Why Race Is Still a Problem in the World and in the Church

In the middle of a nation adjusting to a new set of social laws, church is meant to be a place where believers can come together to worship.
"Race is still a very powerful factor," Dr. James SoRelle professor of African-American history said. "I don't think we live in a post-racial world."

Lecturer of sociology Dr. Christopher Pieper said deficits in diversity of churches, especially in the south, can be seen today.

"It's a huge issue," Pieper said. "Dr. Martin Luther King said it very wisely that the most segregated hour in the United States is 9 o'clock on Sunday morning. Unfortunately, on that particular front, things have not gotten a lot more inclusive or multicultural despite the best efforts of many, many churches, both black and white."

Whether the racial divide in churches is intentional or not is solely dependent on an individual's perspective, but there's no denying the fact that the people under the steeple are not always a true reflection of the people in the Waco community.

Columbus Avenue Baptist Church in downtown Waco is one of the many churches that lacks representation of Waco's minority groups during regular church service.

Josh Vaughan, Columbus Avenue's new head pastor, said the church is diverse in terms of age and socioeconomic statuses, but racial diversity is lacking on Sunday mornings. To promote multicultural growth, Vaughan said the church has a Hispanic service conducted in Spanish at a separate center and the church also allows an African-American group to hold their worship services in that building. Vaughn said giving African-Americans a place allows the group to more freely touch on their cultural reference points.

"I haven't been there for Sunday morning service but I imagine it would be similar to the Hispanic service in that it is led in a different language," Vaughan said. "I would assume the African-Americans are going to adopt a style that makes sense to their cultural background."

Little Rock, Ark., senior Haley Hamlin who is a bible study leader at Columbus Avenue said the high prevalence of Caucasian people at church does not tell the whole story of diversity at Columbus Avenue.

"There's definitely diversity, but if you're going to look specifically at the percentages of racial diversity then it's maybe predominantly white," Hamlin said. "But I think that often might have to do with the demographic of people that are in Waco and the people in Waco that go to church. I don't think that's necessarily any reflection on the actual diversity of the church, and I also don't think that's any reflection on whether Columbus is welcoming or not to people that are not white."

Vaughan said Columbus Avenue wants to be inviting on a multicultural level, but a more thoughtful and intentional expression of unity must first be accomplished.

But Columbus Avenue Baptist Church is not alone in this struggle to find diversity. Another church that experiences this same struggle is Carver Park Baptist Church, located in North Waco, is a predominantly African-American church.

Carver Park has an extensive history in Waco, dating back 61 years. The church was the final location black students marched to after a walkout in 1971. The walkout came as an aftermath to black students being integrated into La Vega high school-upset that they had to leave their former school, G.W. Carver High School. Baylor's first black student, Robert Gilbert, who graduated in 1967 after Baylor integrated in 1963, was also the predecessor to the current pastor, Dr. Gaylon Foreman.

"Carver Park has always been a very active church in the community," Foreman said. "My predecessor, Pastor Robert Gilbert, was a living legend. He would talk about the challenges of being the first and the challenges of being in a situation where everyone didn't want you there, but he didn't really dwell on it too much. His thing was making everything better for everyone else. Not only was he concerned with racial harmony, but he wanted people to do better."

Foreman said the church's worship style is non-traditional. The church has gone through a change in demographics concerning age. In earlier years, it was made up of mostly older members, but today the church consists largely of younger families and members. This change in the congregation brought changes to the church as a whole from the worship style to the preaching.

"It's the Baptist tradition with a charismatic flare," he said. "We blend the two. We do a little bit of all of it. It's not traditional if you were raised in a traditional Baptist church. It came about because of our congregation. There was a shift as we began to get younger families and younger members. It just came about because when you have a younger, energetic group, that energy just brings about a change."

Source: Baylor Lariat | Kristin Burns, Abigail Loop, Rayne Brown and Paula Ann Solis
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