Black And White Sundays: An Examination Of Racial Separation In Southern Churches -- By: Edward L. Wheeler

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 02:1 (Fall 1984)
Article: Black And White Sundays: An Examination Of Racial Separation In Southern Churches
Author: Edward L. Wheeler

Black And White Sundays:
An Examination Of Racial Separation In Southern Churches

Edward L. Wheeler

Dean of the Morehouse School of Religion

The 11 o’clock hour on Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour in the week in almost every geographical section of the United States. It should not be surprising that in the main, blacks and whites in the South worship in separate congregations. Despite the integration of (or at least the attempt to integrate) public schools, the increase in the number of black elected officials in southern counties and municipalities, the painfully slow but nonetheless real advance of blacks in white corporate structures, the removal of “White Only” signs on public facilities, and the growing visibility of an emerging cadre of blacks in formerly all-white professions, the church in the South is still divided along color lines. Even those denominations which boast of their unity across racial lines, such as the United Methodists and the Presbyterians, have few models of that unity in the form of local congregations that are integrated.

Given the fact that churches in the South worship in black and white,1 this paper proposes to investigate the historical roots of racial separation within the southern church and attempts to discuss some of the causes for the present separation. It is my hope that such an examination will uncover the liabilities and assets of the separated church in such a way as to challenge those of us who make a claim to be followers of Christ to be the disciples we profess to be.

The Table Is Set:
Initial Failure Of The Church On The Issue Of Race

The immediate cause for the development of separate churches in the South (and in the U.S.) based on race was the failure of the white churches to accept black people as equals. The early efforts to Christianize slaves clearly illustrates this tragic chapter in the history of American Christianity. It is nay contention that this early failure of the church sets the table for subsequent errors, the consequences of which have an effect on the southern church today on issues of race.

Concerted efforts to Christianize slaves began in the early 18th century, but those efforts were constantly hampered by arguments over the ability of blacks to benefit from Christian instruction, the relationship between conversion and servitude, and how black church members would relate to whites.2 While white ministers often extolled the virtues of Christianizing slaves, they rarely challenged the legitimacy of the institution prior to the


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