Archive for the ‘many colors’ Category

I recently read a news report that a heart medication [propranolol] could actually impact racial attitudes. “Volunteers given the beta-blocker, used to treat chest pains and lower heart rates, scored lower on a standard psychological test of ‘implicit’ racist attitudes.”

Many do not seem to get the main point of the research. The goal of the research is not to look for ways to spike everyone’s drinking water with a compound that would reduce racism in our world. If only that were possible. But the goal is to reveal a potential cause for racist attitudes.

As the Telegraph article states explicitly: “Scientists believe the discovery can be explained by the fact that racism is fundamentally founded on fear.” Racists are driven by fear.

Maybe that’s why the Bible so frequently says, “Fear NOT!” Doesn’t seem like a huge revelation, but it does put racism and racist attitudes in its proper context.
Do not fear a black President.
Do not fear the alien and immigrant among you.
Do not fear the decline of white evangelicalism and the rise of non-white evangelicalism.
Do not fear a black/brown world Christianity.
Do not fear non-white thought leaders challenging the evangelical status quo.
Do not fear.

If only it were that simple.

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Part II of an interview with Duke Divinity School’s BLOG:

Q: Do you first have to help people realize they’re captive?

That’s an important first step. When you grow up in a particular church context with a particular worldview, you develop assumptions about what faith is. After a while, a culture develops within all churches, and we assume our particular cultural expression of Christianity is what the church is supposed to be.

In any context, whether the American church or globally, we have to offer that knowledge about captivity. But part of that comes when we’re in conversation with each other. When a white suburban church talks to an inner-city black church, or a Western church talks to an African church, then we start seeing which things are more cultural and which are more biblical. We start learning from each other what church is really about.

Q: So how do you free the church?

That’s the tough question. Right now in the U.S., we’re blessed to have an increasingly multicultural society. I’m a Korean and grew up in a Korean church, but I was educated in the context of American Christianity and American culture. So I have a bicultural lens.

The subtitle of my second book is “Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church,” but I always thought the better phrase would be “Cultural Intuition.” “Intelligence” implies just a set of knowledge that you pick up. Intuition is more something that you develop through experiences. A person who has lived in one cultural context all their life doesn’t develop an intuition for culture. They might read books on culture and gain knowledge about it, but they won’t develop intuition.

The more you’re in cross-cultural relationships and settings, the more you encounter people who are different, the more you can develop cultural intuition. And through that, you can start asking, “Well, where is my faith coming from?”

Q: What does a culturally sensitive, culturally intuitive church look like?

We’re just starting to figure that out. Part of the problem is that the U.S. has very few multiethnic churches. Only about 7 or 8 percent of U.S. churches are multiethnic, meaning 80 percent of one group and 20 percent of another. We don’t have churches that have been at this for 20 to 40 years and know what it’s like to live through stages of church life as a multicultural community. We’re starting to see more examples.

I hesitate to suggest principles that everybody should follow, because every context is different. But we have to develop even more intuition, relationships and abilities. We have to be patient. Maybe we first need to have more multiethnic churches and be more intentional about being part of multiethnic communities. Then we can see what principles emerge.

Q: You’ve written about the conditions that are required for people to grow and to change regarding issues of race and culture. Tell us about that.

I was a pastor for 15 years — 10 of those in one church — and that deeply shaped the way I view how people change.

Two variables are helpful, and you have to have both. One is a place of safety, a place where you feel safe enough to ask stupid questions, make mistakes and feel affirmed in your basic identity. That, by the way, is often why people go to single-ethnic churches — because they’re safe. We feel safer with people who are like us and who understand us.

But we also need the flip side of that, which is a place of discomfort. Most of us don’t grow unless there’s a reason to grow, unless discomfort is introduced — and usually that is introduced by people who are different.

That’s why it’s hard to establish multiethnic churches, because you’ve got to have both. You’ve got to have places of safety,  but you also need a place of challenge, where people will say, “Hey, maybe you need to think about that a little more.”

Safety and challenge are things I hope the church could offer. That would be a great church, wouldn’t it? A place where people can say, “I’m affirmed here. God accepts me as I am. But at the same time, the community has challenged me to grow in areas that I would not have thought of unless I’d been part of this community.”

Q: The debate over immigration reform is an area where these issues of safety and discomfort seem relevant. Yet church people have often been some of the harshest voices in the debate. Why?

There’s no easy answer, but it goes back to cultural captivity, where being an American and protecting an American identity, usually associated with a white European identity, became more important than the scriptural values of compassion for the alien and immigrant among us. That reflects a cultural Christianity. Christianity as a whole has fallen captive to this idea of American exceptionalism and triumphalism. That has become more important than being the servant of all.

