Monday, July 17, 2017

Signs of Hope for the Church: Diversity

This is challenging time for the church, but I submit this is not unusual.  In its two thousand years of existence, whenever the church attempts to be faithful to the mission of God, there have been both difficulties and blessings.  Each challenge provides the opportunity for a breakthrough.

In the next week, I want to share some positive words about the church in the 21st century--signs of hope.

In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said:

We must face the fact that in America, the church is still the most segregated major institution in America. At 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand and sing and Christ has no east or west, we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation. This is tragic. 

While a Lifeway survey shows the desire for diversity in the church is still more of a hope than a reality, the research also shows more openness to racial diversity in congregations both from pastoral leadership and church members.

What are some positive steps that we can take to become more diverse racially and ethnically in our churches?

1.  We can commit ourselves to understanding both our cultural background and that of those around us. We did not get to the situation that Dr. King addressed overnight. In his address to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly, Brian McLaren explained that the division between the races and the subjugation of people of color in our hemisphere began over 500 years ago.  Just recognizing this is the first step to change.

2.  We must see people of other races, nationalities, and cultures as allies in transforming society by pursuing the missio Dei (the mission of God).  As believers, we have more commonalities than differences.

3.  We must value the contributions that all people bring to the table.  We should not be surprised when denominational groups with a strong racial identity are reluctant to work alongside Euro-American dominated churches.  Too often those of us in the latter category have assumed a paternalistic approach and assumed that our way of doing things was the only way.

Practicing these steps begins the long journey toward cooperation and breaking down barriers.

1 comment:

Brian Musser said...

As the Baptist Campus Minister at Drexel University in Philly, I can not stress enough how vital this issue is when trying to reach the next generations. These are folks who have grown up in desegregated primary and secondary schools, attending multi-cultural and internationally diverse higher ed institutions, never having a job without diversity clauses in the employment language and seeing T.V. and other media outlets go out of their way to check off boxes. Any debate on racial diversity and inclusion has long since died in their world. It is no longer something that is controversial. It is the way things should be and they have always known this and been taught this.
Then when they read Scripture they find it agrees with culture on this issue. There is neither Slave not free, Jew nor Greek, Male not female. There are every tongue, tribe, nation and people gathered around the throne. But when they come to church, they are faced with the question, does our culture, does the world better understand this Scriptural truth than the body of Christ?
I once had an African-American student whisper to me while we were checking out a perspective church for him to attend, "But everybody here is Black." Culturally homogeneous groups seem un-normal to students and at times even uncomfortable except for those students who have grown up in a black church or a white church. But students new to the church scene will automatically notice our lack of diversity and will find it odd.
But the good news is that as/if this younger generation accepts the mantle of leadership for the church the new norm will be diversity unless we "condition" it out of them.