The “browning of America” is underway. Wherever you live — East Coast, West Coast, or somewhere in the middle — white America, expressed as a percentage of the population, is shrinking.
In 1990, non-Hispanic whites made up 74.5 percent of the population. By 2010, that number was down to 64 percent. Today, there are 50 million Hispanic- and Latino-Americans, making up 16.3 percent of the population. African-Americans constitute 12.6 percent, while Asian-Americans make up 4.8 percent of the population.
If these trends continue, Americans of European descent will be in the minority by 2035. For those under 18, this flip may come sooner — in less than five years, according to geospatial think tank Esri. In 2010 there were 110 metropolitan statistical areas where children of color were already in the majority.
Although the PCA doesn’t collect ethnic data, it’s safe to assume that the denomination’s demographics don’t reflect the wider population. Which is why, in January, the Cooperative Ministries Committee decided that diversity is one of five key issues facing the PCA.
Not Set Up to Receive the Harvest
Aaron Layton, director of diversity for Westminster Christian Academy in St. Louis, will lead a seminar at General Assembly titled “The Coming Harvest: People of Color and the PCA.”
Layton was born in North St. Louis, a predominantly black neighborhood, but soon moved to a white suburb. “I felt like I grew up in two different worlds,” he says. While a Covenant Seminary student, Layton was often targeted for conversations about race and particularly about how the PCA could become more diverse.
“Many of the churches in the PCA have the heart,” Layton believes. “They want to reach out and put resources behind [diversity], but they’re stuck.” There is a browning of America, Layton says, but most of our churches aren’t set up to receive this harvest.
Layton points to Acts 6, which describes Greek widows being neglected. In response, deacons were appointed to care for them. In a similar way, PCA churches could take steps to welcome people of color. After all, because of the Gospel, the “browning of our churches” is more than a secular stab at inclusivity; it’s reflecting the diversity of God’s kingdom.
Catching up with the Curve
After graduating from Covenant Seminary, Layton accepted a teaching job at nearby Westminster, a largely white upper-income school. Before long, the board asked him to put intentionality behind the school’s desire to welcome people of color.
Westminster’s action was strategic, and Layton believes the PCA can learn from it. “All major institutions have diversity consultants,” he notes. “Law firms, hospitals, universities, any major corporation. The church is the last major institution that doesn’t have that.”
Layton suggests that churches invite a diversity consultant to help them identify roadblocks. It’s likely, he says, that there are demographic pockets in a church’s surrounding community that aren’t reflected in the congregation. Church leaders need to know why.
Church leaders must also initiate the conversation about race. Otherwise, Layton believes, there’s bound to be friction. He references one church where black and white members happily worshipped side by side, but when the Trayvon Martin story broke, tensions rose. White congregants didn’t see the big deal; black congregants saw a pivotal, volatile cultural issue.
Leaders need to think like people of color, Layton says. If Latinos from the local community were to start attending services, could the church meet their needs?
For the Sake of the Gospel
We all carry some baggage, Layton believes. If we admit it, there’s space for repentance and an opportunity to begin building a church that looks more like what is described in Revelation 7:9-10.
“If the Gospel is true, then we should have these conversations. Sin levels the playing field, and so does the Gospel. We should be at the forefront of this area.”