Is it more important that we count people in the pews and dollars in the plate, or the amount of hate that churches combat?
Measure it in Hate?
I love my blog community because the longtime readers (this blog has been around since 2008) know my interests and spur me toward look deeply into topics I otherwise wouldn’t have. Case in point, I received the following message this last week:
Often we hear of how the church is failing in the NE and NW. Success is often defined in terms of membership, worship attendance, and money.
But, what if we used the existence of hate groups as a gauge for ecclesial success? What does it really say about the church, that, in some of the most churched parts of our country, hate groups proliferate? Surely this is a failure of the church.
What a great question. But how can we determine if a church can be effective at creating more love and disarming more hate?
One way to do this is to examine the data from groups that track such trends. The Southern Poverty Law Center, vanguard of race relations data and advocacy in America, has a Hate Map where they name and track the various hate groups that organized against immigrants, Muslims, and other minorities. While they cannot track the membership totals of these groups, they know where they are located: there are currently 971 hate groups being tracked, including 160 KKK-affiliated groups. They helpfully allow the map to be broken down into category of hate group and location. You can see a screenshot above, as this tool proved to be incredibly useful.
Using my denomination of The United Methodist Church as an example, which helpfully breaks down reporting by region (more or less lining up with state lines), I was able to correlate the Hate Map with the regions in The United Methodist Church in various charts. Here they are.
Where Does Hate Reside?
First, which UM region (jurisdiction) has the most hate groups in it? This one is not surprising:
Analysis: The Southeastern Jurisdiction far and away has the most hate groups, which makes sense given its troubled history from the Confederate States to the 1960s race conflicts to today. But I was surprised how many operate in the northeast and west coasts. Here’s the full data breakdown by jurisdiction.
Second, which state has the most hate groups in it? You might be surprised:
|Jurisdiction||State||# of Hate Groups|
Analysis: 5 of the Top 10 come from the South, including always-contentious Texas. Two come from the Rust Belt areas. California and New York as populous progressive states have a dark side–as does Illinois (with most hate groups based in Chicago). Here’s the full data breakdown by jurisdiction.
Final chart is perhaps more accurate: which states have the most hate groups per capita. This is helpful as large states like California have a LOT of hate groups (highest on the map – 79!) but California is the most populous so its per capita of hate groups is lower than North Dakota. Here’s the Top 10:
|Jurisdiction||State||# of Hate Groups||Per Capita|
|NEJ||District of Columbia,||21||0.003132565706|
Analysis: While there are six states from the South on this list, far more interesting is the “western flight” of hate groups seeking to carve out their own areas in the northwest has led to Idaho being targeted by hate groups and adding two other northwestern/northcentral low population states to this per capita list. DC, I think, is over-represented because of course national groups would want to be based out of DC.
Correlation is not causation
Obviously, the purpose of these charts isn’t to say that Texas is racist. It is, but so is everyone else.
Rather, the purpose is to ask: Why is there a correlation between number of churches and number of hate groups? The regions of the country with the most hate groups have the highest number of churches (especially large churches). Per the map above, my own denomination of The UMC parallels the national data.
The question I really want to ask is if there is a correlation between hate group membership and church attendance. Unfortunately, it is impossible for me to answer that question as hate group membership is not reported so it is unknown whether hate group members actively attend church services, though a disturbing percentage doubtlessly do.
So instead, I’ll ask this question: should churches be doing more to combat organized hate in their communities? With so many hate groups spread across the country, why wouldn’t churches want to engage and disrupt their reach, especially the ones in their backyards?
This is personal to me as I’m particularly troubled by the “white flight” to the northwest, my region of the country, westward from the Dakotas. Outside of the urban centers, it is underpopulated and diversity of ethnicity is low. A paper from almost 100 years ago outlines this region’s susceptibility to hate groups:
“The results of isolation are lamentable. Ignorance, profound prejudice, distrust, suspicion, misinterpretation of motives, per- version of purposes, incredible blindness to facts-these are the unavoidable effects of the high walls which separate class from class, set from set, group from group, school from school, in modern society.”
No one is immune to these hate groups, and I would think every church would want to stop their proliferation, particularly denominations that can share best practices.
Is it even possible?
How hard is it for churches to engage the hate groups that operate in their backyards?
I don’t mean to simply regurgitate statements by national organizations or leaders that condemn white supremacy in all their forms. Everyone from the National Association of Evangelicals to over 25 individual statements by United Methodist Bishops to Russell Moore can be shared. Sharing them is important, but action is needed.
I mean to ask what about the local church’s role in all this. What can they possibly do to effect change?
It turns out that all it takes is one man’s persistence to lead 200 men away from the KKK.
Talking to Klansmen “has worked for me and I’ve proven it,” Davis told the Los Angeles Times. “I appeal to people’s common sense. I don’t seek to convert them but if they spend time with me, they can’t hate me. [The Klansman] sees that I want the same thing for my family as he does for his … if you can work on the things in common, that’s how you build friendship.”
If one man can do that, imagine what a dedicated church could do.
Does it matter enough to count it?
Want to know what often spurs churches to do something? When they are required to report on it. We value what we count.
In our metrics, United Methodist churches send in reports on dollars in the plate, attendance, conversions, baptisms, numbers of people involved in mission, and myriad others. But nowhere are we evaluated on engagement with hate groups, or reduction of hate in our communities.
Perhaps we need to. Perhaps we need to report “contact hours” of the church with hate groups or events in our communities. Send 5 people to a two hour demonstration against a KKK rally? That’s 10 contact hours. 20 people surround a mosque to protect it during evening prayer for an hour? 20 contact hours. And conferences can report on the number of multicultural churches in their regions.
Because as the story above about Daryl Davis shows, it’s the contact hours and experience that matter. Not the attendance at church (sadly, attendance does not mean one is inoculated against active racism) or the contributions to the Capital Campaign. It’s the contact hours and the intentionally diverse churches that matter.
And maybe we need to start counting that.
This is personal to me. My state of Washington (I moved to Seattle in July 2017) has 21 hate groups in it, many of which are the violent skinhead gang types that are attracted to urban places. I don’t know them. But the members of the homeless community do, and the homeless community is served by my church’s ministries (overnight shelter and Sunday community breakfast) so the skinheads’ actions impact my community. By engaging hate groups and demonstrations, I’m advocating not for abstract people, but for my own congregation and parish community in downtown Seattle. So answering this question matters to me personally in my ministry context–and I think it does in yours as well.
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