Archives For Ethnicity

I’ll be honest. I’m not going to answer that question. I’ll leave that to Preston. But here is what I will say: We don’t always think things through the way we ought. On the one hand, we can start “celebrating” holidays merely because they give us a day off and never consider the implications of the holiday. On the other hand, we can celebrate a holiday like July 4 a bit too fervently, in a way that actually dishonors God.

Here are three brief thoughts that may help you think through your Fourth of July celebration:

1. Enjoy the rest that holidays offer. As I have said before, God designed human beings to need rest. God himself rested, and in doing so, he became our model for resting. It glorifies God when we rest. Inherent in our resting is an admission that we can’t do everything ourselves, and that the world continues to turn without us. God wants us to labor diligently, but we are not the Savior, and God does not intend for us to do it all. Taking a day of thankful rest is appropriate and important. Just don’t be like the sluggard:

As a door turns on its hinges,
so does a sluggard on his bed.
The sluggard buries his hand in the dish;
it wears him out to bring it back to his mouth. (Proverbs 26:14-15)

2. Enjoy the unique freedoms you have been given. Christians have always been persecuted, and our modern age is no exception. As our brothers and sisters around the world suffer for their faith, we need to be thankful for the freedom that we have been given. Such freedom also carries a temptation toward apathy, so push yourself to be thankful for your freedom and to use that freedom for God’s glory, rather than your own comfort.

3. Take some time to pray for the people in America, and for the people around the world. Our Fourth of July celebrations will dishonor God if we simply declare our superiority and our desire to be blessed for our own sake. God loves Americans, and He loves the people in every nation of the world. Remember that we don’t deserve God’s blessing. Any blessings that God gives are meant to be used to bless the world around us. This is the example of Abraham, who was blessed by God so that he could be a blessing to the world. So pray for the people in America. But also pray for the people around the world. Don’t let your Fourth of July celebration be a declaration of supremacy. Use it as an opportunity to be thankful for what God has given you and to recommit to blessing the world around you.

 

Grace over Race

Joey Dodson —  January 18, 2012 — 5 Comments

It was the Fall of ‘93, deep in the buckle of the Bible Belt. I was a high school student in Junction City, Arkansas. An evangelist had come to our church and encouraged us to invite as many students as possible to come hear the gospel. Although I suspected that it might cause trouble, I invited the entire football team. We arrived at the church only to be met by a couple of deacons banning the African American students from entering the sanctuary. Soon the pastor came to our aid and insisted that my friends were indeed (ahem) “welcome.” In response, one deacon ran to his truck but yelled that he was coming right back—with a shotgun.

When I was a youth pastor a few years later in the Arkansas Delta, I spent most of my days on the basketball court hanging out with my students and witnessing to others. Channeling my best Woody Harrelson from White Men Can’t Jump, I would make a lil’ wager with new comers. If they beat me, I would take them to the Speedy-Burger-in. But if I won, they would agree to give me twenty minutes to tell them about Jesus. Even when I lost, I often still got the chance to share the gospel with them over fried shrimp and shredded lettuce. I doubt this evangelism strategy is Southern Baptist approved—yikes, does Al Mohler read this blog!?—but, it worked. I led a number of both black and white students to Christ, and the best I knew how, I began to disciple these students.

It was “all good,” until one night, after a worship service, some church leaders ambushed me and said, “Those niggers aren’t welcome here.” With righteous indignation laced with hot, holy tears, I darted to my pastor to call him to arms and report to him what had happened. But, in a patronizing tone, he told me to calm down. “This is not a battle that we are going to fight. You’ll understand, Jody, when you are older.” (I‘m older now and still don‘t understand – and my name‘s not Jody!). I couldn’t let it go, so marshaling my strength, I drove to the house of the church’s patriarch. His response paralyzed me. “You see, son, the Bible says that Black people are cursed.” He flipped his old tattered leather-bound KJV to the story in Genesis where Noah gets drunk and naked and curses Canaan. With a sincerely wrong but genuine conviction, he argued that Black people come from the cursed lineage of Canaan and that‘s why we couldn’t worship with them. I regret to say that as a twenty-year-old-kid who spent more time playing NBA Jam than reading the Bible, I didn’t have the exegetical wherewithal to refute his historical and biblical fallacies. Nor am I confident it would have made a difference if I did. So there was only one thing that felt right to do. I resigned.

