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. Shimon Cleopas

    Here is the real reason why churches are segregated: pastors (including Benedict) are in fact preaching the Antichrist not the real Jesus Christ. The Antichrist divides and scatters. The real Jesus Christ gathers and unites.

    Only the small boy with the passover meal of Five Loaves can catch both fish (Antichrist and Jesus Christ whose symbol is FISH) with pinpoint accuracy to the relief of everyone without exception. http://www.twitter.com/ShimonCleopas regards.

    October 6, 2010 at 11:02 am |
    • TripleM

      You would love the LDS Church.

      October 6, 2010 at 11:12 am |
  2. Mike

    Actually this article is not entirely accurate. I know of 2 churches off the top of my head who are intentionallly multi cultural.

    October 6, 2010 at 11:01 am |
  3. Noorullah

    Prophet Muhammad(PBUH) was calling people to worship one God, the same God all the Prophets before him worshiped and believe in the message that he was conveying from God. The concept of God is the most important in any religion. The correct and the true concept of God, you can find only in Islam. Come to Islam and Come to Peace.

    October 6, 2010 at 10:58 am |
    • Bill

      Noorullah. You are incorrect. Jesus Christ came through the line of Isaac. Jesus is THE One and Only Son of God who came to the world to live as we live and to take the penalty of sin FOR us. We believe this and we are "saved." Jesus is the key to salvation.

      October 6, 2010 at 11:05 am |
    • TripleM

      @ Bill – Do you really think that you can accurately trace the lineage of a first century peasant faith-healer? I don't know who is selling you this bill of goods, but you and people like you are buying it. Religion is nonsense.

      October 6, 2010 at 11:15 am |
    • Phil

      First century peasant faith-healer? Lineage therein? I wasn't aware Abraham, Issac or even Muhammad existed in that time period. Enlighten us, my history, logistical reasoning, common sense and religious training erred me bigtime.

      October 6, 2010 at 11:23 am |
    • Bill

      TripleM. You don't have to. The linneage is spelled out precisely in the Bible. Much of it has also been proven by archaelogists. Not all, but much.

      October 6, 2010 at 11:35 am |
  4. Bill

    VASMIKEY. Not splitting hairs at all. You can be a part of any "religion" and not be considered a Christian. A Christian is a person that believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and has saved them from their sins. I know MANY MANY MANY people who attend churches of various religions who do NOT believe this and therefore are NOT Christians under that definition. Therefore, they are part of that particular "religious affiliation" but they are not "Christians." Make sense?

    October 6, 2010 at 10:58 am |
    • Vasmikey

      Oka doke. seen that too. I stand corrected.

      October 6, 2010 at 11:02 am |
  5. Loren

    Segregation is a deliberate act. Soledad O'Brien seems to be looking for racial divides in thsi country. She ought to be reporting on how we are bridging these divides.

    October 6, 2010 at 10:53 am |
  6. Andrew D


    October 6, 2010 at 10:53 am |
  7. JW

    You will not find this issue at a Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses.

    Come one, come all !!!!

    October 6, 2010 at 10:46 am |
    • TripleM

      Come one. Come all. And leave your brain in the car. Empty heads only. Intelligent people need not apply.

      October 6, 2010 at 11:17 am |
  8. Dave

    As a person attending a multicultural church in Memphis, I would say that this article almost gets it right, but it's not quite the entire story. The truth is, because of the racism of the past, very different worship environments have emerged in white and black churches. Over the years, the music, preaching styles, and even the theology have diverged so drastically that it's very difficult for people to connect across styles. Therefore, in order for churches to successfully integrate, they have to find a balance between the divergent styles and really have to FIGHT for diversity. It's not easy. In fact, it's incredibly hard. It absolutely takes an intentional commitment to diversity, because it's not something that comes naturally. But it's absolutely vital to the Gospel that we seek racial reconciliation in our churches. Ultimately, a divided church does not reflect the Gospel we've been given.

    October 6, 2010 at 10:45 am |
  9. Noorullah

    Friday noon is the most united hour of Muslim America. Come to Islam and Come to Peace. Come to the religion of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (Peace be on all of them). Nothing can unite people except the true belief, belief in the oneness of God.

    October 6, 2010 at 10:44 am |
    • Bill

      Is He not the God of Isaac as well? I believe it says "the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Doesn't say anything about Muhammed

      October 6, 2010 at 10:47 am |
    • Phil

      If only history could prove you right, Noorullah, then all of mankind would be with you Fridays at noon.. and you don't have to go too far back in time to see how sadly wrong you are.

      October 6, 2010 at 10:58 am |
    • Vasmikey

      Mohammad came through Abraham's other son Ismael by Hagar. So yes, Islam is a descendant of Abraham. The seed of Christ however is through Isaac. Rom 9:6-9

      October 6, 2010 at 10:58 am |
  10. Clamo

    Religion is an individual choice and if people are happier among their own kind (socially, culturally, etc.) or as the article says "people who look like them", so be it. I guess we could always have the government mandate integration?

    October 6, 2010 at 10:43 am |
  11. Sparky

    So? Folks go to whichever Church makes em feel comfortable. Who cares?

    October 6, 2010 at 10:40 am |
  12. Rick McDaniel

    Interesting, isn't it? The black community, prefers segregation in church.

