I have had the pleasure of participating in several meetings and conversations in preparation for what promises to be a historic gathering in Cape Town this coming October. There is a growing sense of God’s great work for the past one hundred years and Cape Town 2010 will be a part of embracing God’s ongoing work of global evangelization.
In the last century, the locus and demographic center of Christianity has shifted from North America and Europe to Asia, Africa, and Latin America. My concern, however, is that as the American delegation, we may be too quick to speak and to pontificate and too slow to hear and to learn. I raise these concerns as I have observed what seems to be a disturbing pattern in the conversations and gatherings that I have attended in the U.S.
In my first such event, the gathered American pastors had the privilege of hearing from a South American evangelist, who laid out the how a community of believers evangelized his neighborhood through a corporate effort. The evangelist revealed an understanding of a holistic gospel that did not limit its impact to the saving of individual souls. This deeply moving and provocative presentation was followed by a American majority culture male who proceeded to essentially undermine the statements made by the South American evangelist; including a comment to the effect: “But we know what the gospel is really about . . . don’t we?” I may have misheard, but I got the distinct impression that the American pastor felt the need to correct the South American evangelist.
In another gathering, there was brisk conversation around the issue of the intersection between social justice and evangelism. The conversation yielded much fodder for further inquiry. The lively interaction was followed by another majority culture European American male, who proceeded to make his proclamation of what he believed should be emphasis of the upcoming gathering in Cape Town. In other words, he was given the final word; and whether he contradicted the group discussion or not, it served to reinforce that the real authority in the room was the majority culture individual.
In one of the latest round of conversation, there was a wide range of opinions offered by the panelists. But once again, an American majority culture male was given the last word and proceeded to give a long monologue about the state of the church. I don’t fault the individuals who were willing to share their heart. But I worry about how in the conversations in the U.S. church, the dominant, authoritative, and final voice is given to the white male.
An added element that yields further exasperation is that there has been a noticeable lack of diversity in the panelists, among the host churches and the audience that have gathered for these conversations. This lack of diversity reflects an ongoing significant blind spot for the American delegation. I know that there have been some notable effort to recruit minority delegates, but unfortunately the dominant group remains the dominant group for the U.S. delegation. If we go to South Africa (of all places), for a global evangelization conference with a small number of Native American and African-American delegates, we should be justifiably embarrassed.
Tokenism allows for one or two individuals of differing shades and hues to sit at the table. But tokenism also means that those voices are drowned out or corrected by the majority culture. At the end of the day, are we saying to the Christians outside of America, that it’s nice that you are here (in Cape Town or in a major U.S. city) and it’s nice that you have a few nice things to say, but we will still be sure to correct you at the end of the conversation to clue you in as to what’s really going on.
I will readily admit that my experience reflects a very limited sample size. But I’m trying to grasp the big picture of what this gathering in Cape Town will be about. Everyone who goes to the Cape Town gathering will have the best of intentions and the noblest of motivations. I pray that as the delegation from the United States prepares to engage in conversation and dialogue with brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world, we would be slow to speak and quick to listen.