Diversity in the Pews: Segregation common on Sunday mornings

This is part one of a three-part series on segregation and church.

The time that Christians are coming together to praise God — 11 a.m. on Sundays — is also the most segregated hour of America, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once pointed out. Two local religious leaders say decades later King’s words still ring true. They offered their insights on church segregation today, explaining what it looks like, why they believe people should care, and what can be done about it.

Rodney McAuley, director of community and church engagement for Spokane Youth for Christ, is an African American Baptist and served as pastor of a Foursquare church for eight years, which is a predominantly white Pentecostal denomination. He said his experience was one of walking in the middle of the divide of race and denomination. He said his passion is reconciliation, which has taken him into arenas where he worked to be a bridge and bridge builder, trying to bring the walls of separation down and bring groups together relationally.

Russ Davis is a current pastor of leadership development, teaching and administration at New Community Church. He was the keynote speaker in January at the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration “Drum Majors for Justice — A Call to Action” at Spokane Community College.

Explaining Church Segregation

Nationally, church segregation is common. Sociologist Michael Emerson from Rice University collected data about racially mixed churches and found 93 percent of congregations in the U.S are uniracial, a term defined by sociologists as a membership with at least 80 percent of one racial group.
Even a church with a mixed race congregation could have an all white leadership team and worship style, which is not the truly reconciled or multi-ethnic church consistent with God’s desire, McAuley said.

Church segregation in Spokane is a bit different than church segregation in other cities because of Spokane’s demographics, said McAuley.

According to the U.S census, the percent of people who identify as Caucasian is 77.9 percent nationally and in 86.7 percent in Spokane.

Church segregation is the homogeneous principle, said Davis.

“People tend to relate to and interact with those that are most like themselves,” Davis said. “I don’t think it is an intentional segregation as much as it is a natural byproduct of you tend to worship with people who worship like you and act like you. I think segregation happens not just along racial lines but also socioeconomic lines.”

As McAuley said, there is still a problem within the church in regards to racial segregation.

Check back tomorrow to learn ways church segregation can be addressed.

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