The Reconciliation Continuum

In his book, Separate No More: Understanding and Developing Racial Reconciliation in Your Church, Norman Anthony Peart discusses how individual churches choose one of five different models pertaining to dealing with ethnicity in their congregation. The “reconciliation continuum” as he calls it is made up of five possible models: segregation, differentiation, intentional but irrational and “inHIMtegration.” The following is a summary of each.

These churches, which are not nearly as common as in the past, believe separation is a God-ordained state. They existed primarily in the Antebellum South, though they have not been confined to a certain era or location. Many churches that still follow this model do so out of a recognition of their history, despite it’s racist roots.

Churches that follow a differentiation model do not attempt to attract people outside of their particular ethnic group. This is often for fear of losing the churches cultural flavor. Some examples of churches that follow this model are some African-American churches and many non-English speaking churches. When outside groups are viewed with contempt these churches fall into the segregation model.

Peart writes that the assimilation model is the most common model for those seeking racial reconciliation. These churches are welcoming to people of other races, and may even have some staff members of other ethnic groups. The culture of the dominanty ethnic group remains the culture of the church, however. Despite their openness to people who are unlike the majority group, the majority group sees itself as the standard, to which minority groups need to adapt. The culture of the majority ethnic group is the default culture and little to no effort is made to change musical style or to be sensitive that the new ethnic group is represented in Sunday school material. Though this model sees the value in diversity, it does not allow for all parties to come as to the table equals and share power.

Intentional but Irrational
The intentional but irrational model stresses unity to a fault. Though it has made a real effort toward reconciliation, the desire for unity and not rocking the boat has allowed for unresolved problems to live beneath the surface of this congregation. By stressing how we are all “one in Christ” and “not of this world” these churches often miss the point that we all bring our own racial baggage to church, which needs to be dealt with in an honest but loving way. In short, because it does not recognize our racialized views, it does not allow Christ to heal them. This model seeks to make the church reconciled, rather than walk in the truth that the church already is reconciled. Peart argues that churches that follow this model often split into two separate ethnic congregations because they do not deal with racial problems, but ignore them for the sake of unity.

Despite the corny name (which Peart coined), he argues that this model is the most biblically accurate. It starts with the premise that those in Christ are already one, but must not live lives of divisiveness. This model intentionally chooses to accept, mix and represent racial differences. Rather than allowing the dominant culture to rule, like assimilation, or to de-emphasize racial differences, like intentional but irrational, this model accepts differences as a reality, but knows that togetherness in Christ is a greater reality. Intentional efforts are made to address ethnic divisions so that true healing can take place.

Peart argues that InHIMtegration, which is the best model, can be achieved through at least four different approaches.

  1. An established church can reach out in order to have other ethnic groups join and actively participate by sharing power.
  2. A church can be started with the mission of becoming a multiethnic congregation.
  3. Two or more churches homogenous churches can merge to create on multicultural church.
  4. A homogenous church can start different ethnic congregations within its existing church structure with a goal to bring all of the congregations together as one. However, he argues that this is the most difficult and has the potential for a “landlord” relationship.
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