    October 6, 2010 at 10:37 am |
  13. Vasmikey

    Act 10:34 comes into focus with this issue. People tend to gravitate toward a geographical or racial connection with their beliefs. If Christ has been resurrected, he is no longer a person of racial decent but is a spirit. Secondly, Jesus was born in Palestine, but is Christianity considered a Palestinian religion. I don't think so.

    October 6, 2010 at 10:36 am |
    • Bill

      "Christianity" isn't a religion. It's a belief. It's a way of life. Catholicism, protestant, baptist, etc. THOSE are religions.

      October 6, 2010 at 10:44 am |
    • Vasmikey

      Splitting hairs Bill? Ok, so all those religions are BASED on Christianity. Question: How many Christian religions were there in the first century just following Pentecost of 33 C.E.? you may want to read Eph 4:5

      October 6, 2010 at 10:51 am |
  14. Anonymous

    I have to wonder if location of the church was taken into account. You're not going to find an equally diverse congregation in a community that's composed of 80% one ethnicity 20% another.

    October 6, 2010 at 10:33 am |
  15. Noorullah

    We stand in rows, shoulders touching each other, Glorifying God, bowing down, prostrating in unision. People of all colors, races, ethnicities, languages and financial background worship as one to the one and only one God, God of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (Peace be upon them all). Come to Islam and Come to peace.

    October 6, 2010 at 10:30 am |
  16. jd

    Reality, In my opnion, from your comments it seems that you have too much hatred for Islam and Muslims. Open your heart and mind and try to get to know Islam. I can put up a big list of attrocities committed by people of all other religions and are being committed as I type this comment but I don't blame their religion for it. The post is about diversity in religion, soften your heart and visit a Mosque.

    October 6, 2010 at 10:30 am |
    • Reality


      What about the male, female segregation in mosques? Strange how Islamics never address their koranic-driven problems but are quick to point out the problems of others!!

      With respect to opening one's heart to others, we present for your benefit, the Five Steps to Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic Brainwashing:

      o Using "The 77 Branches of Islamic "faith" a collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the essential virtues that reflect true "faith" (iman) through related Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings." i.e. a nice summary of the Koran and Islamic beliefs.

      "1. Belief in Allah"

      aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah, Mother Nature, etc. should be added to your cleansing neurons.

      "2. To believe that everything other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and subsequently they came into existence."

      Evolution and the Big Bang or the "Gi-b G-nab" (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible and the "akas" for Allah should be included if you continue to be a "crea-tionist".

      "3. To believe in the existence of angels."

      A major item for neuron cleansing. Angels/de-vils are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g. Hitt-ites, to explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big birds, sudden winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No "pretty/ug-ly wingy thingies" ever visited or talked to Mohammed, Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as f–airies and "tin–ker be-lls". Modern de-vils are classified as the de-mons of the de-mented.

      "4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore."

      Another major item to delete. There are no books written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as there are no angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc. are simply books written by humans for humans.

      Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the un-educated masses in line. Today we call them for-tune tellers.

      Prophecies are also invali-dated by the natural/God/Allah gifts of Free Will and Future.

      "5. To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him)

      Mohammed spent thirty days "fasting" (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave attended to by his wives before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a "pretty wingy thingy". Common sense demands a neuron deletion of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic vi-olence i.e. turning Mohammed's "fast, hunger-driven" hallu-cinations into horrible reality for unbelievers.

      Accept these five "cleansers" and we guarantee a complete recovery from your Islamic ways!!!! Unfortunately if you do, the koran teaches that you should be liquidated as an apostate. Such a "peaceful" religion is Islam!!!

      October 6, 2010 at 2:23 pm |
  17. Bill

    You have to remember that its not the "race" that separates the sunday morning (or saturday) church services. Its the "style" of the service. Some enjoy black gosepl music. Some like contemporary Christian pop music. Some like old hymns and choruses, some like a yelling pastor, some like a calm, cool, collective pastor. Some enjoy dressing up, some like to dress down. Some like to dance in service and some like to stand or sit silently. Our diversity and freedom across America is what segregates us on Sunday mornings. The fact that blacks enjoy a style of worship and sermon that whites don't enjoy and vice versa. The fact that Koreans go to a church where speaking in korean is expected. The fact that Jewish people go to synagogue where there are other Jewish people. These are all the reasons we are segregated on Sunday mornings. Religions don't segregate. In fact, they do what they can to reach out to other races. The families just want to go where people look and act like them. They want to be where they feel most comfortable; and, for the most part, that is typically with people of the same race.

    October 6, 2010 at 10:30 am |
  18. Andrew D

    what a sad state of understanding of the truth of god , eye's that can't see ear's that don't hear. what a sad lot you are, your the lie to what the truth offers the truth being god the lie being the creature you serve, good luck with that , you fowl creatures who distort the truth in the hope of drawing away those who seek the way. May you reep all that you choose to sow, abundently.

    October 6, 2010 at 10:29 am |
  19. Tammy Downs for WalGreens Hallmark-ATL

    To all of you on here – you won't dare say this to my FACE!

    October 6, 2010 at 10:29 am |
  20. Keith

    Most bars are just as segregated. Doesn't make them racist.

    October 6, 2010 at 10:27 am |
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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.