Trying to diversify the church can be an overwhelming and abstract goal. Where to start on such a potentially charged topic, and how to move forward? Even after reading pieces like Ms. Holmes’ excellent essay last month (Why Multiculturalism is a Must for the Church, Relevant Magazine), it’s still easy for us to happen into apathy and settle into status quo.
But Paul says in Galatians that to ignore God’s vision for multiethnicity is to walk out of step with the truth of the Gospel. (Galatians 2:14) So what exactly might it look like to walk in step with Gospel truth in pursuit of multiethnicity?
1. Do start right now: the Gospel is urgent
Is multiethnicity urgent, or is the Gospel? The answer is: yes. Both are urgent, because both horizontal reconciliation and vertical reconciliation are part of God’s plan for salvation. Multiethnicity, however, is a very easy thing to procrastinate in pursuing. But praise God that our world is becoming increasingly diverse; it’s almost a certainty that each of us can think of someone who is of a different ethnicity or cultural background.
Therefore, something simple you can do right now: pick up your phone and ask him or her to grab lunch. Before you even read to the end of this sentence, initiate a cross-cultural relationship, or deepen one which already exists. There’s only so much you can experience by reading blog entries, but so much to learn and love in relationships with the people God has intentionally made different from ourselves!
2. Don’t expect other ethnicities to come to you: the Gospel says God came to us
John 1 and Philippians 2 show us how Jesus left the comfort and safety of the culture he knew to enter one which was not only uncomfortable, but hostile. In the same way, Christians are called to the work of cultural incarnation. This means entering the space of friends who are of different cultures before we ask them to enter ours.
So find a friend whose church is of a different racial makeup than yours and pay a visit. Ask someone whose friend group is culturally different if you can join one of their get-togethers. Visit a cultural event in your city held by a culture different than your own, and try to get to know people there. It will be uncomfortable…and God promises solidarity and growth in our discomfort!
3. Do welcome them when they do: our Gospel welcomes outsiders
A controversial suggestion: if your church is ethnically homogenous and someone visits who is ethnically different from most of the church, go out of your way to welcome that person and build a relationship with him or her. Jesus does not love the foreigner more than the native, but He recognizes this: it is the foreigner who is far from home, and often needs greater welcome.
When Jesus cleansed the temple, he condemned the money-changers not just for their greed but for making it even harder for Gentiles who could only use the outer court for worship. Whether we like it or not, cultural differences can keep people in the outer courts of our churches unless we are proactive about welcoming them in.
4. Don’t avoid conflict; the Gospel has the power for deep reconciliation
Inevitably, cross-cultural relationships can lead to conflict and confusion, sometimes because of our own actions and sometimes because of deep-seated, historical animosities. But we believe in a Gospel in which even communities with ancient misunderstanding can be reconciled through Christ to love one another.
And Jesus also shows us that love can get more than a little messy. But he promises at the same time that love casts out fear. So don’t be afraid to ask questions: “I’ve noticed that sometimes you do ______, and I was wondering if that was a cultural thing?” “How do you feel about the portrayal of (insert ethnicity) in this movie?” “I feel ______ when you _____; do you think you could tell me where you’re coming from when you do that?”
You might look stupid, you might get your feelings hurt, and you’ll almost definitely make mistakes—so much so that you might actually have to depend on God! As Christians, we do not take the easy path by just pursuing diversity—we pursue ethnic, cultural, and racial reconciliation. Reconciliation is impossible without hard conversations. But trust that God will come through for us as we leave our comfort zones, and that he will be glorified in the process.
5. Do keep learning more about race, culture, and ethnicity; if you don’t, it’s going to be a long eternity.
The final images of Scripture are of a city which comprises people of every tribe, language, tongue, and nation. It’s not a stretch to imagine that English will not be the prevailing language, and that the delightful curiosity of a culture known as American evangelicalism will not be dominant either…which means we all have a lot to learn about how to pursue this world that’s so very different from the world we currently live in.
Blogs like NPR’s Code Switch and essays like Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” can be a good starting point. But never think for a second that it ends there, or that racial reconciliation is easy; if it was, it wouldn’t have required Jesus’ life to achieve.
But the best news of all is that the hardest work has been done for us; the multiethnic church has already been paid for and prophesied by Jesus. So let’s step forward urgently, uncomfortably, and humbly into pursuit of multiethnicity—into watching God build the kingdom he has promised.