Self-Segregation?

I still find it troubling that so many within the conservative evangelical movement do not realize how offensively unbiblical they can be. Take, for example, this blog entry by theologian P. Andrew Sandlin, which argues that self-segregation ought to be a normative experience of the church, intended by God to be that way. That is, people tend to want to be around people who are similar rather than different.

Sandlin is, of course, correct that this is a tendency of man. The question is whether this is a result of creation or of the fall. If it is of creation, as Sandlin would like, it would mean that God intended for white people to mostly hang out with white people, black people with black people, and so on. If it is of the fall, on the other hand, then it is a pattern of brokenness and childhood immaturity we are required to overcome.

The evidences offered by Sandlin in support of his position is entirely scant. In the first paragraph he offers a strikingly bizarre claim that this is a creation pattern because God made Adam and Eve similarly, with only “minor” differences. I really don’t know what to say to this, except that it is silly. Men and women are fundamentally different all the way down, as anybody who has interacted with the opposite sex for any length of time can tell you. Marriage and the created order is based upon fundamental difference, not similarity. This is because marriage and human relationships mirror the Trinitarian relationship, which is built on the love of other, not of same. It is a fairly substantial category mistake to invert this.

In the NT, the only boundary line within the church is between believer and non-believer (2 Cor. 6:14-18). But the whole point of the Church is to make everyone within that circle, black and white, rich and poor, slave and free, male and female to be one in Christ (Gal. 3:23). That is, our primary similarity is our unity in and union with Christ. Which lends itself to exposing the core of the problem. This means that we should feel there is more in common between Republican and Democratic Christians than with secular Republicans and Democrats. It means that the rich Christian and poor Christian have more in common than with those of their own financial bracket. It means that male Christians and female Christians have more in common with one another than with non-believing members of their own sex. It means that I have more in common with my Middle Eastern, South American, African, and Asian brothers and sisters than I do with secular Americans in my own country. It means that the only border within the Church is the border of baptism.

It means that self-segregated churches, whether segregated along racial, financial, sexual, or cultural lines are seriously out of line and seriously unhealthy. It means that they are holding something else, a comfort zone they cherish, as having a greater identity on them than the gospel. This is not stuff to be sneered at. Paul berated Peter for his exclusion of the Gentiles and said the very heart of the gospel was at stake.

This is a challenge, because nobody (least of all I) wants to leave their comfort zone. Nobody wants to hang out with the unfamiliar, the unaccustomed, the different. It’s natural. As natural as any other sin. But as with any other sin (and here I am speaking for myself as much as anyone else) it means going out of our way to break out of our comfort zone, reaching across to those who at first glance appear different. But the thing about any situation is that eventually the unfamiliar becomes familiar and the strange becomes normal. And that is the call of the gospel. That is the way of the cross.

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3 thoughts on “Self-Segregation?

  1. When I first read Sandlin’s blog my response was honest disbelief, followed by sheer horror, followed by a good bit of anger. After I cooled down, I decided to private message him and ask a couple questions. Sadly, it didn’t spark any kind of helpful response. My term paper for Christian Ethics at Covenant Seminary was on the unethical nature of segregation in the church. His position is inconsistent at best. Thanks for your response.

  2. My response was about the same as well. I read it and thought I couldn’t have possibly understood him correctly. Two more readings and the result was the same. I wasn’t going to write anything about it and let it flow under the bridge, but it kept eating at me, so I figured I’d write something up, Glad it was helpful.

  3. Thanks for writing this, Adam. Yes and Amen! I engaged Andrew about some of this stuff in the facebook thread. But, I don’t think Andrew explained at all how he can see this as a creation order. That blows my mind. It makes no sense.
    I didn’t go too much into this with him though. We are in the process of a transracial adoption. So, I am more shocked and angered by what he is saying now, than I may have been in years past.
    This natural inclination of mankind is against the unity of the body of Christ. It is plain wrong.
    (Some of the churches he noted that are racially divided are probably due to language. That is a totally different issue.)
    Anyway. Great post!

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