The Church

The Mask of Multicultural Churches

Lamont Francies

There is a growing sentiment among American religious institutions to become more racially diverse. “Multicultural Churches” are the new push with more parishioners searching for diversity in their pews. Mono-racial churches now appear outdated and reflect the dreadful racial history that many Americans soon want to forget. Churches comprised of mainly one race are now being viewed in Evangelical circles as unbiblical. Many believe these churches are at the heart of racism when in reality they are simply a product of it.

The push for multicultural churches is based on the myth of an egalitarian post-racial society. Contrary to popular belief, our country is far from being the ideal place of equality and equity. Racial disparities in education, wealth, and the criminal justice system are present realities. The Church is called to be countercultural but during the better part of the 20th-century, many mainline white denominations chose Jim Crow over Jesus. The Black Church in America, therefore, was shaped by white discrimination and paternalism. It has survived through years of white exclusion and has emerged as a symbol of black resilience.

Declining Numbers

The push for multicultural churches on the surface seem decent but can be often duplicitous. The appeal of multicultural churches is in reality unilateral. Large groups of black Christians are encouraged to sit under white pastors, but the reverse rarely happens. This disparity has now left many black churches in numerical decline. Multicultural churches draw social elites from various marginalized mono-ethnic congregations. This drains black churches of the human and economic capital necessary for survival. Multicultural churches seem more interested in the Huxtables than the Hood while traditional black churches have faithfully ministered to both.

The black middle class has historically been the economic boost behind the sustainability of the black church. As many are now being wooed by multicultural churches for their ability to assimilate, their absence has left behind an economic and social void. This void has hindered the black church’s ability to heal wounds caused by years of racial inequalities.

Many multicultural churches tend to satisfy the sensibilities of white Christians above other congregants. The term multicultural church is really a misnomer; the term multiracial is more appropriate. Local congregations tend to have one culture that is consciously or subconsciously being fostered. Members who can’t assimilate over time tend to leave.

Therefore, cultural capital in multiracial churches tends to be accumulated through white assimilation. The culture of ethnic minorities may be expressed and appropriated but only as there is an interest convergence that serves the objective of the existing power structure.

White Convenience

Many predominately black churches are shrinking, but at what expense? When one removes the mask of multiculturalism, what does one discover? The illusion of inclusion and reconciliation at the expense of your racial identity; an appreciation of black culture, but only at white convenience; a Sunday snapshot of heaven while the marginalized members are still catching hell.

As more black congregants are choosing to attend multiracial churches, we must ask what these churches are doing for the plight of their black members.

  • If they are willing to accept black dollars, then what are they doing to alleviate black suffering?
  • What are they doing collectively to address the school-to-prison pipeline for black boys?
  • The mass incarceration of black men?
  • Housing discrimination and the gentrification of neighborhoods?
  • The police killings of unarmed black people?
  • The racial wealth gap in this country?

These are just a few issues that the Black Church is faced with on a daily basis with access to limited resources. Multiracial churches often focus on the eradication and sanctification of individual racists, which is a needed ministry. But they often at best overlook institutional racism and at worst ignore it. They want the results of racial reconciliation without going through the painful process of confession and reparation. The symbolism of black and white brothers and sisters worshiping together on Sunday matters, but that image needs to move into the weekday work of reconciliation.

A Rich History Continues

Every Christian should have the right to attend worship services where they choose. Yet, they must understand that every decision comes with unintended consequences. The dismantling of the Black Church is happening not through combat but through “compassion.” But is it compassion at the cost of your culture? While it is true the Black Church must transcend its many traditions, we should not be so fast to throw the baby out with the bath water.

The Black Church has a rich history in the United States. It served as the headquarters for the Civil Rights Movement, which advocated freedom, justice, and change. The Black Church combats the socio-psychological effects of discrimination which includes higher rates of illiteracy, illegitimacy, and incarceration. These residual effects of racism show up every Sunday in the pews of the Black Church and we must pool our resources to offer true hope and healing.

The Black Church experience also equips black congregants to deal with the realities of racism. Because of the persistence of this nation’s systematic institutional racism, the Black Church continues to serve a higher purpose. The Church is still the heart of the black community. It has persevered through the years as a symbol of black resistance. Despite its many flaws and failures, it is still open for business and as always is open to all.


16 thoughts on “The Mask of Multicultural Churches

  1. Sung-ok L

    Thank you for addressing a much needed perspective – institutional and systemic racism. Hoping more faith leadership speaks and preaches systems and structures in racism and culture. Thank you!

  2. Kelly M

    I hope you know this an amazing and prophetic piece that brought tears to my eyes and a deep need for discernment to my heart. Thank you.

  3. Robert E. Smith, Sr.

    Well spoken, and I trust well modeled.

  4. Stephanie Lynch

    Good article.

    You said it all.

    I’ve done both.

    You have mediocrity, hypocrisy, inferiority, greed, dictatorship, and sexism on one hand versus racism, white privilege, superiority, and oppression on the other.

  5. Pastor Michael Bryant

    Contrary to popular belief, the true Christian life is one of ascension and elevation, not religion. This is why the Lord called for the church to be as a city on a hill .However, where there is no elevation the church remains in the lowlands with the rest of the world, stumbling in the same darkness, suffering the same fate, and trodden underfoot by the ruler of this age Satan himself. The black experience in the lowlands is considerably different than the white experience,and where there is no ascension and elevation in our walk,our churching has no effect on our experiences.The tendency to search outside of our cultural norms for answers is completely understandable,however the move is lateral. What is needed is ascension. In Christ we have been crucified, in Him we have been resurrected, and in Him we have also ascended. This is what is meant by being seated with him in heavenly places. Hanging on to cultural norms, and traditions, keeps us in the lowlands.

