Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: For over a decade I have coached hundreds of church leaders on how to become multiracial congregations. I’ve even written a book with my colleague Mark DeYmaz in how to do it, titled: reMIX: Transitioning Your Church to Living Color (Abingdon Press)
But churches only succeed at this when their goal is not to become multiracial. Instead they succeed when they step up and undertake the goal Paul gave us, which I call “a holistic ministry of reconciliation.”
Look at the scripture below from The Message Bible. Paul is not just talking about reconciliation between humans and God. He is also talking about how the Church is to be a community of reconciliation between prosecutors and the persecuted, Jews and Greeks, etc. and etc. Without a focus on reconciling our histories, fears and aspirations we won’t be partnering with God in a ministry of reconciliation.
I know, there are some people that say if we undertake a ministry of reconciliation between people, we will lose our emphasis upon a ministry of reconciliation heavenward. But churches do so many things at the same time! Certainly they should be able to embrace both these important aspects of reconciliation at the same time?
I am calling upon young pastors, planting pastors, church revitalization pastors and judicatory leaders to start showing how these dual aspects of reconciliation can be practiced at the same time in the local church!
If readers wonder about details of how this can be done, I just point them to my and Mark DeYmaz’s book on transitioning your church to living color..
And, don’t get me wrong, spiritual reconciliation is the fulcrum for eternal life.
But one of the ways we demonstrate it down here is by practicing physical reconciliation too, as did Paul who at one time lined up with the persecutors but eventually was the one to build bridges to them.
Here is what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:16-20 about the synergetic nature of spiritual reconciliation and physical reconciliation.
“Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.” 2 Corinthians 5:16-20 MSG
“Multiracial Congregations May Not Bridge Racial Divide” by Tom Gjelten, National Public Radio, 7/14/20.
…Integrated churches are tough things,” says Keith Moore, a Black pastor in Montgomery, Ala., who works closely with local white pastors. “When you see both African Americans and Caucasian Americans [in a church], it’s more than likely to have a Caucasian pastor,” he says. “I think it’s sometimes more difficult for whites to look at a black pastor and see him as their authority. That’s a tough call for many.”
… As a result, Moore says, African Americans ready to worship in a multiracial church are often forced to accept white leadership and a different worship style.
“You have to abandon some of your ethnic culture and become more palatable to the majority white culture,” Moore says, “give up some of the old traditional African American experience to fit in. So there is a sacrifice.”
Moore’s impressions, in fact, are supported by the research of Emerson and Dougherty.
“All the growth [in multiracial churches] has been people of color moving into white churches,” Emerson says. “We have seen zero change in the percentage of whites moving into churches of color.” Once a multiracial church becomes less than 50% white, Emerson says, the white members leave. Such findings have left Emerson discouraged.
“For the leaders of color who were trying to create the multiracial church movement,” Emerson says, “they’re basically saying, ‘It doesn’t work. The white brothers and sisters just won’t give up their privilege. And so we’ve been defeated, in a sense.'”
The continuing power of race
In Columbus, Ohio, Korie Little Edwards found a similar pattern in her own research. After her personal interest led her to join a multiracial church, her subsequent study left her skeptical that such churches were making the difference in promoting equality that she had hoped to see.
“I came to a point where I realized that, you know, these multiracial churches, just because they’re multiracial, doesn’t mean they have somehow escaped white supremacy,” she says. “Being diverse doesn’t mean that white people are not going to still be in charge and run things.”
In her book The Elusive Dream: The Power of Race in Interracial Churches, Little Edwards argued that people of color often lose out.
“The pain people experience is not feeling like they’re accepted for who they are,” she told NPR, “not being able to be themselves, not being able to worship how they want to worship, feeling like you have to fall in line with what white people expect you to do.”