I get disturbed when people say, “We want America to be a Christian nation.” That usually means triumph, victory and maybe even violent conquest. The best way for America to be a Christian nation would be if we accepted the alien and immigrant among us. That would be more of a testimony of America as a Christian nation than any Islamic jihad we were able to defeat or put down.

Q: How should historically single-ethnic congregations welcome and minster to people of different cultures and languages?

American churches don’t look the way they did 20 or 30 years ago. They are more multicultural and more diverse than they’ve ever been, across all denominations. So the question is not, “Is there diversity?” but, “What do we do about it?”

Is our goal to be hospitable? Well, yes, if we’re talking about the biblical understanding of hospitality, but not if we’re talking about the Western concept of hospitality, which means, “Come to my home for a couple of hours — we’ll feed you, but at the end of the night, you’re going to leave.”

Hospitality in the Western concept is an occasional event. Hospitality in the biblical context means, “No, actually, we’re going to live together. My home really is your home.”

What happens when that kind of hospitality changes not only your living arrangements but your food? If I’m a guest in your house, you might fix kimchi for me, but you can throw it out after I leave. But if I’m living with you, that kimchi’s going to be in your refrigerator for a long time, and your milk is going to start tasting like kimchi, and you might not like it as much as when it was just a random, one-night visit.

What happens when we live together for a long time and the liturgy changes? What happens when our children marry each other? What happens when all the things that make family life messy become what our church life needs to be?

It’s not just a Western host saying, “Hey, come on in. We have room for you.” It’s the church saying, “We are now coming into the fullness of what Christ originally intended.” That is a very different approach to being a multiethnic church.

Usually, you get the dominant church or the dominant culture saying, “Come join us and become like us, and then we’ll have worship together.” This other approach says, “Unless you’re here, the way God made you, my life as a Christian is incomplete. By you being here, bringing your different culture and style of worship and approach to fellowship, my life becomes complete in Christ, because I’m seeing Christ in you the way I can’t see Christ just in my own life.”

Q: What advice do you have for churches that want to do what you describe?

Studies show that neighborhoods generally are six times more diverse than churches. Every neighborhood is different, but the excuse that “our church isn’t multiethnic because the neighborhood isn’t” is probably just that — an excuse. If you look within a mile radius, certainly four or five miles, you’ll see more diversity.

A first step would be to ask, “What’s going on in our neighborhood? Have churches started up that we didn’t know about? How can we partner with churches that are already doing this work?”

Then, also think about evangelism. What does it mean to do outreach and evangelism into communities that are already diverse?

Churches should also think seriously about what it means, what it costs, to become a multiethnic church. What would be lost potentially? It could be a lot.

I’ve been looking at what dying churches do with their buildings — churches that were vibrant for 40 or 50 years but they’re down to 15, 20 people, and they’re just kind of waiting. They have a huge endowment and the building is paid for, but they’re not going to make it. In many cases, those churches shut down and become community centers or libraries or bowling alleys or condos.

But what would it mean for that church to give the building to a Spanish-speaking church or a Korean congregation? That would require thinking about what it means to pass on a legacy to people who are in some sense your children but don’t look anything like you or even speak the same language.

What would it mean to think in such a larger, kingdom mindset that you would say, “Our run has ended, and our time is coming to a close. The next generation is not our biological children. It’s the Hispanic church or Asian-American church down the street that we should pass this legacy on to.”

It’s coming to a point in American church history where we’re passing on our legacy to people who look very different from us.

September 2011 on Duke Divinity School’s Faith and Leadership Blog. I did an interview on The Next Evangelicalism. Originally posted on: http://www.faithandleadership.com/qa/soong-chan-rah-freeing-the-captive-church.

This is part I of that interview.

Our nation’s growing diversity represents more to the church than a pool of potential new members. Even more, it’s an opportunity for the church in America to begin to live out a richer, more biblically authentic form of Christianity, Soong-Chan Rah said.

“Often, Western white culture has been so dominant in the church that we have trouble distinguishing it from biblical Christianity,” Rah said. “As the demographics of America change, how do we understand church not just through a Western lens of Christianity but also other lenses?”

The question for the church in America is not, “Is there diversity?” but, “What do we do about it?” said Rah, the Milton B. Engebretson Associate Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago.

If the goal is hospitality, then the church must decide what kind of hospitality it is willing to extend — traditional Western hospitality or a more demanding, biblical form of hospitality.

“It’s not just a Western host saying, ‘Hey, come on in. We have room for you,’” Rah said. “It’s the church saying, ‘We are now coming into the fullness of what Christ originally intended.’”

