No doubt, churches in America continue to be largely monoethnic, without much mingling of races either within or between churches. This book is written by church leaders who would like to see that changed. It is a way for those in the church to hopefully wake up and speak up so we may more fully be God’s ambassadors of the Gospel on earth.
Many of the contributors to this book are Caucasian, theologically conservative, Presbyterian pastors and church leaders. Their stories are of their eyes being opened to what their brothers and sisters of color experience every day. How could they not see the inequity before? How could they be so behind in such a basic concept? It is the essence of White privilege. They are asking God to help them listen better to the experiences of others.
To that end, this book also includes stories from African American, Asian American, and Latino pastors and leaders from the same theologically conservative denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America. Many of them are tired of talking about racial issues without seeming to get anywhere and wonder why it has taken so many Caucasian Christians so long to wake up. Some have considered retreating to churches and denominations where more people look like them and think like them. Yet they remain faithful to stand in the uncomfortable role of speaking up and speaking into the need to break down dividing walls, of which race is the most substantial and enduring in the United States. These brothers do not give a comprehensive voice to the issue, but they do provide valuable perspectives.
Waking up is painful and difficult. It is startling. Many times, it rubs people the wrong way. But it is important. The hope of the contributors to this book— whatever their race— is that racial reconciliation would occur not only in their own denomination but in all the churches of Christ. They realize their union with Christ compels them to pursue reunion and reconciliation across the ethnic lines that divide us outside of Christ.
This book was originally born out of discussions among a group of pastors and elders in the Presbyterian Church in America who desired reconciliation, representation, and unity in their individual churches and in their denomination as a whole. Many of them supported a call for their denomination to repent of its churches’ inaction in standing for the rights of African Americans during the Civil Rights Movement. Though they write from their context, their words apply to any monoethnic church or denomination seeking to become more representative of the body of Christ, welcoming the sojourner among them and seeking justice for all of God’s children.
The Pew Research Center reports that Protestant churches— whether in the mainline tradition, the Evangelical tradition, or in the historically Black tradition— are not ethnically diverse in any substantive way. Their 2007 survey indicates that 81 percent of Evangelical Protestant church members are White, 91 percent of mainline Protestant church members are White, and 92 percent of historically Black Protestant church members are Black. 2
The 2014 LifeWay Research survey, American Views on Church Segregation, found that 66 percent of Americans have never regularly attended a place of worship where they were an ethnic minority. 3 Korie Edwards, in her book on interracial churches, calls religious racial integration a dubious enterprise. 4 She notes that, “Churches are most successful within the American context (where ‘success’ is measured by the number of attendees) when they appeal to one group.” 5
While people may prefer sameness, “God apparently loves difference; he created so much of it.” 6 The abundance of human differences can become a source of difficulty because we have to navigate our differences in the context of relationships with others. Thus, our comfort with God’s preference can only occur when we desire to embrace and understand difference.
We all have much to confess. We all have much to be thankful for. It is all grace and mercy. None of us would be anything or anyone or anywhere without the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to whom all things work for his glory and honor.
Jesus says the dividing wall is coming down. It’s been up far too long. We grieve that we are so late to the party. We have finally arrived at the troubling conclusion that there is brokenness in the way that we value and treat one another on the basis of skin color. We praise God that he is patient and gracious with us as we slowly come around to the reality that so many of our neighbors, brothers, and sisters have known their entire lives. We pray they would forgive our blindness to their suffering as we move forward, seeking to learn and grow toward racial reconciliation.
Rev. Dr. Irwyn Ince and Rev. Doug Serven