Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke often of something he called the beloved community. This was the title given to describe a reality in which freedom, love, justice, and reconciliation would reign. In many ways this was a mainstream way for Dr. King to speak of the kingdom of God being advanced within a sin-filled world. Today, there is still a need for the beloved community. The question becomes, though, "can there be a beloved community without a beloved church first?" Another question to consider would be, "can there be a beloved church without beloved children of God in intimate relationship with God through Christ Jesus?" These questions must be reflected on deeply if the church is to be a force of kingdom advancement in an increasingly multi-ethnic and multicultural world.
Though we live in a world that is becoming more and more diverse by the day, the church in the United States of America is still one of the most segregated institutions there is. It's funny how the church in the United States, through its many denominations, sees itself as a leader in world missions but can't consistently develop churches that look like that world or the kingdom of God where we will live eternally. Though collectively financially resourced, the church is socially bankrupt when it comes to living outside of the race matrix of this nation. Why is this?
This reality of the segregated church continues for two reasons. One reason is, many are in denial that the Christian church in this country was planted in a soil of race and racism. The treatment of Native Americans and Africans in the beginning of what became known as the United States of America went against the very gospel message being preached by some Europeans carrying a Bible in their hands and racism in their hearts. We must explore this history on a regular basis so that we might re-plant the Christian church in this nation.
The second issue is that the church in this nation is still evolving on race-based soil, which creates people's feeling of comfort in attending racially segregated churches. Though many people would not see themselves as racist, they attend churches based on race values even though they don't realize it in most cases. The not realizing factor is true for many European-Americans. Many African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians proudly attend racially or ethnic specific churches. For many of them this is about being in a community of empowerment in a society where they collectively hold little power even in light of a minority president. Yet this reality is a major obstacle to the beloved community. There will never truly be shining examples of the beloved community as long as we Christians have a taste for the segregated church. As a pastor of a multi-ethnic and evangelical church, I cry out in the wilderness like John the Baptist. I cry out to prepare the way for a movement of churches that think and look like the kingdom of God and not the race-based society of this earthly realm. I cry out for the beloved church. What is your heart's cry?
Efrem Smith is the senior pastor of The Sanctuary Covenant Church, with the vision to be an urban, multi-ethnic, relevant, holistic, and Christ-centered community. He has held leadership positions in organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club of America and Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and is the author of numerous articles and books, including The Hip-Hop Church. He blogs at efremsmith.com.