The Most Segregated Hour in AmericaMonday, January 19, 2009
On December 18, 1963, just four months after delivering his ‘I have a Dream’ speech, Dr. Martin Luther King was invited to speak at Western Michigan University’s “Conscience of America” lecture symposium on racial prejudice and race relations. Following a speech on “Social Justice and the Emerging New Age” Dr. King responded to a question by President Miller.
Dr. Miller: Don’t you feel that integration can only be started and realized in the Christian church, not in schools or by other means? This would be a means of seeing just who are true Christians.
Dr. King: As a preacher, I would certainly have to agree with this. I must admit that I have gone through those moments when I was greatly disappointed with the church and what it has done in this period of social change. We must face the fact that in America, the church is still the most segregated major institution in America. 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. This is tragic. Nobody of honesty can overlook this. Now, I’m sure that if the church had taken a stronger stand all along, we wouldn’t have many of the problems that we have. The first way that the church can repent, the first way that it can move out into the arena of social reform is to remove the yoke of segregation from its own body. Now, I’m not saying that society must sit down and wait on a spiritual and moribund church as we’ve so often seen. I think it should have started in the church, but since it didn’t start in the church, our society needed to move on. The church, itself, will stand under the judgement of God. Now that the mistake of the past has been made, I think that the opportunity of the future is to really go out and to transform American society, and where else is there a better place than in the institution that should serve as the moral guardian of the community. The institution that should preach brotherhood and make it a reality within it’s own body.”
Dr. Miller’s question appears to be based on the deeply rooted racist attitudes that permeated America in the 1960’s. When he asked, “Don’t you feel that integration can only be started and realized in the Christian church, not in schools or by other means? He was expressing the resistance of American society at large to allow integration and the duty of the church to pursue it. The integration of local congregations in the words of Dr. Miller, “would be a means of seeing just who are true Christians.” This comment alone is a powerful indictment on the church which was expected to accept people of all backgrounds yet was no different than the secular institutions that upheld segregation.
Due to the Church’s failure to be “the moral guardian of the community” Dr. King took his message beyond the Church. That powerful message impacted the lives of millions of American red, brown, yellow, black and white through civil rights legislation that would open the doors of secular institutions to integration. Regrettably the last bastion of segregation is still the “moribound” church.
According to the most recent studies, only 7% of all congregations in America are multi-racial. Sociologist, Michael Emerson, classifies 5% of protestant congregations, 15% of Catholic congregations and 28% of non-Christian congregations as multiracial. By definition a multiracial church has an ethnic mix where no more than 80% of the congregation is of one dominant group.
It took government legislation to mandate integration under the penalty of temporal legal action. The Church, corporately and individually is under the mandates of Christ and as such is subject to the loss of eternal rewards. It’s been 45 years since Dr. King made his often used comment that “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.” How much longer must we wait before it can be said that at 11:00 on Sunday morning we stand at the most integrated hour in this nation? The question is, “What are you doing to help make that happen?”
That’s my opinion I welcome yours.