Four years later the Lord called me to serve as youth pastor at Wilcrest Baptist Church, a congregation in the area of Houston that boasted the city’s highest juvenile crime rate. In the early 90’s Wilcrest Baptist Church had been tempted to follow the “white flight” from its neighborhood, which was being “overrun” with non-whites. After much prayer, however, rather than joining the other churches in the exodus to the ‘burbs, Wilcrest decided to stay and be “God’s multi-ethnic bridge that draws all people to Jesus Christ, who transforms them from unbelievers to missionaries.” The congregation called Dr. Rodney Woo to lead them through the extreme church makeover. But the church had a long way to go and not everyone was on board. One man even asked Dr. Woo to add a “d” to his last name so as to make it more appealing to the remainder of white people in the area. Ten years later, however, Wilcrest had over 40 different nations represented. (Dr. Woo details the remarkable story in his book, The Color of Church).

Our youth group at Wilcrest was ¼ Hispanic, ¼ African-American, ¼ White, and ¼ gloriously other. For instance, the pastor’s kids were a Mexican-Chinese mix, so they affectionately referred to themselves as “Chexicans”. The hit-movie Remember the Titans had just been released on VHS as I drove with our students to youth camp one year. Since it was the only movie we had on the trip, the titans played non-stop for about four hours. Little did I know that during the ride, my students had jacked the chant and made it their own. As usual, Wilcrest arrived fashionably late. The predominately white youth camp gawked as our many-colored, motley crew rolled up and paraded out. Taking advantage of the attention, Ocampo—our loud mouth—spontaneously busted out with the new rendition of the titan chant. As if they had planned and rehearsed it countless times, the rest of our group followed in cadence.

Every where we go-o, (repeat: every where we go-o)

People wanna know-o (people wanna know-o)

Why are the black folks (why are the black folks)

Asians and Hispanics (Asians and Hispanics)

Hanging out with Honkeys (Hanging out with Honkeys)

So we tell them (so we tell them)

It’s about Jesus (It’s about Jesus)

The Mighty Mighty Jesus (The Mighty Mighty Jesus)

Where there is no black or white (where there is no black or white)

Greek or Jew-ew (Greek or Jew-ew)

So here we ar-e (So here we ar-e)

Bringing it to you (Bringing it to you)

At this point they all “broke it down” and began to dance and gyrate with an occasional pelvic thrust. My initial shock and embarrassment was quickly overcome by a sense of accomplishment. Albeit loud and obnoxious—not to mention politically and syntactically incorrect—my students were getting it. Christ is all and in all.

Similarly, one night as I was teaching through Paul’s proclamation that “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” I caught Hudson, one of the said “Chexicans,” passing notes and giggling during my sermon—which of course made me assume I wasn’t getting through. After I dismissed the students and stayed around to lick my wounds and clean the room, I found the note he was passing. My frustration was eclipsed by joy as I read what he wrote:

Roses are red-ish,

Violets are blue-ish

If it wasn’t for Paul,

We’d all be Jewish.

I guess I should’ve let him preach the sermon.

After a ten-year odyssey to Scotland, Germany and beyond, I’m back in the South again: this time as a professor hoping to inspire and equip future church leaders. I’m happy to say that many of my current students get it too. But sadly, most of the churches around here don’t. Eleven o’clock on Sunday morning is still our most segregated hour. Rather than the egregious racism I saw displayed when I was younger, the church has now built a subtler, sophisticated wall to perpetuate its “separate but equal policy” in the body of Christ. Instead of playing the race card, now churches play the worship card. And it’s not just the white churches. For instance, during a MLK service held at my university a young black student voiced her opinion regarding whether we should seek to establish multiethnic churches. “No, I don’t think so, because ‘we’ like to worship differently than ‘they’ do.” When so many in the audience voiced their agreement, I vomited in my soul.

