October 6th, 2010
07:29 AM ET

Why Sunday morning remains America's most segregated hour

“Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of Christian America.”

That declaration, which has been attributed to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., used to startle listeners. Now it’s virtually become a cliché. For years, various academic studies and news articles have reported what many churchgoers already know: most American congregations are segregated.

In the latest issue of the academic journal Sociological Inquiry, two professors dug deeper into why Sundays remain so segregated.

The article, “Race, Diversity, and Membership Duration in Religious Congregations,’ said that nine out of ten congregations in the U.S. are segregated - a single racial groups accounts for more than 80 percent of their membership.

Kevin Dougherty , a sociology professor at Baylor University in Texas, and a co-author of the article, says churches haven't kept pace with other institutions.

Socially, we’ve become much more integrated in schools, the military and businesses. But in the places where we worship, segregation still seems to be the norm.

Attracting members of another race isn’t good enough, Dougherty says. Most congregations that draw racial minorities can’t keep them.

It’s not just an issue of attraction, of getting them into the door, but of retention.  Can we keep them? Our research indicates that we’ve not been able to.

Calling a church segregated may make some people uncomfortable because it implies that its members are racist. But many contemporary churches that are dominated by one racial group weren’t formed by racial animosity, Dougherty says.

Parishioners’ prefer to go to church with people who look like them, Dougherty says.

People choose churches where they feel comfortable. Maybe they get challenges there, but they’re going for the comfort.”

The first Christian church was known for its diversity. Jews, Gentiles, and Greeks mingled alongside women and slaves. Biblical scholars have long maintained that the early church’s diversity was one of the reasons it became so popular. Roman society was characterized by rigid ethnic and class divisions.

That was then, though.

How important is it for the  church to strive for that kind of ethnic diversity today - particularly since it seems many people don’t want it, according to the article?

Can American churches remain separate but equal?

Editor's Note: CNN's Soledad O'Brien looks at how some are fighting debt from the pulpit in "Almighty Debt: A Black in America Special," premiering October 21 at 8 p.m. ET.

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Church • Houses of worship • Race

soundoff (374 Responses)
  1. key west hotels,portland hotels,newport beach hotels,

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    September 12, 2012 at 4:00 am |
  2. The Beagle

    Do segregation and slavery have roots in the Bible? I invite you to join the discussion at


    I'm a lapsed evangelical, but I especially welcome the comments of evangelical Christians.

    September 10, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
    • Edgar

      Both can be observed in the Bible, but the message of Christ becomes becomes the driving force for the abolition of slavery and segregation. The historical dividing line between Jews and Gentiles was the target of Jesus' message. The new testament church was born as a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic community that spread rapidly from it's birthplace to the ends of the earth. "There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus." Galatians 3:28

      October 29, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
  3. Carla

    @Lori Note what the scripture reads:

    Revelation 7:1-4 states: "After these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree. And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel."

    I was wondering, which one of the 12 tribes of Judah are you from?

    February 28, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
  4. Allen

    Obviously this article is mathematically challenged. African Americans are 12% of the US population. Even if every black person went to church and mingled in every church in America, someone would still cry foul.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
  5. MashaSobaka

    I prefer coffee and tea with friends on a Sunday morning. You learn a lot more about yourself and about the world than you do listening to some holy man condemn the gays or the Muslims or the Jews or the unwed women or the stay-at-home dads or the blacks or the Mexicans or the Catholics or the Evangelicals or whatever-the-hell-else. Or, for that matter, listening to some holy man mindlessly recite scripture while you sit there with your head bowed. I prefer the real world. If the gods have a problem with me interacting with the world that they supposedly made, then they can pull the lever and send me to Hell when I’m finally dead. I’ll gladly take an eternity of suffering over five minutes in Paradise with the sort of people I’ve seen in many churches.

    October 23, 2010 at 7:40 pm |
    • JB Cal

      Be careful what you wish for.

      February 28, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
  6. jiba

    while asleep

    October 21, 2010 at 2:44 pm |
  7. jiba

    To Raj: You seem to be talking while as asleep. Whats your point?

    October 21, 2010 at 2:42 pm |
  8. Tammy Downs

    all you all on here are stupid and I will fight anyone

    October 15, 2010 at 9:46 am |
  9. Chris Nel

    and lest you lift up your eyes to the heavens, and shall see the sun, and the moon, and the stars – all the host of the heavens – and you be drawn away into bowing down to them and serving them, which יהוה Elohim has allotted to all the peoples under all the heavens. “But יהוה has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Mitsrayim, to be His people, an inheritance, as it is today.
    [Deuteronomy 4:19-20 The Scriptures 1998+]


    And He answering, said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Yisra’El.”
    [Matthew 15:24 The Scriptures 1998+]


    And יהוה scattered them from there, over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.
    [Genesis 11:8 The Scriptures 1998+]


