18.2.15

RESEARCH ON CHURCH INTEGRATION

Racially Diverse Churches
During the process of researching for a much larger project on the subject of Christianity and race I stumbled across a particularly telling article written by Gerardo Marti of Davidson College and published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. The article was entitled The Religious Racial Integration of African Americans into Diverse Churches. [1]

In the article, Marti summarizes his field research on one of the most diverse churches in the country (Oasis Christian Center in Los Angeles). As a scholar of congregational racial integration Marti was looking for the ways in which multiracial congregations achieve and maintain their ethnic diversity.

Marti is known as one of a handful of religious scholars who advocates for church integration (many have given up the idea). However, because of his research, even Marti appears to have become discouraged by the low probability of large-scale integration.

In the beginning of the article he observes:
“Follow-up work by Emerson (2006) and Edwards (2008b) continues to affirm the weakness of religion in the face of racial obstacles such that achieving true religious integration between blacks and whites seems nearly impossible.”
By the end Marti seems to have joined the pessimistic crowd:
“Perhaps truly integrated black-white churches are not possible in the United States. By truly, I mean that these churches equally acknowledge, equally assert, and equally value the distinctive ethnoracial backgrounds and experiences of each group.
Combining this research with others, it appears that the ever-present issue of race for many African Americans makes pluralism (inclusion of separate and distinct elements of all racial cultures present) a more likely outcome for black-white Protestant congregations than integration (maintains aspects of separate cultures while creating a new culture.”
Marti and other academic researchers have come to realize that for sustainable racial diversity to exist one ethnic group's culture must dominate. Either a Euroethnic church must become culturally African-American (musically, theologically, etc.) and subvert its own interests, or ethnically and culturally isolated individuals must coalesce around a church of the opposite ethnic group.

In other words, no true ethnic integration is possible. In the end, one culture must dominate.

Why? Because Christianity exists through churches, and churches consist of people, and people are part of ethnic groups, and ethnic groups have differing genetic and biological traits that effect their cultures, and Christianity is expressed through human culture.

The idea that Christianity maintains an alternative culture that can be expressed without being touched by socio-ethnic factors is illogical. Christian people are influenced profoundly by the genetic realities which shape their lives and perceptions, and the lives and perceptions of those who surround them.

Most academic researchers who deal with ethnic issues from a Christian perspective avoid acknowledging the genetic differences between the ethnicities. Even these thinkers, however, generally come to the conclusion that church integration is probably impossible on any widespread level. How much more should those of us who acknowledge God's created order believe the same thing?


NOTES

[1] Marti, Gerardo. "The Religious Racial Integration of African Americans into Diverse Churches." Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. June, 2010. Accessed November 1, 2015. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1468-5906.2010.01503.x