Monday, October 29, 2018

Ethnic churches

From time to time I still run across complaints about racially homogenous churches. For instance, David Platt lamented that in his MLK 50 sermon. Platt's a humble lovable guy, but he's off-the-mark here. There are different reasons ethnic churches exist:

1. The black church has its own musical style and preaching style. A traditional Presbyterian service just isn't appealing.

2. Some ethnic churches are immigrant churches. They are conducted in the native language of the immigrants. That dovetails with immigrant communities.

3. Historically, many immigrants to American assimilate to some degree. The kids and grandkids may lose the language of the immigrant generation. 

One conspicuous exception is Latinos. The population of Latin America is about double the population of the USA. The SE and SW is to an increasing degree an extension of Latin America. As such, Latino-Americans don't need to shed their language to succeed. They can function and thrive in huge Spanish-language enclaves. Unlike some immigrant churches, Spanish-speaking churches aren't going anywhere. They're not transitional. They are here to stay. Indeed, the phenomenon will expand.

It's an interesting question whether some other ethnic enclaves like Korean-Americans and Chinese Americans may take a cue from the Latinos and maintain their native languages. 

4. Churches tend to be racially homogenous because congregations are composed of families and families tend to be racially homogenous. People-groups are apt to marry within their own race. There are exceptions, and that's more common in certain areas, but in general, people prefer to marry members of their own race or ethnicity. That's a descriptive observation, not a normative statement. 

I have no problem with interracial marriage. But as a rule, that's not how mate-selection works. It's a sociologically interesting question why that is. But so long as that's the case, a side-effect is lots of racially homogenous churches. 

Historically, some big city churches were more ethnically diverse, Take the Catholic church in NYC. But many big-city Catholic parishes are shuttered.

5. One fascinating development has been a dramatic change in the racial composition of Redeemer Church:

The multi-ethnic trajectory was harder to see in the early years. Today, Redeemer is about 45 percent Asian, second- or third-generation immigrants whose parents belonged to a wave of Koreans and Chinese landing in the city in the late 1980s and starting their own churches.


  1. Redeemer NYC has for some time been predominately white and Asian. Few blacks or Hispanics or Middle Easterners.

    That reflects, to an extent, Redeemer's niche. The demographic she aims for. And it matches the demographic other PCA churches aim for. It isn't necessarily a bad thing. Given Redeemer men's tendency to complain about "white evangelicals" being insensitive to ethnic minorities and the poor, Redeemer's lack of black and brown faces is ironic.

    1. I'm guessing one reason for that is because Redeemer largely ministers in Lower Manhattan, the UWS, the UES. Lots of crazy rich whites and crazy rich Asians in these areas. Some of the most affluent areas in NYC's already most affluent borough. (By the way, that's quite a feat for Redeemer to do considering how difficult it is for conservative evangelicals to break into these areas.)

      If they haven't already, I think Redeemer could expand into places Harlem, especially East Harlem, and the Bronx if they want to see more black and brown demographics.

    2. Yes, there may be a rhetorical tension. Substantively, race and social class can overlap. White and Asian urban elites.

    3. Economic demographics can parallel church demographics. In this case, urban professionals. I suppose it depends in part on whether people live and work in the same general area, rather than commuting from a suburb or exurb to downtown.

    4. Perhaps I'm mistaken since I'm not a native:

      1. On the one hand, it seems to me NYC has historically been racially/ethnically segregated by choice. Lots of racial/ethnic ingroups which are hard to break into if one is in a racial/ethnic outgroup. And lots of racial/ethnic groups which tend to resegregate themselves.

      On the other hand, there seem to be some significant exceptions. It seems to me whites, Jews, and Asians predominate in gifted and talented programs in primary and secondary education. Unsurprisingly, many whites, Jews, and Asians spend lots of time together in school, go on to similar colleges and universities, find similar lines of work. As such, many form friendships and other relationships across racial/ethnic lines based on similar educational and economic achievements.

      2. I've read the average age at Redeemer is mid-30s, singles make up the majority still, and most work in banking/finance, law, healthcare, and education. If so, then presumably many or most can afford to live in Lower Manhattan or nearby. Such as affluent neighborhoods like those in Brooklyn which seem to be rapidly gentrifying (e.g. Williamsburg, Dumbo). I think the Kellers live on Roosevelt Island though. To be fair, I know some Asians work in the city but live much farther out in Flushing, Queens, Jews in Brooklyn, etc.

      3. I guess you'd have to go to well past Upper Manhattan and into the Bronx or deeper into Brooklyn (e.g. Bushwick, Flatbush) to see majority black and brown.

    5. Of course, if Redeemer wants to reach Hispanics, then perhaps they could consider opening a bodega or two (and don't forget the cat). ;)