Sunday, December 10, 2006

Religion Tour #2

For some time now I have considered visiting our many local churches and sharing my observations on this site. I am motivated in part by a curiousity about people and the beliefs that they hold. But I am also somewhat open to the idea of joining a church. I say somewhat because the very idea conflicts with my tendency towards independence. But perhaps I am missing something, and that is what I am setting out to explore.

Now you might be wondering why I have entitled this entry as Religion Tour #2 instead of #1. That is because I visited Grace Lutheran Church last week, where I met Preachrboy, aka Reverend Tom Chryst.

This week I attended St. Paul's Catholic Church on Spring Street in Mount Pleasant. And now it is time for a confession. My mind drifted regularly from the message offered by the priest as I wondered about the future of the church. Though the church was quite full of parishioners, and the church itself very new and fancy, I couldn't help but notice that the vast majority of worshippers were quite old. Without an influx of new members, I wondered how they will survive. I suspect that St. Paul's is not the only church that will need to grapple with this problem.

But my sociological observations did not stop there. In addition to being quite old, the parishioners were all white. I understand that people tend to gather among those whom they are most comfortable with, so I am not in the least surprised by this. In my youth, I attended St. Joseph's Church, against my will. While I am quite far from being a religious scholar, I can safely state that racial segregation is probably not exactly what Jesus had in mind for his followers. So I am left wondering whether people are members of their churches for extra-religious reasons. I have no other explanation for the obvious racial segregation. If people joined churches entirely because of shared beliefs, then I suspect that we would see much less segregation. I hope Preachrboy will be willing to offer his views on this subject.

Next week. A Wiccan ritual sacrifice of a black cat. Stay tuned.


Wade said...

The membership of St. Lucy Catholic Church, which I attend here in Racine, is predominantly white, but not exclusively. Worldwide Roman Catholicism is a diverse religion in terms of race, and socio-economic status. The Roman Catholic faith is strong in Latin America and growing quickly in Africa as well. I attended Catholic mass on an active duty military base a few months ago and the attendees were diverse in terms of race, and status. Why are area churches not more diverse, well that is a good question? I could speculate, but I am too lazy to think that about it right now.

Denis Navratil said...

I suspect that there are many Hispanic Catholics in Racine. Do they have a seperate church?

Brenda said...

I believe Cristo Rey Parish is a Catholic church, although I am sure that Hispanics attend many different Catholic churches in the area.

Brenda said...

Maybe deciding what church to attend is based on your family's history.

If your great-great-grandmother was Catholic and settled on Romayne Avenue, chances are she probably attended St. John Nepomuk Catholic Church because it was within walking distance.

Now her children, and her children's children may attend this church simply because of the family traditions.

So our ancestors chose a church because of the proximity of the church; neighborhoods were often segregated back then. There were Italian neighborhoods, Armenian, German etc. Some today choose a church partly on the basis of how they were brought up.

Realizing this, it is easy to believe that churches are probably the most segregated institutions in America.

Now does that make it bad?

Denis Navratil said...

I don't know if the obvious segregation at churches is bad or not. It is clear that people gravitate towards people that they feel comfortable with. I don't think that that is bad. I just wonder whether the segregation is consistent with the religious teachings. My guess is no. However, I think context matters here. There is a world of difference between a church that naturally becomes segregated and one that is purposely segregated. I doubt that any local churches are intentionally seeking to discourage people of different backgrounds from becoming members. Rather, I think our churches simply reflect what is going on in society. On a related note, it sure seems like the forced desegragtion of schools is a losing battle.

eric said...

I must confess I'm a half breed, yes, half Protestant and half Catholic. At the time of my parent's marriage, the Catholic side wasn't allowed to attend the wedding inside the Methodist church. But this was progress, as my grandmother grew up not knowing her real father because he was Catholic and her mother was Protestant, and they were not permitted by their families to marry. These experiences in my family have made me leary of organized religion. I was raised mostly in the Methodist church, as a young adult spent time touring cathedrals and attending church at holidays only, and now as a middle aged adult with my own family we attend the Methodist church I grew up in, though not always enthusiastically. My wife is Japanese and grew up in a Shinto/Budhist tradition. We have settled into a Sunday School class at Trinity United Methodist that we both attend and enjoy - it's very diverse regarding age, sex, and political persuasion; of the about 15 regular attendeees, my wife and one African-American are the only non-whites. The class includes 2 retired ministers from non-Methodist denominations. It's a good bunch and we have great discussions.

My family however, does not attend the regular church service often - the traditional Methodist service doesn't connect well with my wife who grew up in a different tradition, our son might as well be a dog at the movies, and when we do attend our dauighter works in the nursery. When we do attend I also notice the graying of the congregation.