As you can see, with respect to race relations in the church, I’ve seen some triumphant highs and experienced some horrid lows. I’ve seen how far we’ve come but know how much further we’ve got to go. And I now submit to you that “worship style is the new face of racism in the church.”[1] When it comes to music ministry I acknowledge that I am beyond my ken. I have more questions than I do answers—so I will leave you with some of them.

  • Rather than saying how “we” like to worship over against how “they” like to worship, shouldn’t it be how “He” likes for us to worship? And if so, does He care more about music than he does unity?
  • If worship styles divide believers rather than unite them, can we really call it worship?
  • If we’ve reached the point where we are more concerned with music than we are with tearing down the dividing walls of racism, is it possible that we are worshiping “Worship” instead of God?
  • It seems to me that the American church has more worship bands than Justin Bieber has fans; can any of them please go beyond their skinny jean comfort zone and write some worship songs that don’t smack of Tomlin and Crowder?
  • (It’s probably just me, but does listening to K-love remind anyone else of NickelBack: all their songs sound the same?
  • Now please don’t get me wrong, as a white dude, I heart Tomlin and really love me some Crowder, but is it possible to create worship songs for our churches, even a genre, that transcends race?

Maybe not.[2] But we have to do something. Anything! Because as long as white folk just worship with white folk, Asians with Asians and Hispanics with Hispanics (etc.), do we not testify to the world that we identify more with the color of our skin than we do the cross of Jesus Christ?

Below are some links to books from various disciplines that have influenced me:

From Every People & Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race (J. Daniel Hays)

Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America (Michael Emerson and Christian Smith)

United by Faith: The Multiracial Congregation as an Answer to the Problem of Race (DeYoung, Emerson, Yancey, and Kim)

Mirror to the Church: Resurrecting Faith after Genocide in Rwanda (Katongole and Wilson-Hartgrove)

Building a Healthy Multi-ethnic Church: Mandate, Commitments and Practices of a Diverse Congregation (Mark DeYmaz)

 

___________________

[1] I’m indebted to my friend Jay Newman for this line.
[2] I do believe that there are bands and songwriters out there doing this: just not nearly enough of them. If you are one of them I apologize for the caricature. For instance, my favorite artist is Sean Michel whose music is a fusion of classic rock and delta blues.

 

In the last few posts, I’ve tried to show that the Bible highly values ethnic diversity in the church. Ethnic inclusivity is Spirit wrought (Acts 2) and blood bought (Eph 2); it’s not just icing on the cake.

But several questions can be raised and I’ve heard many good ones over the years. I definitely don’t have all the answers, and I in no way claim to be living this stuff out the way I should. (My first two posts were largely directed at kicking my own tail for failing to live this out.) In any case, here’s some questions I’ve been asked whenever I bring up this topic.

 

What do we do if we live and congregate where there’s little ethnic diversity?

To answer this, I’d say that a local church should reflect the measure of diversity around it. So for instance, if you live in an all-Hutu village in Rwanda, then you’re church will probably consist mostly of Hutus. Likewise, house churches in China will inevitably be dominated by Chinese. In these situations, I’d still love to see diversity in terms of gender, age, and social class, even if ethnic diversity will be lacking.

But I really think that most (not all) Americans live in much more diverse areas than we think. I live in what seems like a largely Caucasian city of Simi Valley, but it probably seems this way because I’m Caucasian. Statistically, Simi is only 68% Caucasian, which means that churches in Simi should be 30% non-Caucasian; a church of 1,000 should have at least 300 non-Caucasian members. Either the Spirit has a huge bent toward regenerating white people, or there are more regenerated “minorities” than we care to allow and we aren’t making a solid effort to worship together.

I can only speak of my own context, but I suspect that this is true in many cities in America.

 

What do we do to foster ethnic diversity in our churches?

This would be a great question to ask the minorities in your church. You may get some interesting responses, better than the ones I can come up with. In any case, here are a few things to my mind that might help build a multicultural church.

