President Carter recently told a delegation representing the National Council of Churches that he was disturbed about the "growing quiescence in the churches" on the subject of eliminating racial segregation.
Most local church leaders, black and white, say they agree with the president when it comes to church actions pushing for equal rights in the secular world.
But, when it comes to pushing for more integration in area churches, black and white leaders view the situation differently.
A reporter talked this week with several clergymen here, none of whom attended the session of national church leaders with the president. But all voiced thoughts triggered by Carter's concern.
"If a church expresses a liberal open policy, but no one of another race joins, I would still consider that church integrated," said the Rev. Willoughby Allen, president of the Baptist Ministers Conference of Washington, a group of 350 mostly black Baptist ministers."The doors of black churches have been open to whites for as long as I can remember."
"Church integration is still a serious problem and high on our list of priorities," said Dr. James Langley, executive director of the predomisantly white D.C. Baptist Convention.
"I'm concerned that some of our churches will lapse into reverse integration," he added "That is, some of them are 50-50 (blacks and whites) and we are concerned they will become all black, and we will lose this progress."
The Rev. Ernest Gibson, executive director of the Council of Churches of Creater Washington, offered this analysis of why whites are still talking numbers and black seem "relatively satisfied" on the subject of church integration:
"The blacks seem to feel a satisfaction the whites don't feel," he said. "I think it's because historically there was a difference in expectations of what the freedom to inegrate would mean.
"For the blacks, it was not so much to become members, but to be free to do so. It did not mean that blacks would go rushing to join white churches. So, when the doors are thrown open, and the blacks don't rush in, the whites don't understand," he said.
Bishop James K. Mathews of the United Methodist Church, which has the largest black membership of any predominantly white denomination, says the denomination still is "deliberately trying to push" church integration.
"We are looking toward what we call a totally inclusive church," he said. Seven congregations predominantly white have black pastors... I think (integration) is still an issue... But we want to be careful to preserve black values where they exist," he added. The chain of command system of the Methodist Church allows church leaders to institute individual church policy.
Baptist and Congregational (UCC) churches are each independent autonomous churches, setting their own policies. Hence, there is a wide diversity of worship style and social attitudes. CHURCH shirley [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]
Black leaders seem to agree that there is no such comparable push on the black sides.
The Rev. Curtis Clare of the Central Atlantic Conference of the United Church of Christ, which has both black and white churches, said that the blacks feel the important thing is our covenant that there be "an open-door policy."
"There has been a strong movement to a black consciousness," he said, "and the blacks feel it is important to have their own churches. Having churches of one ethnic group or another is a sign the times. But having churches that really mix these groups is something we're really hopeful about."
The Rev. Leamon White, president of the Baptist Convention of D.C. and Vicinity, a group of about 250 black churches said: "A push for integration in the church and a push for integration in a political party are two different things. I think it's a long way off before you see a white church and a black church sit down in haramony and true fellowship. But someday we must have one world."
"You can stand on the outside of a church and tell them to integrate and criticize them all you want," said White. "But to get inside and know the feelings is a different thing.
'It isn't just the church, it's the social structure.You can worship in a church for 10 years and not know the person next to you... You must have a family relationship in a church. You can join a body and not be part of it. Unless the social structures change, until we are accepted as social equals, it won't work."
The Rev. Harold Lewls, rector of the Episcopal St. Monica's Church on Capitol Hill, has headed churches in transition from black to white and white to black. He is comfortable with the wide range of choice that "desegregated" to "fully integrated" churches offer area Episcopal worshippers.
He defines a church with one or two members not of the predominant race as "desegregated" and a church with a 70-30 ratio as "viably integrated."
People's religion is a funny thing, a personal thing," Lewis said. "People have different reasons for belongingally feel religion is something personal to be shared with people they feel most comfortable with, and most oftehave different reasons for belongi to churches. They might want solace from the workaday world. They usually feel religion is something personal to be shared with people they feel most comfortable with, and most often, that is their own racial group."
Does he find this disturbing?
"Not really. I think people are more relaxed. The push isn't there anymore because the pressure is off. Integration is no longer given in terms of what black people want in this country. In the '60s, there used to be a push by party givers to have both races at parties. This is not the case anymore. I don't think blacks care if whites are there. Whites are welcome. It's no longer important. That is reflected in the churches."
"We have not been going out to recruit," said the Rev. Charles Helton, presiding elder of the predominantly black local conference of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. "People have been identifying."
The Rev. Wesley Wiley, a black minister in the traditionally white Southern Baptist Convention, took over a white church, Covenant Baptist, at 3845 South Capitol St. in 1969, when the neighborhood was in transition from white to black.
"It was an older congregation, nearing retirement," he said of the group. "They were in financial trouble... Rather than sell the building and join a church in the suburbs, they decided to let it belong to the members, no matter who they became, white or black.
"It remained more than 50 percent white for at least five years after I was there. Now, the racial balance of the church is the opposite of when I went there; about 98 per cent are black," he said.
Wiley said he paid close attention to the racial dynamics of his church and has observed three things that cause churches to do a "flip-flop" when they get near a 50-50 black-white racial mix:
When the congregation has a token number of blacks, the whites feel a sense of mission to go out and bring more blacks in. As the blacks grow in number, the whites lost that "sense of mission."
When the racial balance nears 50-50, the power structure becomes the stumbling block. Which group will own and run the church?
Whites often feel stymied when they are surrounded by blacks of superior education or more leadership ability in a church.
But the real test, said the Rev. John Mudd, who has headed a black Catholic church in Southeast that lost members to the suburbs, is whether a mainly white parish "makes an effort to accommodate black cultural expression."
"When you have a mass, do you have a guitar or a piano?" he said. "A guitar says it's white, it's folk; a piano says it's black, it's gospel."