Diversity and inclusion have become a popular topic of discussion across all segments of life. Whether it’s gender equality in school sports, the wage gap, or racial inclusion we still see the lingering side effects of a country built on cultural supremacy and segregation. America has spent the last 5 decades trying to legislate, integrate, and correct systemic imbalances but we still have a long way to go. The physical, spiritual, financial, educational, and legal flaws of our Nation created a deep wound in any true hope for American unity, and we are still pulling at the stitches.
We need to ask ourselves…
We need to ask ourselves, what role has the American church played in this domestic mission for diversity? The majority of Christians in this country sat in segregated pews with no sense of conviction. Chattel slavery, Native American slaughter, Chinese exclusion, Japanese internment, segregation, Jim Crow and nationalized White supremacy has been largely ignored by many Christians who look down on their bibles instead of outdoors to their neighbors.
This new generation with a global perspective, cultural sensitivity, and an abundance of information find a lack of diversity to be a fundamental flaw. When looking for colleges, communities, and careers, people are seeking diversity that matches their social media timelines. When churches lack diversity, they fail to reflect reality and are unattractive to new generations and progressive personalities. Despite what seems to be a national campaign to improve diversity and inclusion, the American Church still seems to be only a short distance past forced legal integration.
The landmark victory in Brown v. Board of Education ruled that racial segregation was unconstitutional but this primarily affected public institutions. Religious organizations are still largely exempt from claims of discrimination because they are not required to be equal opportunity employers. While this Supreme Court case led the mobilization of military forces to grant access to education, transportation, and other services, the American Church was not forced to integrate. Just short of sixty years ago on April 17th, 1960, Dr. Martin Luther King made one of many timeless statements,
“It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.”
Six years after a historic court victory, one of our most prolific civil rights leaders was still fighting for equality for people of color, that was deemed owed by the Constitution and challenging the hypocrisy of the American Church. Now, we sit in 2020 and still find that over 80% of our churches lack enough diversity to be considered multiethnic. In geographic areas where racial diversity exists in housing, commerce, education, recreation, relationships, and families the church still struggles with homogeneity. Books, programs, conferences, and initiatives on diversity continue to grow in popularity, but is diversity in your churches D.N.A?
Design for New Attendees
Not to be confused with deoxyribonucleic acid, the genetic material that is present in all living organisms, I’m using the term DNA. to describe your church’s design for new attendees. Is your church structured for the support and comfort of those who already attend or those you hope to reach/serve? Whether its reception, child care, hospitality, worship, liturgy, sacraments, handicap access, cultural sensitivity, or special needs child care, are we mindful of potential attendees? How can we hope to attract and retain new parts of the body if the environment is not amenable to a transplant? Like an organ transplant, it’s not the healthy organ that has to adjust but the immune system of the host body.
When we look at biology, we see that all organ recipients experience some level of what is referred to as transplants rejection. The immune system of the human body is designed to attack foreign or potentially harmful substances so when a new organ is introduced from another body the immune system goes on the attack. Transplant rejection can range from acute to chronic and lead to either death of the transplanted organ or the host body itself. Sorry for the rather grim depiction but we have churches in America that are dying due to their inability to grow or sustain because their immune system defenses are rejecting new transplants.
Humans are largely creatures of habit and often oppositional to change. At the biological level our immune system battles against foreign objects and environmental changes. So how can a church that claims to serve a supernatural God, fall victim to such natural tendencies? If the church does not recognize the necessity to suppress its natural immune/defense system the body will continue to reject new transplants and it will eventually die. The treatment for transplant rejection is to utilize immunosuppressant medication in varying dosages to allow the new organ to survive.
Please understand, we live in a dangerous world, where sin and evil are present. Therefore, the church must have a healthy immune/defense system. But, if we are not intentional in our design we will continue to reject believers and seekers who are foreign to our existing demographics. We must learn to make our spaces welcoming to newcomers while also mitigating real threats to the physical and spiritual safety of the church body.
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and people and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hand, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10)
God’s design for his Kingdom is diverse and we were commissioned to go out and make disciples of all nations. The church must be designed for the consideration of new attendees without trying to be quota-driven or pandering to new trends. Church leaders and elders must be prayerful and open to the leading of the Holy Spirit to understand what diversity will look like within their congregation.
not just a rainbow of skin tones
As a Christian Hip-Hop artist, I have watched churches use Hip Hop at a Saturday event to attract young people of color, but maintain a very traditional Sunday liturgy with no accommodations for the people they attempted to attract on Saturday. Often our attempts at diversity are extracurricular when what’s needed is a foundational change to the church’s core design. If a new attendee or an unbeliever needs a book of instructions to follow along with your service, you are not designed for new attendees. Diversity should be the supernatural result of people laying down their personal preferences and showing love to our neighbors in a way that will attract them to our places of worship.
Diversity is not just a rainbow of skin tones. True diversity is reflected in culture, thought, education, occupation, economics, race, political affiliation, and social status. A diverse congregation should have rich, poor, healthy, handicapped, white-collar workers, blue-collar workers, doctors, janitors, recovering drug addicts, former drug dealers, law enforcement, lawbreakers, educators, high school dropouts, business owners, the homeless, broken families, restored marriages, single mothers, widows, war veterans, war protestors, Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Independents, Green Party, Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, immigrant, refugee, and any lost soul in need of Jesus.
The American Church has a DNA issue. Our immune system was built in racial segregation and we need treatment to achieve diversity. Opening the doors and removing “white only” signs did not bring us back together as a Kingdom of believers. We need a wholesale review of our churches, then we must step out of our comfort zone and create local bodies designed for new attendees. The church is not supposed to be a country club for members who meet the requirements. The church is supposed to be a hospital for the sick, where we stand waiting with open arms for those who need to be introduced to the Great Physician. If your church lacks diversity, maybe you have been rejecting the transplants, and maybe you have an issue with your DNA.
Here more on this same topic on Roy’s The Savage Truth Podcast
ABOUT FEATURED ARTIST: Pastor Roy Dockery
The featured art is titled “Color Lines” from Roy himself, a single from his album titled The Savage Truth. With a classic beat by legendary producer Tone Jonez, Pastor Roy uses hip-hop to paint a real picture of the issues we face in society and in the church regarding race, hate, and discrimination. More music and information is available at roydockery.org. Make sure you follow them both on Instagram (@officialtonejonez and @pastorroydockery)