Wednesday, October 08, 2014

A Microcosm of American religion in one small town map:



In a recent post, Microcosm of American religion in one small town map, SIU:C political science professor Tobin Grant has made a study of the geography and demographics of Carbondale's churches. It is insightful, helpful, and convicting. Dr. Grant notes,
The membership of churches in green on the map [which are almost all located in the north east quadrant of the downtown, an area with 95% African American residence] are almost exclusively black; other churches in town are nearly all white. The town and community are integrated, but Sunday remains segregated.
This is a convicting call to our church communities to make real the call of Galatians 3:28, that in Christ ethnic divisions are done away with. Scripture doesn't deny ethnic differences, in fact it values them: as Tim Keller writes,

Biblical texts such as Isaiah 60 and Revelation 21-22 depict a renewed, perfect, future world in which we retain our cultural differences ("every tongue, tribe, people, nation"). This means every human culture has (from God) distinct goods and strengths for the enrichment of the human race. (Keller, The Reason for God, 45)
Ethnic differences are both real, and good--they just aren't barriers to fellowship as the Church has frequently made them. We usually allow our tribal identity to determine who we spend our time with--and as churches are slow-moving cultural institutions and as social patterns are slow-moving we allow the impact of past biases (which are still present with us) to continue to influence social patterns.

I should note that I question what is really meant by the statement that "the town and community are integrated"; I assume this is based on demographic data for employment or home ownership (outside the quadrant north of IL 13 and east of US 51 which Grant notes is "95 percent black"); my experience of living in Carbondale for a little less than two years is that, while there is great ethnic diversity, groups tend to keep to themselves socially (as, unfortunately, happens in most places). There is some sliver lining in Grant's map of Carbondale's religious landscape. He notes that, 
There are two notable exceptions [to the fact that Sunday remains segregated]. The Vine (a Vineyard-like church) and Calvary Campus (Assembly of God) are remarkably racially diverse, in part because they each draw sizable number of college students. Both are also relatively new congregations.
I want to commend our brothers and sisters at The Vine and Calvary Campus for their faithfulness to the Gospel in transcending ethnic barriers. The Church should take the lead in crossing ethnic barriers, not just in where we own homes or who we work with, but especially in who we worship with, who we hang out with, who we live our lives with and who we call family. Across the country there are various congregations leading the way in this--the New City Fellowship network in Chattanooga and St. Louis and Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC come to mind--but this should be the norm, not the exception.
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