  6. KM Leonard

    Very well written. Addresses topics most avoid for fear of being misunderstood or for encouraging the racial divide. Most people are being guilted into multicultural churches and not spiritually fed by them because they skate around core issues and challenges that impact us emotionally and socially which ultimately affect us spiritually. You can’t address hurt people with messages of hope without acknowledging the hurt.

  7. A Greenfield

    Thank you for sharing this article! As one who has attended a traditional African American Church and White Evangelical Church; I know the struggles one can face.

    Great Article and continue to speak the truth in love!

  8. Bobbie Kacik

    Regards for helping out, great information.

  9. Heather Hugo

    Thank you for your insight and putting words to the gut feeling I’ve been trying to grasp about our multi-racial church for some time now. Something has felt off – so many cultures represented, but why does everyone act white?

    I am in a place of influence with our pastors, staff, and youth and now I have better words to help bring this to light… And hopefully start to correct it so we can truly serve and learn from everyone in our sphere, not destroy or disregard out of ignorance.

  10. James Riley

    Multi-Racial, not Multi-Cultural… Indeed my friend. As a Pastor, I have experienced the marginalization as a consequence of non-assimilation into the “culture” of our multi-cultural church. That culture was most adamantly WASPy pro-conservatism. Any dissenting opinion or failure to indulge/accept race stereotypes especially in the case of our so-called mission strategy to the poor (syn. black) community was met with castigation and name calling. This is where I believe my brothers and sisters of African descent are calling what we experience in mainline churches as systemic racism. It is hard not to broad brush it across the spectrum of Christendom in non-black churches when the institutions that govern, or the local congregational leadership that comprise the leadership/pastoral care and administration are predominately European. That in itself necessarily means that there is cultural hegemony in most churches and institutions. Multi-cultural really means Multicultural Repository for White Culture Assimilation. I am intent on finding ways to be both proud of my African descent; and dogmatic about the catholic reality of the Gospel message. As a Pastor/Preacher, the question becomes, when I am preaching the gospel to so-called marginalized groups; what else am I importing, and what am I exporting them into once trust is gained?

  11. Denzel Peoples

    Great article Dr. Francies. I have to amen a lot of these points.

    I actually happen to attend and work at a multi-cultural church in Sacramento that is co-pastored by an Armenian man (Bob Balian) and a black man (Efrem Smith), called Bayside Church of Midtown. Because of this unique pairing and positioned in one of the top ten most diverse cities in the nation, we have the awesome opportunity to address many issues in the plight of the black community, and others as well, in our area.

    It’s also unique because we exist in a family of churches that isn’t as diverse as our campus is, and we get to serve as an example to our mostly white congregations of what it looks like to be in and serve the communities around us; and as a staff we strive to be a true hub of all ages, races, cultures, etc. I hope you could visit one day to see people who strive to get the model of multi-cultural churches correctly! And maybe give a few pointers.

  12. Colfax

    Hi Sharon,

    I think your comments are spot on, and in an ideal world, that would be the only role of the church. But we also know that people are unable to receive higher order instruction when their basic needs are not met (Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). A little bit of research will you have finding that people of color are feeling especially vulnerable right now and there is mounting evidence every day to support why.

    Jesus fed the hungry and he healed the sick BEFORE he ministered spiritually to them. If the church doesn’t meet these needs, the words from the pulpit will go unheard.

  13. Charles Brown

    Thank you! We loose young members to predominately white non-denominational churches, wouldn’t really classify them as multi-cultural. We love them, nurture them, shape and mold them, help with scholarship funding for college, only to become not good enough. Prodigals go to places of toleration because of what they have and instead supporting the very places that shaped them. See below excerpt that I used in my dissertation.

    In 1940, in an essay prepared for the Carneigie-Mydral project, Margaret Brenman, a psychologist at Columbia University, dealt with the issue of the African American religion at risk. She asserted that as the African American immersed into mainstream America, that religion in its community would begin to deteriorate. First she and others felt that “the Negro church” would decline in importance as the economic, social, and psychical “handicaps” of blacks were gradually removed. This aspect of the disappearance of the “psychic function” of black religion was a local variant of a theory of secularization: As blacks climbed the socioeconomic ladder, religion would no longer be necessary. Religion was seen as secondary to or a derivative of more fundamental issues, such as economic hardships, social deprivation, and psychological maladjustment.

    Curtis Evans. The Burden of Black Religion. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 226.

  14. Sharon Bratcher

    What is the purpose of the church? Worshipping God, learning about Him, taking communion, and helping others.
    Yes, the ills of society need to be addressed, but could not this task be done through belonging to an organization
    besides the church? There is a lot of Bible to learn – I just don’t want to see that fall by the side. Yes, God cares about the poor – and the church should do what they can to help the poor, but not at the price of not having true biblical godly worship and good training sessions.

  15. Big G

    This article was on point! The “Separate but Equal” laws were inevitably adopted in the Churches during the Jim Crow era. Sadly, Multiracial Churches are now advocating the “Equal but Separate” laws to their members. Noticed that Equal is the new theme for Multiracial Churches. Are we equal when it comes to money offerings , or equal when it comes to Church attendanc; BUT separate when it comes to Black suffering, cop on Black killings, or disproportion of housing for Blacks? It’s time to wake up and smell the cotton! This method is a passive aggressive way of dismantling Black congregations across the US.

  16. Melva


    This is an excellent article. I had to share it with others…..SO ON POINT. Very PROUD of YOU son…I feel blessed to be part of DELTA BAY.

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