Martin Luther King Jr. said America’s most segregated major institution is the church.
“At 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand and sing and Christ has no east or west, we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation,” King said in 1963. “This is tragic. Nobody of honesty can overlook this.”
In noting today’s national holiday, ABC News on Sunday ran a feature about an Ohio church that is trying to break down the voluntary segregation of most churches. The church members regularly visit Sunday worship services at predominantly white churches. Sometimes they tell the church they’re coming; other times they drop in unexpectedly. The pastor is trying to break down barriers between Christians.
“We are all brothers and sisters in Christ,” the Rev. Cliff Biggers told ABC News. “If there’s one Lord, one faith, one baptism, then we ought to be able to worship together.”
In a small way, my family did that on Sunday. Our predominantly white Edmond church for the past four years has with predominantly black Holy Temple Baptist Church staged a joint Martin Luther King Jr. commemorative service at one chuch or the other. Since this year’s service was scheduled to be at our church on Sunday night, we decided to worship at Holy Temple in the morning.
The members couldn’t have made us feel more welcome. As you might expect, the service was considerably different than what we experience at our church. It was longer, louder and more participatory than what we’re accustomed to. But the central message was a familiar one, and the experience was in all ways positive.
Unlike Biggers’ concept, our attendance at Holy Temple was not part of any broad-based plan to tear down walls that separate black and white — it was an opportunity for us to get out of our spiritual comfort zone. We’re the kind of people who sit in a different pew just to meet folks and stir the pot. It also is part of an effort to help my children experience diversity, and to grow up as someone who evaluates people by the content of their character. But frankly, we did it mainly because we thought we would enjoy it, and we did.
Only 7 percent of America’s churches are racially mixed. On June 29, Biggers is planning a nationwide Mission Sunday. He hopes to organize 1,000 churches across the United States to visit churches that “look different from one another.”
Can I get an “Amen?”