How many times have we heard that 11:00 on Sunday mornings is the most segregated hour of the week? That of course refers to the reality that most congregations are mono race, White; African American ; Latinx, Asian American. In KO, it’s White. Even when our communities are diverse our congregations are not. It’s not just in KO; it’s across the country and it’s not just in the United Church of Christ, this is the state of the church. Yes, it’s historical, and no that’s no excuse. Congregations that one might consider our most open and “progressive”, most committed to justice, historically established in opposition to slavery have a handful, if that, of people of color. As we watch what is happening in our country; as so many are facing the hard truths about history and how it continues to live on in our systems and institutions, perhaps a look in the mirror is in order. Maybe this is also a time to ask some very hard questions about the church. Why is it that our churches are so white?
There are likely many contributing factors but a reality is because the church is an institution that has not been forced to be open to persons of different races. Unlike schools, places of employment, any public spaces, the church has been allowed to be exclusive. By law, churches do not have to make any accommodations to welcome anyone. Freedom of religion protects the church and as horrible as it is to say, people are allowed to be exclusive and with those that they are most comfortable with. There is one school of thought that says people are forced into environments where they are uncomfortable the rest of the week, they shouldn’t have to be uncomfortable in church. That may be true, but it’s certainly sad and it won’t get us very far toward creating the much-talked-about beloved community.
It is unlikely that congregations will openly discriminate on the basis of race these days. It would be shocking if any UCC church said that a person of color could not worship in their congregation. But it isn’t that simple. There are few congregations that incorporate in their ongoing worship more than one worship style, more than one style of music that indicates to persons of color that their faith and worship culture is valued just as that of the majority culture. Maybe there is some hint of this during Black History Month or on Martin Luther King Sunday. But that is very different than incorporating diversity of music and expression in worship on a regular basis so on any given Sunday a person of color visiting a congregation might experience a sense of welcome because they felt and experienced something that said “You belong here, this congregation values who you are; all of who you are.”
It is likely that no one is intending to exclude anyone by the style of worship or music. And no one is intending to exclude anyone by the pictures of a white Jesus in a Sunday school curriculum or any other situation that are areas that have not been looked at with a critical eye. But that is how systemic racism and white supremacy continues, it’s in the water, the very air that we breathe, even in our churches. And as so many in our country are waking up and seeing in new ways and asking the hard questions, maybe now is the time for the church to ask some hard questions as well. Do we really want 11:00 to continue to be the most segregated hour of the week? If nothing changes; nothing changes. Do we want the church to be left behind again?