Sanctifying Our Comfort Zones

Posted: March 13, 2013 in Church, Life, Racism
Tags: , , , , , ,


I read an article today that made use of some studies which suggest that there is a strong link between organized religion and racism.  How disturbing is that?  I would like to just write the studies off as prejudical against religion (how ironic would that be?) but I can’t easily dismiss the studies so easily.  One of the studies, published in Personality and Social Psychology Review, was actually a meta-analysis of 55 independent studies and found that there was stastistically more racism among devoted Christians and less among people who considered themselves non-religious.  The studies focused on Christianity because it is the most common religious affiliation in the U.S.

To be fair, the study doesn’t suggest that the religious people consider other races inferior, but merely that they are less comfortable with other races/ethnicities and more likely to make decisions which favor people of their own race.

The odd thing about this, of course, is that the Bible teaches the opposite:  the equality of all races and the sinfulness of favoring people on the basis of race.  To be fair, this isn’t always recognized or taught.  As a kid, visiting churches in some parts of the South, I heard some blatantly racist misinterpretations of Scripture (the prohibition against Israelites marrying Canaanite in Deuteronomy 7:2 being a favorite).  But even a semi-neutral look at what the Bible actually says about race makes it extremely clear that God considers all races equal and forbids favoritism based on things like race/ethnicity.

So why should being a devoted Christian tend to make people more biased when it comes to race/ethnicity?

It seems to me that this may be less about racism per se and more about the sad state of the American church which is, by and large, the most racially segregated institution in the world (yes, I know there are notable expections, but they are exactly that…exceptions). We have white churches and black churches and Korean churches and Spanish churches…and people who are not of those particular racial/ethnic groups are pretty unlikely to attend those particular churches.  This doesn’t mean that white Christians are necessarily racist towards black Christians, for example, but it does mean that Christians, perhaps more than any other people in our society, have at least one very signficant time during their week when they their cultural comfort zones are reinforced.  Maybe people who don’t go to church are less likely to have such a place, so racial bias tends not to gain a foothold in them.  The kid who never has candy will crave candy less than the kid who only has it once a week. So maybe the racially segregated nature of our churches is the problem.

You know what’s really odd? We do have other racially/ethnically segregated places, but they aren’t nearly as uncomfortable for people of other races/ethnicities.  For instance, I recently found an Asian supermarket in Denver which clearly caters to Asians.  While there are English signs there, most of them are in Asian languages and the food is most definately Asian.  Yet, I felt perfectly comfortable shopping there…certainly more comfortable than I would feel walking into an Asian church service.  I’m not quite sure why that is.

In any event, the study is a sobering reminder of how easy it is for us to sanctify our comfort zones…and of the dangers of doing so.  Probably a TWT (thought worth thinking).


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