Sunday Colors

Dallas churches continue to challenge the racial divide

The words, made popular by Martin Luther King Jr., have been repeated so often that they've become a cliché: "Eleven o'clock Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America."

The problem is, nearly 35 years after King's death the cliché remains an accurate assessment of the state of American churches—especially the ones here in Dallas.

Sheron Patterson, pastor of St. Paul United Methodist Church, was the first black woman to hold a United Methodist pastorate in the Southwest region. She has seen the process play itself out over and over, like a CD player stuck in repeat mode. "You get a room of ten blacks and ten whites and you lay all of your problems on the table, and everybody talks about how bad it is, and then we have lunch and go home, and nothing really happens," she says. "I wouldn't say it's a waste of time, because racism needs to be dealt with. But what's next?"

Like many Southern cities, Dallas has a long and troubled history of racial division. The city has seen the specter of racism—real and hyped—rear its head in controversies over public education, housing, and employment. But there has been some progress in those areas in recent years, as black and Hispanic citizens find a civic voice. The institution that continues to lag behind, however, is the church.

E. K. Bailey, an African American pastor who has worked to build relationships across Dallas's racial lines, says part of the problem is a fundamental difference between black and white perspectives. "African Americans lean toward a social emphasis; the white churches lean toward the evangelical, especially in the South," he says. "For some reason, we have not been able to get those two to work in concert."

Still, there are hopeful signs. Elliott Greene, ...

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