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 Mono-racial churches now appear outdated and reflect the dreadful racial history that many Americans soon want to forget.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.
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.
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.