The continuing scandal is summed up in a 1997 Gallup Poll: The Christian church remains the one "highly segregated" major institution of American public life. More than 70 percent of whites and blacks still go to churches that are, respectively, nearly all white or all black.
Surely adding insult to injury is Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson’s observation in The Ordeal of Integration (Perseus, 1998) that "the Christian church has failed miserably in the promotion of ethnic fellowship and is now the mainstay of segregation." But do we see this as a scandal? Desegregating American Christianity is very touchy ground. The biggest defenders of maintaining black churches are black Christians, not white. And for good reason. Birthed of necessity in response to the outright racism of white Christians, black churches blessed dignity, community, leadership, and cultural refuge upon a people in devastating oppression. They became the organizing base for perhaps the greatest nonviolent social revolution in world history. Nearly half of today’s polled African Americans credit black churches most for improved conditions among blacks.
But aspects of what was courageously created to survive and thrive in an era of intense oppression may become outdated, and even disabling, in a new era of progress and opportunity.
FOR THE FIRST TIME in a long and acrid history, white and black Christians enjoy vast opportunity for meaningful and mutual relationship and partnership without penalty of death, intense persecution, or economic devastation. Reconciliation is no longer reserved for martyrs. But it will cost you something. Perhaps blacks distrust whites’ calls to reconciliation because blacks are more honest about what is at stake.