First, integrate diversity in the style of worship. You who are musically inclined, chime in here. I’m not, but it seems that the most worship music that pop-Christianity puts out reflects a style that is predominately white. White worship will attract white worshipers; diverse styles will better enable other ethnicities to worship more genuinely.

Second, diversify leadership. I remember hearing John Piper a while back talk about how important it was for him to have ethnic diversity on positions of leadership at his church. When asked if others at his church felt the same way, he say: “Well, they are ok with it, but they don’t believe that it’s essential.” This makes all the difference in the world. Either it’s allowed, or it should be promoted. And I think promoting diverse leadership (if at all possible) will forge other avenues to form an ethnically diverse church.

Third, if a diverse leadership is not possible, then having guest speakers of different ethnicities can be a good substitute. Expose your congregation to God’s heart exemplified in Acts 2, Eph 2, and Rev 7.

Fourth, many churches have “sister” churches, those that are like-minded to some extent. I would love to see some intentionally-built bridges with other ethnic churches in the area. I remember hearing about a church in the burbs of Kansas City that intentionally came alongside and resourced a poor church in the inner city doing some amazing things for the gospel. “We can’t do what you do,” they said, “but we support what you’re doing and want to come alongside.” And the embers of Eph 2 started to glow.

Do Spanish (or Korean, or Portuguese, or…) services reflect the full potential of Eph 2:11-18?

This is a tough one, and in no way do I claim to have all the answers. Whenever I meet a pastor of a Spanish-speaking ministry within a predominately white church, I like to pick their brain on this issue. On the one hand, I love it. It’s at the very least a great start and shows some awareness for the need to be ethnically inclusive.

On the other hand, I would love to explore avenues to do more. How can we move beyond just housing a ministry to Spanish speakers to actually calling them brothers and sisters in Christ? I’ve been to too many foreign countries and engaged in rich fellowship to believe that the language barrier is a huge hindrance. I attended a church in Jerusalem, where the pastor preached in Hebrew and in English (he said a few lines in Hebrew, then said the same thing in English), and as he was speaking, a dude in the front row translated it into Russian for the immigrants up front. Three languages all going at the same time! And in that particular church, love transcended language barriers, fueled by the blood of Christ and power of the Spirit.

So I don’t know. Even though a foreign language service is a good start, I wonder if we could do better. Maybe it’s a once a month BBQ at the park, where English speakers cook the food the first time, and then Spanish speakers cook it the next. Maybe the Spanish pastor preaches in Spanish once every month or two in Spanish, through translation, to the English speakers, while an English speaker preaches to the Spanish congregation. This would at least raise awareness that there are sojourners in our midst and God loves it.

I could go on, but I’d really love to hear your thoughts, especially those who are engaged in this sort of ministry. Yes, that means I’m calling out Brit and Nydia, Mark Baluyut, Josh Buck and his gang, Joey Dodson, whom we’ll hear from in the next post, Jose Luis, Jonnathan Mendendez, and any others engaged in multicultural ministries. What can you tell us about your experience?

MLK

Preston Sprinkle —  January 14, 2012 — 1 Comment

Today, we  celebrate the birthday of one of my heroes: Dr. Martin Luther King, a Christian leader who through non-violent methods ignited and carried the Civil Rights movement until he was shot and killed in 1968. A few years ago, I began to be fascinated with the Civil Rights movement, which led me, of course, to study the life of King. Probably the best book out there on King is David Garrow’s Pulitzer Prize winning biography, Bearing the Cross. I devoured this book and then starting listening to and reading King’s sermons, and this is when I really began to love and respect the Civil Rights leader. This may be a bold statement, especially in light of all the amazing communicators in the church today, but in my opinion, no one comes close to the rhetorical power and creativity of King. Of all the preachers I’ve listen to in the last 17 years, King is at the top of my list. He was simply a master orator and a connoisseur of language. Tethered to a passion for equality and justice, King’s voice was a divinely created agent of redemption for many. If you’ve never listened to King, here are the last few words of his so-called “Mountain top” sermon, which he preached the night before he was killed.