    “And do not intermarry with them – you do not give your daughter to his son, and you do not take his daughter for your son,
    [Deuteronomy 7:3 The Scriptures 1998+]


    “And as you saw iron mixed with muddy clay, they are mixing themselves with the seed of men, but they are not clinging to each other, even as iron does not mix with clay. “And in the days of these sovereigns the Elah of the heavens shall set up a reign which shall never be destroyed, nor the reign pass on to other people – it crushes and puts to an end all these reigns, and it shall stand forever1. Footnote: 1Dan. 7, Ps. 22:28, Jer. 30:11, Joel 3:16, Obad. 15-17, Hab. 3:12-13, Zeph. 3:8, Hag. 2:22, Rev. 11:15.
    [Daniel 2:43-44 The Scriptures 1998+]

    October 13, 2010 at 3:55 am |
  10. Retired prof. of Theology, Dr. Hycel B. Taylor ll

    The unasked queston is, What has God got to do with it? The sociology of racial segregation in religion is an expression and manifestation of theology of separation (sin) of the church. The essential theology of true religion is belief in one God who is one. The goal and purpose of religion is to reconcile to oneness. Church has become an end in itself rather than a means to that end. It can be changed.

    October 11, 2010 at 8:59 am |
  11. seki

    I really hate the fact that studies such as these limit the scope of places of worship studied. I am an African American who attend a buddhist zendo. The attendance at the zendo is 99.9% white. I chose to attend the zendo to deepen my faith. Would l like other African American's to attend where I practice, yes. Yet, I cannot lead a horse to water-those who are African American intermittent members and those who are looking for a place to practice. I have to go to be closer to the buddha, celebrate with the sangha and deepen my understanding of the dharma. If that makes me out of place, so be it.

    October 8, 2010 at 10:46 am |
  12. Noorullah

    Glen, You still didnt answer my question. Did Jesus(Peace Be upon Him) himself say in Bible that "I am God, Worship me"? I urge you to look into the correct message given by Jesus (PBUH) that he said to Worship One God, in your Bible. The concept of atonement of sins by beleiving Jesus died for One's sins was developed later to justify the crucifixion which many christians believe it happened. The truth, is the True God, God of Jesus, had lifted him up the heavens before this incident happened. God says in the Quran that it seemed so (that Jesus was crucified) to them and most of them were in doubt (whoever witnessed the crucifixion). If Jesus (PBUH) was God, then why did he say "Eli Eli Lama Sabachtane" (God, God, Why have thou forsaken me) on the cross? Who did he protrate to if he was God? I am not arguing for the sake of it but to convey to you the truth because i have concern for you. Please see this to know the truth: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHK6VT-LTEs&feature=related

    October 7, 2010 at 10:58 am |
  13. American

    I have always wanted to attend the all-black church that is just down the road from my parents' house. I am afraid of what people would think if a white person showed up to their service, and I'm afraid I might feel uncomfortable standing up and singing gospel music in church, but I should go anyway. I am sure Ruby Bridges was scared of what the other kids would think when she walked into that newly integrated school.

    October 6, 2010 at 10:31 pm |
  14. Happyfrenchman

    Christianity is a great success as religions go, because you can essentially ignore it's main tenets, and still be a member in good standing. (until you are outed anyway). It has been developed as a segregating tool since before the days of slavery. They gave the slaves nothing but the bible. But they sure enough did not let them in the white church. So the black church developed in it's own vein.

    But straight up christianity is the religion of the "Massa". Christianity has held down minorities for eons. Dirt poor hispanics, they may have nothing, but they have Jesus. And he conveniently teaches that the meek shall inherit the earth, that the reward for humility and suffering, is in the next life.

    Christianity was the driving philosophy behind the holocaust. The idea that the Jews killed Christ was as old as the New Testament. It is nothing more than a tool to maintain the status quo. Because they know that sheep tend to flock together with other sheep of their own kind.

    October 6, 2010 at 8:26 pm |
    • amber

      Don't misunderstand Christianity from then till now. Many use the bible as power and what they will find out is that you shouldn't overstep you boundaries. Yes slave captors believed it was " God's will" to have slaves but they are all wrong. I encourage anyone to read the bible and see for themselves rather than others, what's it's all about. I can't express enough how things will be soon before it's too late. I just want people to see the difference in those who actually are followers of Christ and those who are manipulating others to believe thing that aren't actually stated in the bible at all. Those who are last, shall be first. Read for yourself and try to figure out the bible. You have my word that it will not disappoint once you have pieced things together.

      October 21, 2010 at 7:50 pm |
  15. Dan Bogdan

    We worship where we feel community and closest to God. It is not a race thing, it is a Jesus thing. Let's LEAN IN to Him.

    October 6, 2010 at 5:27 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.