Why aren't congregations more integrated? For immigrant communities the church has often been the center of gravity for their community. It takes a few generations for them to disperse - learn a new language, new culture, let go of the old and embrace the new, etc. Many churchs we might view "white" contain descendents of groups that wouldn't have associated with each other three generations prior: Danes with Swedes, Scots with English, Irish with Italians and the list goes on. But just as in the greater community, the black church situation appears to be unique. Something which I think only a black person can explain is the very special and perhaps in some ways unique role the black churchs play in their community, and why there might be reluctance to integrate churches. I am told this situation exists but have never had it fully explained to me why it exists.

Something I've often thought is interesting is to look at is how people have behaved since they've been able to pick their churches, 'church choice' if you will. While you can point to the diverse culture of the US that faciliates a diversity of choices for whatever religion an individual may or may not choose to follow, it's really the automobile that ushered in total church choice - if your local church didn't work for you, try the same or a different denomination farther away, or, if your church building moved away, keep going there by driving. So with church choice for generations, what do we see now, and what implications does this have for the practice of school choice?

I think church tours are a great idea. I must admit prior to 9/11 I thought the greatest threats emanating from organized religion were off shoots from fundamentalist Christian churches (e.g., KKK, Timothy McVey, survivalists, etc). I have a stero-type of mega churches that is less than positive, and yet I've never attended one and the few people I know who do seem pretty nice folk. So visits to everything from Olympia Brown to Grace would probably benefit me (and maybe most of us).

There is hope today! You can find the descendents of Italians, Norweigians, Irish, Danes, English, Swedes, Germans, Scots, and quite a few others all worshipping together under the same rooves. And in my family, well several people who couldn't attend the original wedding will be here next summer for my parent's 50th Wedding Anniversary. We have the capacity to correct wrongs and make things better in this country, and though the progress may seem slow to us at the time, we deal with issues much faster than many other places.

Anonymous said...

This is a great debate..which leads into my own personal dilemma of what bothers me about christianity. Why when you see an image of Jesus Christ, he is white, blond hair and blue eyes? I'm definitely not a religious scholar either, but i do know that people with those characteristics and lineage dont come from north africa or the middle east where most everything in the bible occurs.

This also directly conflicts in the bible which states
" he had hair of wool, and feet of bronze"....

someone please shed some light...

Wade said...

Ninety five percent of the images of Jesus I have seen portray him with brown wavey hair, brown eyes and caucasian skin. I have seen images of Jesus with blonde hair and blue eyes, but they are few and far between. Anthropologically speaking Jesus probably looked much like every other Hewbrews of day, dark hair and eyes with olive skin.
Spreading the word of Jesus Christ is a goal of Christians, not spreading a historically correct image, so if someone portrays Jesus as a different race to help someone identify with Him it, really shouldn't matter. There probably are instances of people portraying Jesus as a "Nordic" man for racist purposes, but for the most part I don't believe this is the reason. Maybe artists just paint what they know, so if they are white they paint Jesus as white. This might shed some light on Denis' question, maybe people are just comfortable with what they are used to.
It is kind of weird that segregation occurs some places, but not others. For instance As Denis noted churches tend to break down by race, but in my experience, healthclubs don't. So other races like to exercise with each other, but not pray with each other. Weird.

Preachrboy said...


You ask whether people join churches for sociological, rather than religious reasons. Of course they do. But what is, and what should be are two different things.

I always advise finding a church first of all based on what it teaches. Then worry about the other factors which, while important, are secondary. Family ties, social relationships, music you like, a dynamic preacher, location, cultural diversity - all these are considerations. But they are not the main thing.

The main thing is the truth. And with so many religions and denominations out there, a logical person knows they can't all be right. So you may have some homework to do.

There are some big questions wrapped up in this. And they are not easy to answer. But that doesn't make them any less important.

Denis Navratil said...

Thank you Preachrboy for your comments. I agree that the main reason for joining a church would be for the teaching, and that other considerations should be secondary. And yes, the truth of those teachings is essential. And these are big and important questions. I have homework to do, as you say. Don't we all?

Kathy said...

I think that heritage may play a role in what religion/church someone may belong to. However, I agree with Preacherboy in that you should attend a church that matches your own beliefs. It is in the fellowship of sharing those beliefs that people tend to join a particular church. I don't think that there is anything wrong with that provided that there isn't an intent to keep any certain people out. If that were the case, I would not belong to such a church. Because a truly Christian church would not turn their back on any man. Christ himself did not behave in this manner. In fact, he asked forgiveness for the very people that were killing him. Thus I refuse to absorb anything in religion that deals with hate on any level. Do this, or you'll go to hell. Don't do that or you'll go to hell. Whatever. Its my job to live the most Godly life that I can live. The ten commandments are great rules to live by, and WWJD runs through my head constantly. I'm not perfect, but I do my best and that's all Christ asks of me.
In regard to Christ's race...I believe that he was black.
In regard to the Wiccan sacrifice of a black cat... a true Wiccan would never sacrifice a cat. Just as I believe in racial tolerance and acceptance. I think the same principles apply to religion.