Rah is the author of “The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity” and “Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church.” He was the founding pastor of Cambridge Community Fellowship Church in Cambridge, Mass., a multiethnic, urban church committed to racial reconciliation and social justice.

Rah was a faculty member for the 2011 Summer Institute at Duke Divinity School and spoke with Faith & Leadership about diversity, church growth and freeing the church from cultural captivity. The following is an edited transcript.

Q: You’re an associate professor of church growth and evangelism and you write about race, ethnicity and culture. What’s the connection between those? Are race and ethnicity keys to church growth?

When we look at evangelism and church growth and America’s changing demographics, we have to consider issues like multicultural and multiethnic ministry. In my own denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church, the two have gone hand in hand. Diversity has been a big factor in our growth.

Twenty years ago, the Evangelical Covenant Church was overwhelmingly white and Swedish, because it was a Swedish immigrant church. But in the last 15 years, it has become 20 to 25 percent nonwhite and has been one of the fastest growing denominations. It’s a place where we see a denomination’s growth parallel its growing diversity.

 

Q: Tell us about your first book, “The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity.”

I look first at how Christianity has changed globally and in America. The assumption has been that Christianity in America is on the decline, but because of immigration, we’re actually seeing American Christianity, if not increasing, then certainly leveling off. We can be thankful that immigration and changing demographics are contributing to the church’s growth in the United States.

But given that demographic reality, what elements of American Christianity are still beholden to systems and structures from a previous time when it was dominated by Western white culture? And what do we need to think through in light of the changing demographics?

So where does our Christianity look more cultural than scriptural? Where do we go from here as we become more ethnically diverse? What is our theological and biblical understanding of culture? How do we start looking at multicultural communities? How can we build cross-cultural relationships?

Every expression of Christianity has cultural baggage, both good and bad. All Christianity has cultural relevance to a particular context. Churches need to do that. But at what point does it become captivity rather than relevance?

Often, Western white culture has been so dominant in the church that we have trouble distinguishing it from biblical Christianity. As the demographics of America change, how do we understand church not just through a Western lens of Christianity but also other lenses?

 

Q: What are the most obvious signs of the church’s captivity to Western culture?

One is the individualism of Western culture. We see this very strongly in evangelicalism, which tends to be highly individualistic. Is that really a biblical approach, or is it acquiescence to American culture? If Western culture is individualistic, then the Western church had to develop patterns of church life that parallel that individualism. But at what point does that become not just relevance but captivity?

Another is how we worship. Does our preaching reflect more the values of individualism than biblical values of community life? Western culture is very much about the individual, but is that what the Bible talks about when it talks about church? Do we need to move out from Western cultural captivity to see other models of community and church? How do African and Asian churches do church life? In what ways might they reflect a more communal spirit rather than the individualism of Western culture?

Captivity doesn’t allow us to see that. Captivity forces us into a particular worldview that says, “This is the way we do church.” But if we’re freed from that, we can see other expressions of church life.

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.

Once in a while, legislation is introduced that makes the moral choice so crystal clear that it is nearly impossible not to do the right thing. The DREAM Act is one such bill. Every year, more than 65,000 students graduate from high school and discover they have no hope for the future. Without citizenship or legal status, they cannot apply for a driver’s license, struggle to find a college to accept them, and cannot legally work in the United States. Their crime? Being carried into our country as children without the proper documentation, often without any say in the matter or understanding of how it would affect the rest of their lives.

Are we a nation that will continue to punish children for the actions of their parents? The DREAM Act says no! Ask the Senate to pass this important bill. The DREAM Act would provide a path to citizenship for immigrant students who have grown up in the U.S., if they attend college or serve in the U.S. military. It has strict criteria and caps on who is eligible, and would provide almost a million young people a chance to come out of the shadows and live a full life in the only nation they call home. The Senate plans to vote on the DREAM Act next week, as an amendment to a larger, previously scheduled defense bill. The media is already creating a story of conflict — saying the bill provides “amnesty” and shouldn’t be attached to a military bill. What are our priorities as a nation? We can spend billions on going to war and on our military, but will we come together to give almost a million young people a chance at a brighter and more promising future?

Tell the Senate to set politics aside and pass the DREAM Act next week! As people of faith, we believe that there is a clear biblical responsibility to show compassion for the strangers among us and to treat our neighbors as we would like to be treated. Sojourners’ Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform campaign has been a passionate voice for comprehensive reform to our immigration system. Passing the DREAM act is a step in the right direction on the journey for justice.

