Jan. 13, 2004
Almost four decades ago Martin Luther King Jr. noted that the most segregated hour in America is 11 o'clock Sunday morning.
Has anything changed in American religious life since King uttered those memorable words?
This month a Calvin College class is trying to answer not only that question but also the question of how churches can reach across racial and ethnic lines to create integrated worshipping communities.
And on January 27, at 6 pm in the Meeter Center Lecture Hall at Calvin, the students and their professor, sociologist Dr. Kevin Dougherty, will present their findings in a forum open to the public.
The course is called "The Multicultural Church" and is part of Calvin's January Interim term, during which students take just one class daily for three weeks. From January 7-27 the students and Dougherty are doing a sociological examination of racial and ethnic diversity in American congregations, looking at what constitutes a multicultural church and how churches become multicultural.
Among their work is observational research conducted in four Grand Rapids churches known for their racial and ethnic diversity: Cathedral of St. Andrew, Grand Rapids First Assembly of God, Madison Square Christian Reformed Church and Oakdale Park Christian Reformed Church.
Says Dougherty, who did his doctoral dissertation on the subject of on participation and growth in American congregations: "The Gospel of Jesus Christ proclaims a radical message of reconciliation. Humans become reconciled with God. Humans become reconciled with each other. In Christ, social divisions of race, social class and gender disappear. Yet, the modern church - the bride of Christ - seems to remain divided. Nowhere is this more apparent than when examining the racial segregation of American congregations and parishes."
In his Interim course, Dougherty, who has been working on the topic of cultural diversity in the church for the past three years, including the 2002 publication of the article "How Monochromatic is Church Membership? Racial-Ethnic Diversity in Religious Community," is helping students to explore how congregations and parishes can and do reach successfully across racial and ethnic lines to become integrated worshipping communities.
"Students are learning," he says, "central sociological concepts, theories and methods for studying multicultural churches. They are conducting participant observation research in area churches known for their diversity. And they are meeting religious leaders who are on the forefront of multicultural ministry."