As the Church continues to struggle with its own place in the conversation around systemic racism, a new study suggests we might want to look inward. Nearly three in ten Black practicing Christians have experienced some form of racial prejudice in multiracial churches. That’s according to new numbers from the Barna Group that tackle the challenge of creating environments for people of all races within church.
Barna defines a “practicing Christian” as someone who says their faith is “very important” in their life and has attended at least one service within the last month. It defines a “multiracial” church as any church body in which no race or ethnicity makes up more than 60 percent of the whole. In other words, even in churches that look fairly diverse, racism remains a significant issue according to the people on the receiving end of it. Even in monoracial Black churches, 11 percent of Black practicing Christians say they’ve experienced racism — which could be attributed to small groups of non-Black members or colorism.
The study also found that more than a quarter of Black practicing Christians say they felt pressure to “give up” part of their racial or ethnic identity to feel comfortable at church and 28 percent said it was hard to make friends at church. A full third said it was difficult for them to move into leadership positions at a multiracial church. Barna acknowledges there are many potential factors here, but the stark numbers still speak for themselves.
The consistent issue appears to be a sense on the part of people of color that even in multiracial churches, they’re still expected to hold themselves to an unspoken standard of whiteness. As the Barna report itself puts it, the invitation to people of color often has “an expectation, explicit or implicit, that people of color also assimilate, or fit in, by embracing songs, styles, messages, structures and communities which may be very different from those in their own racial and ethnic culture or previous church tradition.”
Christians of color often face barriers to sharing their opinions, whether as a congregant or leader. Even if a multiracial organization brings in leaders of color, these individuals are not usually given real authority or ability to make change.
In other words, it’s just not enough to people of color to be represented within a congregation. People of color also need to be in positions of leadership where they can help shape church culture and the environment.
Tyler Huckabee is RELEVANT's senior editor. He lives in Nashville with his wife, dog and Twitter account.