Question of faith: Why are so few U.S. churches racially integrated?

In his book Stride to Freedom, civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, "It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o'clock on Sunday morning."

Time magazine asks, "Can megachurches bridge the racial divide?"

CNN polled its viewers last year and found that most congregations across the United States worship with people of the same race.

In his book United by Faith, Curtis Paul DeYoung says that only 5 percent of the churches in America are integrated.

As we reflect on King's legacy and celebrate his birth, we ask why this segregation exists.

The Herald-Leader Faith Bloggers share their thoughts.

Roger Bruner, Mill Street Church of Christ, London: "This question is one that I wish all churches would address. Prejudice is the reason for so much division in religion.

"The congregation Church of Christ is integrated and always has been.

"The church of the Bible was to be composed of people of all nationalities This is not new, for integration was the major issue in the church from the outset.

"Integration between Jew and Gentile was the big obstacle addressed in every New Testament epistle. Passages addressed to either an individual Christian or church condemned prejudice and called upon them to accept one another as brethren, equals, 'fellow-citizens' in the household of God.

"Racial prejudice exists because a perverted message is proclaimed. Perverted messages exist because of the selfish motives of false teachers.

"A true church that follows Christ's teachings will accept all upon the terms that God has ordained: faith and obedience to these commands of Christ."

Anthony Everett, associate director for African American Ministries, Kentucky Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church: With current demographics, Dr. King's quote is accurate for most critiques about the existing racial divide in the church reflected in Sunday morning worship.

The issue of integration reflects how society continues to evade the sin of racism. Too often we want to simply not see "color" and make believe that justice is equitable.

The reality is that integration by assimilation does not work.

Instead of dealing with the conditions of immigrants and refugees, black men and boys, the homeless, the poor, women and others, our society turns a blind eye and often attacks the victims.

While the dropout and incarceration rate for black males in distressed communities is alarming, violence against women and homosexuals is on the increase; immigrants and refugees have little sense of community; and the provision of homes for the homeless are issues to which we have become desensitized, even in Lexington.

Our state legislators waste time debating the benefits of detaining and deporting non-violent immigrants in the commonwealth, an issue that Christians have warrant to oppose.

Because of the pain and suffering we inflict on each other as a result of not dealing with these issues, it is much easier for us to segregate into separate corners and hide ourselves from the presence of the Lord God, like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

When we address the issues of marginalized, ethnic people in America in the same way that we address the issues of the dominant culture, then we will genuinely and authentically celebrate together at eleven o'clock on Sunday as one people in the glory of God.

Joseph N. Greenfield, Help Me to Live Again Ministries Inc., Wilmore: "As brothers and sisters in faith, whether black, yellow, red, or white, all of us are called to be inclusionary, accepting and understanding, and forgiving.

"Though we are called to be integrated and united in our faith, this does not necessarily translate into worshiping in the same church building. We are not called to be everyone's best friend.

"In my marriage, for example, Nancy and I are called to 'live as one,' and to approach issues of life and relationship with 'one heart and mind' as we place our complete trust in the Lord.

"I am not called to make her like me, nor is she permitted to make me like her. We are two individual people, with two distinct personalities with different gifts and graces.

"We are called to live as one, yet all the while maintaining our individuality."

Kory Wilcoxson, Crestwood Christian Church, Lexington: "Racial separation of our congregations on Sunday is a deep-seated one that has been fed by things like the misuse of Scripture to justify slavery and the conflict during the civil-rights movement. But not all the reasons are nefarious.

"Traditionally, the two groups have been separated by styles of worship (as are many all-white Protestant congregations).

"Instead of focusing solely on Sunday morning worship, churches can find other times to come together with churches different from them (racially, sociologically, theologically) to partner together in ministry.

"The more we learn about each other, the more comfortable we feel singing each other's hymns and holding each other's hands in prayer, the less different we seem."

Myron Williams, Southland Christian Church, Lexington: "Over the years of ministry, I have worked in congregations which were racially integrated and those which maintained some racial segregation.

"Those congregations that were racially integrated seemed to attract people whose culture and worship style preferences were similar and whose congregational members were committed to racial reconciliation.

"In the New Testament, congregations tried to be racially diverse (Ephesus especially) and discovered racial tension that had to be worked out.

"What does seem to matter is unity of beliefs and unity of spirit, with reconciliation of people to God and one another as a key component.

"Is racially integrated worship a goal to be reached for or achieved? I'd rather think reconciliation of people to God and to one another is far more important, not that they necessarily worship together.

"The strength of Christianity is the diversity of the groups who follow Jesus. One congregation worships with hymns and another with praise choruses; one with outward expressions of emotion and another with staid formalism, yet they are united in a common faith.

"Do we need racial reconciliation? Absolutely, for that is the pattern for people who follow Jesus."

Pete Hise, Quest Community Church, Lexington: "One look at the life of Jesus — especially the way he embodied unity by wrapping his arms around anyone and everyone — highlights how sinful our tendencies toward discrimination and segregation really are. Jesus loved without condition and sets the bar for the church and every Christian who follows him.

"Part of his redemptive plan is that his church would look just as colorful and unified as heaven is.

"At Quest, we teach this, pray for this and work toward it. Along the way, we also repent and receive God's forgiveness for drawing lines in our hearts that don't exist in his heart, as well as for the sins of our fathers before us.

"Together, we're learning that the ground is level at the foot of the cross — whether a person is white or black, yellow or brown, rich or poor, Democrat or Republican, gay or straight, married or single, churched, unchurched or dechurched — all of us are deeply loved by God."