Posted by: Philip Rushton | April 29, 2013

The Limitations of Homogeneity

“Eleven a.m. on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America.”
– Martin Luther King Jr.

The front page article from The Daily News today recounts the history of Longview Foursquare Church. Longview Foursquare actually began as an extension of Longview Community Church. The article in the TDN explains, “the branch church on the border of the Highlands and St. Helens additions was intended for the convenience of the low-income residents who lived in that part of town. Its architecture was on a scale and style consistent with the Long-Bell bungalows.” While the original reason for the extension might be explained along geographical or practical lines, many saw the church plant as a means of reinforcing social segregation. In his book R.A. Longs Planned City, J.M. Mclelland writes that the residents felt the church plant, “implied that they weren’t good enough for the main church in the more fashionable part of town.

It is no secret that the planned city of Longview was informed by the values of economic and racial segregation. Probably the most telling example is that the original deeds for homes in the Old West Side indicate that African Americans were not permitted to move into the neighborhood.

It saddens me to think that the values of segregation may have infiltrated the religious make up of the town as well. I do not know the full story of this church plant. For all I know this church plant may have been created with the very good intention of reaching out to the Highland area. I know Rev. Gebert ministered faithfully to the people at Longview Foursquare and spoke there on Sunday evenings. Yet, as this article suggests, this church plant continues to evoke memories and feelings of segregation.

I don’t really know how respond to a history that predates my time here at Longview Community Church. What I will say is that I do not believe segregation to be a value that characterizes the current ministry and heart of this congregation. One of the things I love about our congregation is the openness we have to people from various walks of life.

Furthermore, I feel the need to reaffirm the truth that segregation has no place in the church of Christ. The apostles sought to create a community that broke down barriers of racial and social segregation and promote equality. Paul said to the church in Galatia, “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This was a radical idea to promote during a time when ethnic and social segregation was deeply entrenched in the culture of the day.

Kevin Dougherty, a sociology professor at Baylor University in Texas, writes, “socially, we’ve become much more integrated in schools, the military and businesses. But in the places where we worship, segregation still seems to be the norm.” In his study he reports that 9 out of 10 churches in America continue to be racially segregated. A congregation fits this category if 80% or more of the members are of a similar race. Dougherty acknowledges that this reality is not fueled by racial animosity. He suggests that homogeneity is simply explained by people seeking a community where the feel understood and comfortable.

While homogenous communities may seem easier and more comfortable, they have some severe limitations. If we are only spending time with people who are similar to us we miss out on new ideas and new perspectives on life. I know that I have been profoundly impacted by the cross cultural experiences I have had. When Julie and I spent time among the poor in Guatemala it profoundly challenged my economic assumptions about what I thought I ‘needed’ to have. I also was profoundly challenged by the faith demonstrated by those who were in dire poverty.

Along with having our perspective broadened, diversity also helps to remove the false barriers and biases that exist between cultures or classes that are at odds. So often our homogeneity reinforces unhealthy and unfounded distinctions between people groups. If we never take the time to listen and interact with people from a different background we fail to see the similarities that we share. Diversity is a kingdom value precisely because it can lead towards peace and reconciliation.

The words spoken by Martin Luther King Jr over 50 years still ring true today. How might we challenge our propensity towards homogeneity and leave ourselves open to the important benefits of diversity? In the coming years this is going to be increasingly important issue for us to wrestle with as the social fabric of America becomes increasingly diverse.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: