Northwest Washington ELCA Lutheran churches recently received from our regional office a statistical study that describes neighborhoods by racial representation. Included in this study is a profile of Lutheran churches within those zip codes according to racial distribution.
The percentage of people of color within our Lakeridge Lutheran neighborhood—the 98178 zip code—is higher than any other neighborhood in the survey: 68.94%. The percentage of people of color within our congregation is far lower than this figure but nevertheless one of the highest among the ~100 congregations of the Northwest Washington Synod: 22.64%. What the survey doesn’t indicate is that on some Sundays this figure has been as high as 50%.
Yet another figure is more striking: Although Lutherans of color worldwide comprise a clear majority, our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America after nearly thirty years remains 96% white.
Why should such statistics matter? Isn’t everyone welcome? Well, frankly–no! Although countless congregations of many denominations earnestly insist that “All Are Welcome,” nowhere has this ever been completely true. In practice, what many churches mean is, “All Are Welcome…to Become Like Us.”
It is not simply music, facility design, pattern of worship or even “friendliness” that determine who feels welcome in a congregation. It is “radical hospitality”–including our public response to local, national, and international poverty and injustice–that signal who we are and what we believe. Do we align ourselves with power and privilege, with the self-interested values of race, class and national identity? Or, do we study and aspire to mirror the example of Jesus, who taught that the true nature of our religious faith is reflected by the extent to which we recognize the face of Christ in the most vulnerable members of our society?
Diversity merely for its own sake is not a Christian goal. Instead, diversity in all its forms is an affirmation of the rich soil in which God has planted us. At our best, we the Church are a glimpse of God’s “Kin-dom,” welcoming and offering hope to neighbors hungry for authentic flesh-and-blood signs of God’s unconditional love!
–Pr. Scott Kramer