But my absolute favorite piece written by King (sermons included) is this section in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail (April 16th, 1963). King followed Jesus’ non-violent approach to peace, so he would often wind up behind bars. On one particular occasion, some white Christian leaders, who were otherwise in support of King and his movement, thought that he was moving too fast and that he should slow down and “wait.” Wait for the right time to end segregation. I’ll leave you with King’s response. It nearly brought me to tears when I first read it.

Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”—then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

The Color of Church

Preston Sprinkle —  January 13, 2012 — 10 Comments

In my previous post (“racial reconciliation”), I looked at two passages (Eph 2 and Gal 2) that place a high value on breaking down the walls of ethnic division within the church. This is especially important since in many churches, people don’t seem to care whether it’s ethnically diverse or not. But biblically,  God places a high premium on local churches being a visible representation of His presence (Eph 1:22-23), and this representation is skewed if it doesn’t reflect God’s love for, and power to save, people of all ethnicities. Something is especially wrong if your local church (i.e., the visible representation of God’s presence) exists in a diverse area and yet doesn’t reflect this diversity. Many outsiders already think the church is segregated at best, racist at worst. Let’s stop giving them so much material to work with.

But diversity for diversity’s sake is not what I’m arguing for. There are theological reasons why our local churches should pursue racial reconciliation and diversity. So let’s dig in to the Scriptures.

For this post, I want to look at the two bookends of the Spirit’s new covenant work, beginning in Acts 2. The very birthday of the church was a multicultural gathering. Visiting Jerusalem at Pentecost were Jews, Europeans, Africans, and Arabs, all who received the Spirit of God; all who bowed the knee to king Jesus (Acts 2:9-11). And God broke down ethnic barriers by allowing each to understand the message in his own language (Acts 2:6-9). In some ways, Pentecost undid the sin of Babel, where through sin, people spread out, segregated, and separated in terms of ethnicity, geography, and language. But at Pentecost, all of this is reversed. Unity among ethnic diversity—all created by the miraculous power of God.

And I believe this was intentional. The surprising beauty of God’s new work through the Spirit comes in pulling ethnically diverse people together under the banner of King Jesus. Satan wants to put an end to God’s mission, and it looks like he’s succeeding in some segregated churches, but ultimately God’s power will prevail. This is the point of Ephesians 3:10, which says that the purpose of God unifying Jews and Gentiles (and by implication all ethnic groups) together into one body is to broadcast “the manifold wisdom of God…to the rulers and authorities (read: demons) in the heavenly places.” Ethnically diverse, spiritually unified, Christ-exalting churches declare to Satan and his minions: You lost!

And this declaration will be fully disclosed when Christ comes back. I love that scene in Revelation 7, where John sees “a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before Jesus saying ‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne’.” What an amazing worship celebration it will be when Christ comes back and people from every tribe and tongue and nation bow down to sing praises to Jesus—the One whose blood shatters the boundaries we create.

It will be amazing, but it may be a little shocking too. We may be a little uneasy at the worship celebration Christ puts on. Those expecting seven stanzas of Be Thou My Vision, a good white hymn, may be disappointed to see an angelic Mariachi band rocking the stage. You may think something is insanely wrong when Michael the archangel starts rapping, Gabriel busts out a tribal beat on the bongos, and Thomas the apostle maestros an ensemble of Indian sitars.

The second coming will give us a real taste of what it means to be a global community.

We may be even more shocked when we look around and see that English is the minority tongue and that white people are greatly outnumbered (the statistics are clear). We may be beside ourselves when we see that Jesus doesn’t have blond hair and blue eyes, but looks like a Middle-Eastern blue-collar peasant, with dark skin and dark hair.

Some of us have been so steeped in our own cultures that we have mistaken white, middle-class, American Christianity for Christianity itself. But the gospel puts an end to any sort of ethnic superiority among the people of God (Eph 2:11-18). Pentecost gave us a foretaste of what will be consummated when Jesus comes back—a unity among diverse believers, held together by the blood of Christ.