“It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” ~ Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. King’s words are often employed when there is talk of Christ’s Church and its lack of cultural diversity in worship. It is said as a matter of fact and there is no sense that the persons who employ it also find it appalling. No, it is simply repeated, expressed without a challenge to our poor Christian witness and without a plan to change it. That race and its progeny do much to undue our declarations of the unconditional love and acceptance of God is never mentioned. It seems that it remains for “Christian America” a necessary hypocrisy.
I have heard persons say that it is because we worship differently, that it is because of cultural preferences and understandings of what this looks and sounds like. But, to reduce the reason for the absence of diversity in American churches to worship style is too easy, too simple a conclusion. And it’s an excuse not a reason. The manner in which we celebrate God is not what separates us. God has already told us how we are to worship: “in spirit and in truth” (John 4.24). It is a posture not a particular practice that God desires and this should determine the manner in which we worship– if God is the focus of the Sunday morning service.
But, most often, this is not the case. Our time spent with God is determined by our schedules, our social comforts and sinful, self- serving conclusions. We treat Christ’s Church no differently than our homes, schools and local municipalities. We know the way that persons are to live and who we want to live with us– even in the house of God. How we continue to believe that we are worshipping “in spirit and in truth” while maintaining the racialized desires of our heart in God’s holy temple is a question worthy of discussion.
The truth is that eleven o’clock remains the most segregated hour because we don’t want to change the clock. We are reliving history. But, we would do much to relieve ourselves of its burdens if the Church in America would honestly and adequately address its complicity in the crimes of race (and this request is not one-sided). We must confess the sins of race and seek forgiveness from God and our neighbor. It will remain the most segregated hour so long as we do not see this as a judgment against us, the change as a part of the cost of discipleship and a priority of our faith.