In solidarity and hope,

Allison, Andrew, Elizabeth, Hannah, Rev. Jen, and Duane at Sojourners

A few updates:

Wednesday, September 8 at 5PM:  A Reception for my new book:

Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church by Soong-Chan Rah

Sponsored by North Park University

Following a short overview of the book by Dr. Rah, a dialogue with church leaders who engage in multicultural competency in their ministries will take place, exploring various approaches.  The discussion will cover tips for success and well as lessons they have learned along the way.

Professor Rah will be available following the dialogue for a book signing.

WHERE:   Gleacher Center       Room 600

The Gleacher Center is located on the north side of the Chicago River 1 block east of the Sheraton Hotel (site of the CCDA Conference), the second building west of Michigan Avenue. Enter on the east side of the building. Room 600 is on the 6th floor.

Fresh fruit will be served.

Due to limited space, you must RSVP for this event.  If you are interested, contact me to get your name on the guest list.

Thursday, September 9, 2010  (1pm at Gordon-Conwell)

Speaking at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s National Preaching Conference (along with Haddon Robinson, Tony Evans, and Alistair Begg).  They really need to have a woman preacher at the next one.

See LINK at the Gordon-Conwell web page.

RIGHT NOW:

Available online.  I guest edited the Common Ground Journal.  This issues’ topic: Multicultural education at theological schools.

Interesting articles by Mark Harden (Bethel Seminary), Lisa Anderson Umana, Soong-Chan Rah (North Park Theological Seminary), David Leong (Seattle Pacific University) and Liz VerHage (North Park University).

Over the past decade, I have had a number of conversations with pastors who were beginning to engage on the issue of race in the context of the church.  Some are attempting to develop multi-ethnic/multi-cultural churches.  Others are struggling with whether multi-ethnic churches were in their future.  I have noticed that two dominant themes emerge in my conversation with the wide range of Christians on the topic of multi-ethnic churches

The first perspective claims that we are all the same and that racial and cultural differences do not matter.  Commonplace phrases include:

“We’re all the same race – the human race.”

“We don’t have a race problem at our church. We’re all one in Christ.”

“People put too much emphasis on culture . . . we should be about the culture of Jesus, not human culture.”

“We’re really trying to form a new culture at our church, one that goes beyond everyone’s original culture”

The second perspective also has its set of catch phrases:

“We have too many issues in our own community.”

“We’re just not ready, it’s too difficult of a task to try be a multi-ethnic community.”

“Multi-ethnic churches don’t grow, if we want to grow as a church, we need to be with people like ourselves”

Professor Willie Jennings of Duke Divinity School finds in these two different streams, the manifestation of two historical heresies. The first perspective reflects the docetic heresy, while the second perspective reflects an adoptionist heresy.

The docetic perspective is the theological heresy that Jesus was not human at all. There were strains of the gnostic heresy in the docetic perspective.  Flesh and matter were evil. Jesus could not have been encased in flesh, since flesh is evil.  Therefore, Jesus was fully spirit and his physical body was an illusion.  The docetic perspective stems from the inability to deal with differences. Human limitations and differences were a problem to overcome and to be eradicated rather than something to be renewed.  The docetic antagonism towards the flesh yields an antagonism towards anything of the flesh.  Racial and cultural identity (arising from the material world) should be obliterated, rather than affirmed.

The adoptionist perspective is the theological heresy that Jesus was born fully human and was later adopted by God as His son by virtue of Jesus’ supernatural devotion to God.  The awareness of this adoption occurred at the moment of Jesus’ baptism.  Declared a heresy in the second century, adoptionism was refuted by the First Nicean Council – hence the Nicean Creeds assertion that Jesus was eternally- begotten of the Father.  Adoptionism places a priority on one’s social location and identity and places high emphasis on one’s context.  Because one’s social location and identity are centralized, Christianity gets added on as an extra ingredient. Christianity is subservient to one’s culture, race and ethnicity which hold a primary, central position.

So one perspective exalts culture while another position diminishes it.  Both perspectives are heretical. Neither path is an appealing option.

I find that evangelical Christianity struggles with how to best deal with culture.  We tend to cover the gamut of perspectives ranging from the docetic to the adoptionist.  In Many Colors, I try to address the need to have a healthy perspective on culture.  A perspective that does not disparage or diminish culture.  At the same time does not elevate culture beyond its rightful place.  Part of the process of planting and developing multi-ethnic/multi-cultural churches requires a deeper theology of culture.  Working towards a deeper theology of culture provides a starting point for developing cultural intelligence for a changing church.

For more on the topic, See: http://restructure.wordpress.com/2010/04/26/endorsement-of-racial-colorblindness-is-linked-to-racism/