New Series! Beyond Multiethnic

We’re kicking off a new blog series! Even though this blog has focused a lot on race/ethnicity issues in the church, anyone who has read Disunity in Christ knows that I’m passionate about loving well across all cultural differences in the church…not just the racial/ethnic ones.

I often meet pastors who lead racially homogenous churches but want to transition their congregations into multiracial congregations. They come to me looking for a magic formula that will help them exponentially attract racially diverse people to their congregations. (Spoiler alert: there is no magic formula.) My first question for these pastors is:

“Well, is your church succeeding at loving the diverse people who are already in your midst?

Do women feel marginalized in your church?

How about low-income members of the congregation?

What about unmarried people?

What about the informally educated?

What about gay people?

What about older adults?

What about people who hold a minority political viewpoint?

What about people with mental and/or physical disabilities?”

Without exception, these pastors ultimately admit that the spaces near the margins of their church are crowded, that there are plenty of cultural minority
groups within their racially homogenous church that are ignored, silenced and even shunned.  So I ask them, “Why are you interested in attracting racially diverse people if you haven’t demonstrated that you can love the racially similar but culturally different people that are already in your midst?”  The pursuit of racial diversity while marginalizing other forms of diversity makes no sense to me.

Multiethnic/multiracial church is in vogue, it’s sexy, it’s all the rage these days. I don’t say that to diminish the movement (because I really do believe that the Holy Spirit is behind it). I say it to simply point out that it’s easy to jump on the multiracial/multiethnic bandwagon while ignoring the many other divisions in the body of Christ that also break God’s heart.

I’m excited about the booming interest in multiethnic/multiracial church, I really am. But racial/ethnic divisions are really just the tip of the iceberg; they’re often the most glaring divisions and the most difficult to justify.  But below the surface there are plenty of other divisions, that left uncrossed, tend to marginalize people, label them as outcasts and exclude them from a seat at the table of the family of God. We often strenuously cite theological support for these divisions. But regardless of what we believe the Bible says about certain behaviors, roles, identities or belief systems, we never have permission to dishonor the image of God in people. Never.

Last week at the Mosaix conference in Long Beach, I listened to Curtiss DeYoung talk about how the church should be a “healing station for people who have been marginalized by society.” What a wonderful vision.  But race is a powerful cultural divider.  If we haven’t learned how to be a healing station for the people who are racially similar, then we’re never going to learn how to be a healing station for the people who are racially dissimilar. You can’t really enjoy multiracial unity without learning how to truly see all people who exist on society’s margins and learning how to listen to them, empathize with them, honor them, and work with God and others to restore dignity to them. First things first.

I’ve been studying Philippians since mid-July and the first few verses of chapter 2 keep ringing in my ears and heart:

If you find any comfort from being in the Anointed, if His love brings you some encouragement, if you experience true companionship with the Spirit, if His
tenderness and mercy fill your heart; then, brothers and sisters, here is one thing that would complete my joy—come together as one in mind and spirit and purpose, sharing in the same love. Don’t let selfishness and prideful agendas take over. Embrace true humility, and lift your heads to extend love to others. 4 Get beyond yourselves and protecting your own interests; be sincere, and secure your neighbors’ interests first. (The Voice)

Paul urges the Philippian church (which was extremely diverse, much like the American church) to be one in mind.  To me, this doesn’t mean that we all have to agree on everything. Rather, it means that despite our differences, our disagreements and the vast cultural chasms that exist between us, we are called to share brain space. We must get inside each other’s heads and emotions and see the world from each other’s perspectives. We must do the work of connecting, truly connecting, so that we can know what each other’s interests are. This is the tall order of unity to which we are called.

I especially like this version of Philippians 2 because it articulates that we must lift our heads (e.g., we must be alert, we must pay attention) in order to truly love well. In order to bring people in from the margins, we must be aware of where the margins exist and understand how our beliefs and actions either honor or dishonor the image of God in our diverse friends.  To this end, we must mentally and emotionally patrol the margins in our churches, keeping our eyes open for people who are being dishonored so that we may secure their interests first and altogether share in Christ’s love.

So this series is about loving well across non-racial cultural differences, lifting our heads so that we can truly see the great diversity that is right under our noses, and beginning to understand how we need to interact with each other, what we need to say to each other and what we need to believe about each other in order to love well.

I hope you’ll join the conversation!

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