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Do we need to integrate our churches?

What do you think?

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Are you building walls to keep me out? Photo Illustration from Bronx church by Tony Carnes/A Journey through NYC religions

Are you building walls to keep me out? Photo Illustration from NYC church by Tony Carnes/A Journey through NYC religions

Journalist and book writer Naomi Schaeffer Riley took up this issue in her column at the beginning of this week for the New York Post. What do you think?

Here is an excerpt from her column:

"‘When it comes to race, our churches must reflect the united kingdom of Christ more than the divided states of America.”

That’s the mission of a Southern Baptist Convention-hosted conference in Nashville next month. In the wake of “recent events in Ferguson and with Eric Garner,” the Baptist leaders think it’s their duty to change their flocks. Many leaders of other denominations agree.

But is more diversity in their pews really all that feasible — or even that worthy a goal?

To start with, the people in the pews now don’t seem to be on board for this exercise in social engineering. In a new poll from LifeWay Research, just 40 percent of churchgoers said they think their congregations need to become more ethnically diverse. …

But is it so hard? …

On the other hand, that was five decades ago; we’ve since pulled down countless barriers between the races — so why don’t we mix much when we worship? …

According to the National Congregations Survey, a few more majority-white congregations had some black attendees in 2007 than in 1998, but no greater share of black churches reported having any white attendees.

It’s not much different here in hyperdiverse New York City. A 2011 study sponsored by the Web site A Journey Through NYC religions found 130 ethnicities represented in the city’s evangelical churches.

But 44 percent are mono-ethnic churches (at least 90 percent of attendees are from one ethnic group) and 89 percent are majority-ethnic churches (more than half of attendees from a single ethnic group).

Tony Carnes, the site’s editor, tells me New York churches have increased their diversity within racial boundaries, if not across them.

So, for instance, congregations at many Hispanic churches now include people who hail from a wider variety of Hispanic countries. And the historically black churches seem to have more people from the Caribbean in their pews, while Asian churches have people from a wider swath of areas in China.

The one [recent] exception, he says, is a few recently launched churches where younger pastors have been able to attract a slightly more racially diverse flock.

One overlooked factor here is that a church usually reflects the neighborhood it’s in — and people tend to self-segregate. …

Aram Bae directs family ministries at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, one of the few truly multicultural congregations in the city. She appreciates that factor, but also says, “People should understand the need for ethnic churches.”

She grew up in a Korean Presbyterian Church — her father is a pastor, too. “It’s the one hour a week where you feel like you’re in the majority.”

Bae notes something else about Fifth Avenue and other large, multiethnic churches here, such as Redeemer Presbyterian and Hillsong NYC: After church, everyone goes off in their separate directions “for brunch.” …

Bae is skeptical of any special obligation for churches to bring people together from different backgrounds. She’s certainly not opposed to more diverse congregations, but she wonders why people just can’t work to improve race relations at work or among their friends.

The advantage of neighborhood ethnic churches, she says, “is that they feel more like a family.”"

Click here for the whole article.

  • This is a question worth looking at, but Riley's article focuses on the Reformation Churches. Catholicism, a huge presence in NYC, has many more racially and ethnically mixed congregations, but racial or cultural groups within them are often separated by different mass times or by the language of ministry (often by necessity). So I'm not sure there is a simple answer to this.

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