The Desegregation of Megachurches

David Van Biema's pieces in Time are always worth reading.  This one, which looks at a trend that has flown largely under the religious radar, is no exception.  The racial divide is falling fastest, says Van Biema, in evanglical Christianity.

In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. famously declared that "11 o'clock Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week ... And the Sunday school is still the most segregated school." That largely remains true today. Despite the growing desegregation of most key American institutions, churches are still a glaring exception. Surveys from 2007 show that fewer than 8% of American congregations have a significant racial mix.

Advertisement

Since Reconstruction, when African Americans fled or were ejected from white churches, black and white Christianity have developed striking differences of style and substance. The argument can be made that people attend the church they are used to; many minorities have scant desire to attend a white church, seeing their faith as an important vessel of cultural identity. But those many who desire a transracial faith life have found themselves discouraged — subtly, often unintentionally, but remarkably consistently. In an age of mixed-race malls, mixed-race pop-music charts and, yes, a mixed-race President, the church divide seems increasingly peculiar. It is troubling, even scandalous, that our most intimate public gatherings — and those most safely beyond the law's reach — remain color-coded.

But in some churches, the racial divide is beginning to erode, and it is fading fastest in one of American religion's most conservative precincts: Evangelical Christianity. According to Michael Emerson, a specialist on race and faith at Rice University, the proportion of American churches with 20% or more minority participation has languished at about 7.5% for the past nine years. But among Evangelical churches with attendance of 1,000 people or more, the slice has more than quadrupled, from 6% in 1998 to 25% in 2007.

Read the rest here, with an eye to what we Catholics might learn from this development.

James Martin, SJ


Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Liam Richardson
8 years 9 months ago
I am curious where the 20% metric for validating an "integrated" community comes from, especially since African-Americans comprise about 13% of the overall population (and only about 3% of the Catholic population).
Catholic churches remain largely defined by the territorial parish (even with the greater freedom to parish-shop that came with the 1983 Code of Canon Law), which tends to reinforce residential patterns that are heavily sorted by class and ethnicity, though territorial parishes may be more diverse that intentional communities in terms of class.
 

Advertisement

The latest from america

Brother Alois Leser, prior of the Taizé ecumenical community in France, is seen before the encounter at the World Council of Churches' ecumenical center in Geneva June 21. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
“We live in a world of competition, where you have to be the best. This pressure comes even from the families, from society,” said Brother Alois Löser.
Michael J. O’LoughlinOctober 17, 2018
The tête-à-tête between Paul Krugman and Nancy Pelosi in Manhattan was like a documentary about a once-popular rock band. (Rod Morata/Michael Priest Photography)
Speaking in a deep blue stronghold, the Democratic leader of the House calls for “civility” and cautiously hopes that she will again wield the speaker’s gavel in January.
Brandon SanchezOctober 16, 2018
The lecture provoked no hostile reaction from the students who heard it. But a media firestorm erupted.
John J. ConleyOctober 16, 2018
Though the current synod appears to lack the sort of drama and high-stakes debates of the previous two, the role of conscience appears to be a common thread.
Michael J. O’LoughlinOctober 16, 2018