Author: David Leininger Book: The Color-Blind Church
Q. Is segregation by race the Church's biggest sin?
A. No, but it is a part of it. The church's biggest sin is our failure to communicate the love and justice of Jesus Christ. Continued segregation by race is simply one manifestation of that sin. If the gospel truly is the barrier breaker that we claim, then an integrated worshiping community is a wonderfully visible testimony to that.
Q. Have race relations been an important issue for you all along?
A. Not really. I grew up in a lily-white environment - there were no people of color living anywhere near. My first experiences across racial lines were in high school in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s - it had been uneventfully integrated a few years before. There were African Americans in my classes, but no one seemed to notice. My first taste of racial discrimination came on an autumn afternoon as one of my black classmates and I went into a diner that I regularly frequented after school. We sat down at the counter and we each ordered a piece of pie and a Coke, and I heard, "You can eat here, David, but your friend will have to take his to go." We cancelled our orders and left.
I had never heard of such a thing, and it was almost as much of a shock to him, a young man whose father was a physician and who had been raised in the almost-protected atmosphere of a child of privilege. He could have bought and sold that diner (or his Dad could have), but he could not eat there for no other reason than the color of his skin. He had tears in his eyes over the insult, but there was nothing he or I could do. It was not long after that the Civil Rights struggle in America began to get national attention.
Q. In the ‘80s, did you believe that things would be different in 25 years?
A. Yes, and things ARE different now - we have African Americans who are major figures on the national and international stage (Condoleezza Rice, Colin
Powell, Barack Obama, and so on), who in generations past would never have had the opportunities available today. In regard the church, some of the newer mega-churches appear to be quite comfortably integrated. So saying, in older, established congregations, 11:00 a.m. Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour in America - old habits die hard. Yes, things are different now, although not as different as I might wish them to be and certainly not as different as I had hoped a quarter century ago.
Q. Is the white Christian church more ready for integration than the black church?
A. The answer would vary from one congregation to another. The issue is the role the church plays in society. In the African-American community, the church appears to be much more central than in the white community. For example, in the African-American community, political leadership has been rooted in the church (the REVEREND Martin Luther King, Jr, the REVEREND Jesse Jackson), while in the white community religion and politics are most often seen as very separate, and indeed, to bring the two together can be considered a serious breach. The black and white communities "do church" differently. Whether an influx of white faces into a black congregation or an influx of black faces into a white congregation would be more threatening in one than the other would probably have more to do with the attitude of a congregation's leadership than anything else.
Q. Had Martin Luther King, Jr, lived, would things be different today?
A. That is difficult to say. Dr. King was an incredible man and what he was able to accomplish is amazing. But even during his lifetime, other voices were being raised in the African-American community that decried his commitment to non-violence and advocated a more confrontational approach. His death was a terrible blow, but the struggle for dignity and justice that he led lives on.
Q. If you were in a position to make change happen regarding race, what would you do as the leader?
A. With regard to human beings, I would make the world color-blind!
First Presbyterian Church, Warren, PA