, etc. That is the basis of their unity.

    I think Billy Graham’s point is that we white folks ought to be able to worship with black folks, Mexican folks, Dutch folks, whatever. We all ought to be comfortable to be around other believers in Christ, not other believers in culture. I think Billy here is pushing us to think about what SHOULD make us comfortable. Why do we go to church? Is it to gather with the people of our culture, or to gather with the people of God? The unity of the church transcends cultural borders because it is based on Christ and his kingdom, which is not of this world.

    And when we get to heaven, we’ll all speak the same language, so we all, every single one of us from thousands of years ago to thousands of years in the future, we all will praise God together, casting our golden crowns at his feet with one voice.

  9. Echo….wow! I hardly recognized you. Short, sweet post, gracious and kind, almost apologetic in its tone. Could this be the glow of the Chargers miracle win on Sunday?
    I agree with almost all of your thoughts. A question about the Revelation passage: We know how John saw all peoples and maybe tribes. But how did he make out differences in nations and languages? And he does mention “languages”…plural. In other words, will I still retain my identity as a Texan in Heaven? Will California saints be dressed in shorts and sandals under their robes, while East Coast saints are sporting coats and ties under theirs? And will reformed Christians be the ones in the crowd worshiping with Cuban cigars in their mouths?

  10. Echo_ohcE says:


    Of course not. Everyone will be smoking cigars!

    But seriously, you are right to point out that they ARE in fact, diverse. But I think that’s the point. They have all been gathered together, and are worshiping God together – despite these differences which on earth divide us.

    As Paul says, in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, etc.

    Gal 3:26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
    Gal 3:27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
    Gal 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
    Gal 3:29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

    Col 3:9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices
    Col 3:10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
    Col 3:11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
    Col 3:12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,
    Col 3:13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

    These passages are not to be held in contradistinction to what John says in Revelation about the multitude. Yes, we have many differences. Yes, we have many cultures.

    But we are one in Christ.

    Eph 4:4 There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call–
    Eph 4:5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
    Eph 4:6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
    Eph 4:7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

    So there’s this terrific unity based on our common redemption. Even though we speak many languages, have different colored skin, have even some theological differences, yet we are one in Christ. There is one Christ, one Father, one Spirit, one baptism, one body of believers.

    But you’re right. We have all been graced with different gifts. Some of us are gifted with the ability to see the beauty of cigars, some with reading books, some with being from Texas, and some very blessed souls with being from Chicago.

    But one Christ, who shed his blood for his one bride, his one church.

    Joh 17:23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

    And here is the climax of my speech: the most astonishing thing about Christians in the eyes of the unbeliever is that we love one another – despite our differences.

    You see, my dearly departed great grandmother was pure blood Italian from Chicago. Boy, she hated everyone. She hated blacks every bit as much as she hated people whose ancestry was from Southern Italy. She was Northern Italian, you see. A very hateful woman, to be sure. Maybe she’s an extreme case. Or maybe she was just more outspoken about her hatred of people different than her, whereas the rest of us keep it to ourselves.

    Most human beings – ever since that little incident in Babel-on some couple thousands of years ago – are distrustful of people that are different than them. You just can’t help it. Foreigners who don’t speak English well are thought stupid. Or consider the handicapped. I mean, if you met Stephen Hawking without knowing who he was, would you think he was probably retarded? I have a friend who is brilliant, but bound in a chair, can’t talk, can’t control his body much, groans every now and then. He cannot speak. But boy, if he sends you an email, you realize how alive that brain is underneath that exterior, and you can’t help but feel convicted, because no matter how hard you try, you just can’t bring yourself to believe he’s capable of anything. He talks about it sometimes. He says everyone assumes he’s retarded. They talk about him like he isn’t there. But they don’t know him. They don’t know him because they are not like him. He’s different than them, so they are suspicious of his capabilities.

    But the astonishing thing about the body of Christ is that God overcomes these differences. He overcomes our suspicions of one another. After all, we are sinners saved by grace! All of us! What allows us to look favorably on our fellow man is the stunning realization that they are just … like … us.

    When we realize this, the walls of Jericho in our hearts come crashing down. We are no longer suspicious – we KNOW that they’re evil – just like us. But we also know that God is at work within them to renew them. So we can be patient with them, because being patient with our brother IS being patient with God. Whatever you do to the least of these my brothers…

    Babel made us suspicious through ignorance; the gospel puts us all in the same boat. We are all the same. We share a common struggle, a common enemy, a common Savior.

    So, while it is true that we do need separate services for separate languages, we don’t need and should not accept separate churches for separate cultures. Our ethnic heritage is not what we come to church to celebrate.

    We are not of this world. We are citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, which has yet to come down from heaven on the last day. While we wait for that glorious day, we are pilgrims.

    And while we wait, I will remember to thank God for overcoming our differences. I will try to remember to thank God for the Dutch, the Mexicans, the blacks, the whites, and even the Texans. Our diversity is part of the wonder of what it is to be human. It represents in some ways God’s judgment in that it separates us in countless ways. But at the same time, it becomes in the gospel a beautiful opportunity for the grace of God to shine like a light to lighten the Gentiles.

    What complex and awesome creatures are we, who are made in the image of God.

  11. Echo_ohcE says:

    Too long.

  12. Echo_ohcE says:

    And it’s not 1:23!

  13. Carl says:

    Yes, in Revelation they are not each in their own section of heaven having meetings at different times so they can all feel comfortable with people “like them.” They are together worshiping God, while maintaining their distinctive culture.

  14. Carl says:

    The whole point of the doctrine of justification by faith in Galatians is that this permits us all, people of different cultures, to be together in one body, not separated, eveyone at their own table. And I somewhat agree that it is unbiblical (maybe not racist, but selfish) to just let nature take its course and not push people to get out of their comfort zone with other cultures.

    Your geographical context will determine just how diverse you can be.

  15. Carl says:

    Our church claims to be diverse, but really the message is, “come and be like white, middle class suburbanites.” If that’s not your thing, you’ll just have to assimilate, because we sure aren’t going out of our comfort zone for you.

  16. S Hanzel says:

    I think the key is that Christ was all things to all people. We at the individual church will be unable to be all things to all people no matter how much we try. The key is that the whole body, the ekklesia, be all things to all people.

    People have different personalities and tend to congrigate with those who enjoy the same activities. Each church, as it should, has it’s own personality. If they didn’t, everyone would be going to the generic church on every corner, rather then the Sweedish/Norwegian-American Texan, married to a beautiful Mexican-American wife, with a beautiful Sweedish/Norwegian/Mexican-American daughter, preaching in a bilingual Mexican-Americal church.

    Is that a church that I would attend regularly? To be completely honest, probably not regularly, because it’s not my personality. It doesn’t mean I wouldn’t give it a try.

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