It’s often been said that the most segregated time in America is Sunday morning. There is some truth to that, in that many congregations are not multi-racial or cross cultural. While I’m not trying to downplay the situation, I do believe that part of the reason has more to do with preferred worship and preferred cultural styles than with intentionally blocking out persons of other cultures and races. That’s why, in addition to worship segregation between cultures there is segregation within cultures as well.
In fact, I’d like to add another twist. I believe the current trend of churches ‘marketing’ to certain age or cultural segments does hold a danger. While it may help bring people into or back to the church the jury is still out on its long-term effectiveness. My concern is that it tends to segregate the Body of Christ. Rather than everyone worshiping together and learning how to appreciate and be patient with our differences, how to be tolerant of differences, and how to be open to change, we promote fracturing the body. Any time someone, or some group, doesn’t ‘like’ or ‘prefer’ what we like or isn’t ‘like’ us we tend to avoid the hard spiritual work of tolerance and instead opt for our more comfortable personal preferences.
For me, two important issues for Christians to contemplate flow from this Sunday Segregation. One is “If we cannot tolerate each other in our worship, how dare we criticize the intolerance so prevalent in our current societal and political realms?” “How can we ever hope to influence and promote tolerance in those realms when we do not practice it in our worship and church life?” Until we are truly one in the Spirit we can never have a positive impact on the broader issues of tolerance and intolerance in our culture.
The second issue is this: “Are we raising and fostering a generation of worshipers and Christians who may never experience the fullness of the Body – from cradle to the grave, from East to West and North to South?” How many churches lack the wisdom, experience, and faith-stories of our senior generation? They are the poorer for it. How many lack the vitality and necessary challenges of our searching but vibrant youth? They are the poorer for it. How many congregations lack the richness of different cultures and styles? The are the poorer for it.
Let’s never stop working towards racial and cultural diversity within the Body – and within our culture – but let’s also be very careful not to fall victim to segregation by our preferences either. Let’s strive, as difficult as it may be, for congregations that are free of age and preference segregation as well.
The Apostle Paul put it well. “All of you are God’s children because of your faith in Christ Jesus. And when you were baptized, it was as though you had put on Christ in the same way you put on new clothes. Faith in Christ Jesus is what makes each of you equal with each other, whether you are a Jew or a Greek, a slave or a free person, a man or a woman. So if you belong to Christ, you are now part of Abraham’s family, and you will be given what God has promised.” (Galatians 3:26-29 CEV)
“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” (Galatians 5:22-23 NLT)