The Most Segregated Hour of the Week, by Bryan Loritts
It’s a tragedy of history that many of us are not familiar with one of the necessary arteries of the civil rights movement, known simply as “kneel ins”. On Sunday mornings throughout the South, black and white college students would convene in front of all white churches and kneel, asking merely for the opportunity to come inside and worship with the family of God.
Scholar Stephen R. Haynes brought national attention to these forgotten soldiers in his book, The Last Segregated Hour. One glimpse of its cover, and both your attention and anger will be aroused. For here we see these drum majors for justice kneeling at the steps of a church, while ominously peering down on them are white leaders, arms crossed, outfitted in a scowl. Everything about their body language says you are not welcomed here.
While their civil rights siblings brought attention to segregation at lunch counters through their “sit ins,” those who chose to kneel brought focused attention to an even uglier truth—segregation in the Church of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. While the movement was able to bring about seismic legislative change so that segregation became outlawed, Dr. Ed Stetzer and the LifeWay Research team have unearthed for us a sad reality—many of our churches today could still use a cohort of multi-ethnic college students doing kneel-ins right outside their doors.
On the one hand, much of their findings are not new. For example, when their research “reveals” that “8 in 10 (86 percent) have congregations with one predominant racial group,” this is actually an improvement in what was previously around 97 percent. Nonetheless, the research shows that homogeneity still reigns within the body of Christ on Sunday morning, elongating what Dr. Haynes aptly titled, “The Last Segregated Hour.”
What caught my attention was when Dr. Stetzer summarizes, “Surprisingly, most churchgoers are content with the ethnic status quo in their churches. In a world where our culture is increasingly diverse, and many pastors are talking about diversity, it appears most people are happy where they are—and with whom they are.”
The contrast is daunting. Our churches are homogenous, yet, by and large, (according to the research) there remains little to no desire to change when it comes to issues of diversity. The recent statistics unearthed by the LifeWay Research team serves, on a much deeper level, as a stethoscope, allowing us to hear the rhythms of our hearts. Rhythms that I believe are out of step with the gospel. That’s the tragic takeaway.
At its necessary core, the civil rights movement dealt with law, for which I, as a black man, am forever grateful. But at its corresponding core, race is not a matter of law; it is a matter of the heart. Forced legislation cannot reform a wayward heart, it is only the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And it is because the church has been entrusted as the stewards of this sacred gospel that we must pick up where Dr. King and his lieutenants left off. Our battle is not ultimately with structures (though there is systemic injustice, which the church must address), as much as it is with the reformation of the heart.
Part 2 will be posted tomorrow…