Segregated Sunday Church image

Sanctified Segregation?

In Christian RealTalk, Series by Antwuan Malone

What is Sanctified Segregation?

Separate But Equal on Sunday Mornings… Still


Let’s admit it. We like to live in boxes.

I know it’s common, these days, to spout off how good it is “step out of the box,” but the truth is, most of us like our cozy boxes. They’re comfortable. Safe. Familiar.

We are called to tribes.

Science says our desire to be part of a larger, like-minded group of people is an evolutionary development in our brains designed to ensure our survival. Finding people like us is a validation. It proves we’re not alone in our likes and tastes. Finding and living with people who are most like we are, somehow, adds value to our self-image.

Despite the difference in opinion of how we came about our tribal genes, we can all agree that such genes seem to exist. In each one of us.

This is a good thing.

But like all good, Eden-like things (and yes, our primary need to be in community is quite utopian. No one ever imagines heaven as a place where they are the only ones there. Regardless of your belief system), there is some forbidden fruit dangling around. And like Adam and Eve, we can’t help but nibble on it. Well, more like, bite off huge chunks of it — more chunks than we can chew.

If you’ve been following human history (and again, it doesn’t matter what version of history you subscribe to), we have an uncanny knack for messing things up. We’ve got ingenuity, creativity, rationality, and skill. But we tend to use all of those things to serve ourselves, despite the elephant in our gene pool that desires to, and even rewards us when we, serve others.

The boxes we construct in our various societies are proof that, despite our internal coding, we intend life to be about ‘me’. Especially in America. And that’s fine, even expected, from people who don’t pray “thy will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven.” But such box-making is not limited to the non-Christian.

In fact, each and every Sunday, more and more churches around this country are living out a “box” lifestyle.

Each Sunday, “god’s people” divide themselves by race, financial class, age, etc… Each Sunday we practice Sanctified Segregation by exemplifying an unspoken “separate but equal” policy. We allow racial baggage to separate us. We allow financial disparages to form gulfs between us. We allow our separate stages in life to split us.

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For example, I grew up in what many might term, “the Black Church.” Such a church culture has a rich history about how God can establish his gospel to any people, no matter how difficult the circumstances. And it’s easy to use that history as a linchpin to connect black people, and to make that movement in history too large a piece of my identity as a black Christian. When the reality is, the story is not about me, or black people at all. It’s about the amazing grace and providence of God. “Black Church” is not about black people, it’s about God. And her story belongs to God’s people — all of them!

But too many non-black Christians don’t know that story. Because most “black churches” and “white churches” have little to no association to each other. They could be five minutes up the street from each other and be totally oblivious to how God is moving in the respective congregations. And it’s not just black-and-white relations. The same could be said for nearly every ethnic congregation.

AND… it’s not just races.

I argue often classism is the new racism. Classism is the problem of this generation. We live in a society that pits the “haves” against the “have-nots.” It’s what drives capitalism in America. It’s how many choose who to love and who to tolerate. And unfortunately, churches tend to pick a side. Every Sunday, the “Haves” worship with the other “Haves,” and the “Have Nots” with the “Have Nots.” The two ne’er to meet, let alone worship or serve together.

What would Jesus say to the American picture of his body? What does God see each Sunday when we talk, plan, and even serve in segregated bubbles?  Why does it feel so weird to serve in a church service, born from a culture unlike our own when the Bible tells us that in the Spirit we are free?  How, when it says there is “neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female,” in the body of Christ? That we are (should be) one in Christ Jesus?

In John 17:11, Jesus prayed “And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.” 

Somehow, when he said that, I don’t think he had Sanctified Segregation in mind. Do you?


[ This Post is Part of the UNITY: John Thirteen Thirty-Five Series ]

How do you think the church can begin to overcome Sanctified Segregation Sundays?

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Antwuan Malone is a Ministry Director at ELEVATE Young Adult Ministry ( where empowers young adults toward Christian leadership. He is passionate about seeing young adults take their place in church history by drawing near enough to God to hear his call on their life, and courageously living in obedience to that call.