I grew up in a small church in a small town. None of my white friends lived in my neighborhood or came to play on my street. All of the men and boys in the neighborhood got their hair cut at the local barbershop, which was operated and owned by a black man. All of the women and girls in my neighborhood got their hair done at one of several home-based beauty shops, also owned and operated by black women (my mother was one of them). On Sunday, we attended the church where my mother was baptized and where my grandmother had been an usher. I did have white friends, but they were my “school friends.” I did not go to their homes to play, and they did not come to mine, and on Sunday, we never attended church together. That was 1975. Fast forward 40 years. Not much has changed as far as Sunday mornings go. Dr. Martin Luther King so famously coined 11 o’clock on Sunday morning as “the most segregated hour of the week.” I don’t see much evidence that things have changed. I find it interesting that even though diversity exists in our schools, places of work, sports teams, and even in our neighborhoods, most of us still find ourselves looking around on Sunday morning at a congregation of worshipers who all look like us. Yes racism still exists in the church…and it goes both ways. It is comforting to believe that racism no longer exists, particularly in our places of worship, but what seems like a comforting thought is not the truth. The truth is that while we have made strides, racism still exists in the church. In 2011, a church in Pike County, Kentucky, not only banned interracial marriages, but also prohibited interracial couples from becoming members and participating in certain worship services, all for the sake of “unity.” In 2012, a predominately white church in Crystal Springs, Mississippi, refused to allow a black couple to marry even though they had attended the church for some time. Let’s not forget Jeremiah Wright, former pastor of President Obama, whose Anti-Semitic remarks took center stage during the 2008 presidential election. We’re not talking about Jim Crow era events that we read about in history books. This is 21st century church news. Diversity - the Early Church did it. Why can’t we? The Early Church was a model of diversity. Jews, Gentiles, Samaritans, and people of many different ethnic and cultural backgrounds were all coming together as one church. They had their problems. This was evidenced in Paul’s letters in which he continually encouraged them to strive for unity. In First Corinthians 1: 13, Paul asked, “Is Christ divided?” Apparently they were able to overcome their differences, and the church flourished. What keeps us from achieving success in creating diversity within our churches today? Safety in numbers There’s safety in numbers. We find comfort in familiar surroundings. This includes familiar faces and a familiar way to worship. Think about the discomfort that you sometimes feel when you visit a church for the first time, especially if you don’t know anyone there. Compound this with the fact that you are the only white, black, Hispanic, or Asian person there. You don’t know any of the hymns or songs that they are singing. You feel that everyone is looking at you (and let’s be honest, a lot of them are). This discomfort can quickly send you looking for “familiar surroundings,” a place that feels safe. The way that we worship In addition to finding comfort in familiar surroundings, we also find it in the way that we worship. For example, the traditional African American Protestant Church Service is often more charismatic than other services. The music is louder, the preaching is more emphatic, and the praise and worship can often end in an outpouring of singing, dancing, crying, and shouting. If that is the kind of worship that I have become accustomed to, it’s going to be a bit of a challenge for me to get used to a worship service that is quieter and more reverent in nature. The same would be true of someone who is accustomed to attending services at a Latino church or an Asian church or a predominately white church. The songs will usually be different. The manner in which the message is delivered may be different. What is viewed as “normal and acceptable” praise and worship may be different. So what does one do? It was tough for the Little Rock Nine and Ruby Bridges to leave the comfort of the schools that they had attended all of their lives. After all, those schools were located in their own communities with people who knew and loved them and who they knew and loved. If we are to become a less segregated more diverse church, we will have to “step out of our comfort zone.” This will require everyone to have a willingness and desire to change. We’re not only going to have to open our church doors but also walk through doors that we have never walked through before. The federal government ended segregation for a reason. It was wrong. There is not “separate but equal” in the Kingdom of God, just one body in Christ. There will be a time of “discomfort” as we begin to learn each other's songs, but it’s the way God intended for it to be, so we have a choice to open our hearts and minds a little more or to stay the same and continue to walk in dysfunction.