Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Lessons For The Segregated Church

Written by: on May 25, 2017


In The Rise and Fall of Apartheid, professor David Welsh describes the social system of racial segregation that the National Party established in South Africa from 1948-1994. Walsh divides the Apartheid in three chronological stages in which several laws were established in order to ensure white supremacy in the midst of a multiethnic society. These regulations had three main goals: (1) to maintain the purity of the white race by eliminating miscegenation between whites and non-whites, (2) to keep the non-white population in separate communities, (3) and to encourage mutual respect among the racial groups.[1]  This system of segregation led the nation into a down spiral of social unrest and thousands of deaths, which culminated with the fall of Apartheid in 1994. Both, president F. W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela played a significant role in this transition. They negotiated through difficult times, having to overcome the fears of retribution and embracing forgiveness, which eventually saved the nation from collapse. This transition was unique in modern history, because it was not simply a political reform or a revolution, but it was a unique mix of both, which many call a “refolution.”


I did not grow up in a racialized society, so reading about the Apartheid and studying the parallels with American history are a foreign concept for me. When I moved to Dallas one of my dreams was to attend an African American church. I started attending the church led by Pastor Tony Evans and sang in the choir. It was a dream come true. I eventually met my wife in seminary. Sara was a Caucasian missionary who had been born and raised in Thailand. Thus, our family life became ethnically and culturally diverse from the beginning. Two years later I became the pastor of Ethnos Bible Church, an English-speaking congregation that was predominantly Caucasian with some ethnic diversity. With time, that diversity increased, which led me to start researching the components of a healthy multiethnic church. Until that point, I thought that segregation was an obsolete mindset that no longer shaped American culture. To my surprise, my doctoral research has opened my eyes to a world of segregation that I did not know existed, in a similar way as to what Debbie Irving recounts in her book Waking Up White.

Reading Walsh was an intriguing experience, because I found several parallels with the ecclesial response to ethnic diversity found in my research. Like Apartheid, many churches are driven by a mindset about race relations that fall under the category of what Martin Percy would call implicit theology. They believe in inclusion, but they practice exclusion.

Prime Minister Verwoerd, the mastermind behind Apartheid, described his system as “gradual separation development.” The idea was that we can develop a better society if we remain separated by ethnicity. In church ministry, this mindset is called the HUP principle. Donald McGavran and Peter Wagner argued that we can grow faster if we keep churches homogenous. Thus, today we have Hispanic churches, Korean Churches, Asian-American churches, Black churches, and White churches. For those growing up in a segregated church system, having segregated congregations seems normal—even biblical. But for those new to church life, the segregation of the church is disturbing. Former NFL player Derwin Gray was introduced to the church as an adult, and he observes, “If the government, higher education, and corporations such as Google or Apple were as segregated as the church in America, there would be a huge public outcry.”[2]

After the Apartheid ended, the government established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a system to help communities heal the wounds of racism. They did not naively say, “Just get over it; the past is in the past.” Rather, people understood that validation was the first step to overcome segregation. In a similar way, when Dr. Rodney Woo began transitioning a church from being monoethnic to multiethnic, he discovered that a big obstacle in this transformation was the tendency to overlook and minimize the sin of racism. He led his church through a process of theological reflection that culminated in forgiving and being forgiven. After a decade of a sacrificial ministry, he concluded, “There is no more powerful expression of reconciliation than different races worshiping the same God at the same time in the same place.”[3]

We live in unprecedented times of demographic change in American history with a global economy that is shaping our cities with increasing ethnic diversity. While some may look at these changes with fear and concern, I want to look at them as an opportunity for Kingdom Impact. I want for Ethnos Bible Church to celebrate diversity in the unity of the Spirit, free from fear and from segregation. In this regard, the church has a lot to learn from Apartheid. We do not become stronger when we remain segregated; rather, our faith shines brighter when we embrace diversity. In the words of Derwin Gray, “The bride of Christ is called to be beautiful. And her beauty, which is the mystery of Christ, is to be displayed in high definition when a mosaic of multicolored, multiclass, multigenerational people learn to love each other as God so loved them. That’s what America and the world need.”[4]  And that is the lesson that the segregated church needs to learn.

[1] David Welsh, The Rise and Fall of Apartheid, 21.

[2] Derwin Gray, The HD Leader, 49.

[3] Rodney Woo, The Color of Church, 77.

[4] Gray, 199.

About the Author

Pablo Morales

Pablo Morales serves as the Lead Pastor of Ethnos Bible Church in Texas. He is currently pursuing the Doctor of Ministry degree in Leadership and Global Perspectives at Portland Seminary in order to understand what it takes to develop a healthy multiethnic church.

4 responses to “Lessons For The Segregated Church”

  1. Marc Andresen says:


    If you were developing Ethnos Bible Church in South Africa today, and a national leader objected to this, what might you say to convince him/her that the church is in the best interest of South Africa?

  2. Claire Appiah says:

    I found your blog to be very enlightening in revealing some of the essential themes of the book that I missed. Thank you.

    Marlin Luther King said something to the effect that Sunday mornings are the most segregated day of the week in America. I believe that ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity have contributed to America being a beautiful, unique and colorful mosaic. Even, despite the gross injustices, inequalities, prejudices, and discriminatory practices that have existed since its inception.

    I also grew up in an environment that was diversified—culturally, nationally, ethnically, religiously and racially; and I am very comfortable in these kinds of situations. From my observation, when churches talk about embracing inclusivity in congregations, they mean that they are not partial to those who do not look like them from participating in their worshiping community. It usually does NOT mean that they have any desire or interest in being included in or worshiping with a congregation of persons who are not like them. I understand that all denominations and church groups have an intrinsic culture that people gravitate to and resonate with. But, as Christ followers why is it so difficult for so many to get pass church culture and focus on fellowshipping with true worshipers of Christ in all demographics?

  3. Rose Anding says:

    Thanks Pablo,
    It great to know that you want “Ethnos Bible Church to celebrate diversity in the unity of the Spirit, free from fear and from segregation. In this regard, the church has a lot to learn from Apartheid”. Where and how should your church start the process?
    Thanks for sharing about your church and experience!

    Thanks Rose Maria

  4. Phil Goldsberry says:

    Great post with some keen insights. As a “practitioner” and “voice” to the Body of Christ, what are 2 principles that will keep the church from going down the slippery slope of “racism”, not matter how it presents itself?


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