COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - As race relations remain at the forefront of conversation, pastors in South Carolina are weighing in on the church's role.
In his new book titled The High-Definition Leader: Building Multi-Ethnic Churches in a Multi-Ethnic World, Pastor Derwin Gray of Transformation Church in Lancaster County notes that according to recent statistics only 13.7 percent of churches in America have diverse congregations.
"Eighty-six percent of churches in the United States have over 80 percent of one particular ethnic group, and so when that takes place, you have a mono-ethnic group, and so that will isolate folks," Gray said.
Gray is the founding and lead pastor of Transformation Church. The church's vision is "to be a multi-ethnic, multi-generational, mission-shaped community that loves God completely (Upward), ourselves correctly (Inward) and our neighbors compassionately (Outward)."
However, Pastor Gray wasn't always leading a church of more than 2,500 people.
"My wife and I didn't grow up as Christians, and so I came to faith at 26, and she came to faith about that time, as well," Gray said.
So the former NFL player-turned-preacher said early on in his faith, he struggled with the lack of diversity in churches across America.
"It was like, wait a second. The nightclub we used to sin in was diverse, the football teams I used to play for were diverse, but the most segregated institution in America is the church? Where we're supposed to love each other?" Gray said.
It was God's love and His Great Commandment that Gray said compelled him and his wife Vicki to plant Transformation Church five years ago.
"Jesus said you want to know what's most important? Love God, and love your neighbor as you love yourself," Gray said. "And so Jesus wants to create communities of different people who love each other that way. It's easy to love someone who looks like me and thinks like me, but the true exercise of love happens in the context of diversity and difference."
A love that was shown when the Mother Emanuel Nine opened their arms to a person who would ultimately take their lives.
"I just can't even imagine the unspeakable horror," Gray said. "But the tragedy at a deeper level is why that Church even had to exist."
Gray says the African Methodist Episcopal Church actually birthed out of racial ideologies.
"African-American Methodists in the Methodist Church got tired of sitting in the back of the row. So they went to the front to pray and the white leaders told them to go to the back, and they fell to their knees, clasped their hands and were drug out of the church," said Gray.
Pastor Gray said because of past cultural divides many churches in present day America remain segregated.
"Racism shaped a lot of how the church is developed where we have unbiblical words like black church, can't say white church because that's politically incorrect, but you have all these churches built around the skin color, whereas Jesus obliterates the color line with the color of His blood which is red," Gray said.
Gray said the blueprint for diverse churches is the very heart of the Gospel.
"The church is called the Bride of Christ and Jesus loves all of His bride. Despite socioeconomic status, despite ethnicity, despite color of skin," Gray said.
When those walls are broken down, Pastor Gray said, that's when we see true progress.
"When you get together in diversity you're stretched, and there's new spaces of growth, but that's God's heartbeat. That's God's plan," said Gray. "I'm not saying anything that isn't what the Apostle Paul did, what Peter did, what Jesus did. As long as we stay segregated and divided, there's really no hope for unity. We have to move beyond our particular tribe."
Pastor Gray said the hope of the church is to ultimately be a reflection of Heaven while we're here on earth.
"Eternity, according to Revelation 5:9 is 'Every nation, tribe and tongue' worshiping and adoring Jesus, and can we do that perfectly here? No, but
we sure can try," said Gray.