Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Racism and Homogenous Churches

The Other Journal has posted a thought-provoking interview with Peter Heltzel under the title, "Telling Evangelical Histories Otherwise."

In one brief section of the interview Heltzel offers an astute appraisal of the church growth movement's principle of homogeneity:
TOJ: How do you understand race?

PH: Emile Townes in Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil argues that race signifies power relations associated with skin color. Thus, racism is more than personal prejudice. Racism is prejudice plus power. In the Americas, racism manifests itself in an ideology of white supremacy. While Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, in colonial America the only folks who were truly independent were white, land-owning men. White racism took on systemic forms in America's governing, financial, education, and religious institutions. Problems of systemic white racism and classicism remain intact and deeply rooted within the evangelical world today.

TOJ: Can you give an example?

PH: The homogenous unit principle of church growth used by many megachurches is one clear example of white racism. These churches seek to reach out to unchurched white suburbanites and to design ministries, worship spaces, and liturgies that appeal to affluent whites. These churches often look like malls, and have ATMs and Starbucks in order to make white folks comfortable. While this strategy has proven effective for growing a church, we need to be honest about the ways in which this model of church lulls people into comfort at the expense of challenging them on their exclusionary and racist attitudes and structures.
Hat Tip to Robert Cunningham for calling my attention to this article.

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