9 After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne and to the Lamb!”
Practice for Heaven
by Kevin Dougherty, Ph.D.
John’s vision recounted in Revelation 7:9-10 is compelling to me. John saw a mass of people from every nation and ethnicity worshipping together before Jesus. It is an experience that most Americans do not have. More than 80 percent of U.S. congregations are populated entirely or almost entirely by a single racial group. We sing that “red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight,” but our places of worship are complicit in keeping us apart.
One of the blessings of my childhood was worshipping with people who did not look like me. I grew up in a small denomination that was racially diverse. For one week every summer, the churches in our state gathered for a camp meeting. Activities filled the daytime hours and every evening ended with a corporate worship service. We sang and prayed. Then a guest evangelist delivered a sermon. I remember black preachers booming from the pulpit. I remember the call and response of audience members. I remember the greetings of missionaries spoken in other languages. And, as was tradition in the denomination, we referred to everyone, regardless of race, as brother or sister.
I have spent much of my career trying to understand why my childhood religious experiences are so atypical in contemporary America. Baylor has been a wonderful home for this pursuit. I have colleagues who share an interest in the complicated intersection of race and religion. We come from different academic disciplines, such as sociology, psychology, theology, and history. Inspired by these colleagues, analyzing race in religious organizations, be it congregations or Baylor University, is more than scholarship. It is stewardship. I want to be part of Christ’s redemptive work in the organizations I study and serve.
Yes, I am attracted to John’s vision of the diverse multitude of worshippers before Jesus, and I celebrate the growing diversity at Baylor University. Students come from all 50 states and 90 countries. They are white, Latinx, Black, Asian, and indigenous. Some are new arrivals to the United States. Others have long roots in American soil. Some are the first in their family to venture to college. Others are the third or fourth generation of their family at Baylor. Although we are not in white robes holding palm branches, I pray that we can worship together. Doing so is practice for heaven.
Learn More About Our Guest Writer
Kevin Dougherty, Ph.D.
Dr. Kevin Dougherty is an award-winning teacher and active researcher. He teaches large sections of Introduction to Sociology for Baylor’s undergraduate students. At the graduate level, he teaches the Seminar in Teaching and The Sociology of Religious Organizations. His research explores religious affiliation, religious participation, racial diversity in congregations, congregational growth and decline, and the impact of religion on other realms of social life such as community involvement, politics, and work.
Dr. Dougherty is part of a research effort funded by a $1 million grant from the Lilly Endowment to establish “Churches that THRIVE for Racial Justice”, a national effort to help congregations confront structures of racism in their communities. He also regularly writes and speaks about innovative teaching. His published research appears in leading academic journals and has been featured in news media such as the Chronicle of Higher Education, CNN, National Public Radio, and USA Today.