Am I too White?

I don’t know a lot about River Pointe Church in Houston. This video was embedded in this interesting article on River Pointe and its efforts to embrace racial diversity.

I’m going to make a few comments on the video, so WATCH IT NOW!!!

The question “Am I too white to be your pastor?” seems like a fair one to ask. That one question addresses several underlying issues. “Do you think a white guy like me can speak into your cultural world?”, “Do you think God can speak to you through me in a relevant way or am I too different?”, “How important is it for your worship to reflect your culture?”, “Can the Spirit of God operate cross-culturally?”

In sharing this question I don’t want to disparage any minority that might answer “Yes”. There are times when I convince myself that I’m too white to pastor in a multiracial church.

I found it interesting that many of the people surveyed in the video who answered “No”, still attended mono-racial churches. I suspect that for many people the thought of church as anything but mono-racial has never crossed their mind.

From watching the video and reading the original article I get the sense that this church actively pursues cultural competence.  They’re asking awkward questions and hosting difficult conversations. Theydon’t pretend racial diversity is an insignificant accident. This quote from lead pastor, Patrick Kelley, demonstrates the attitude necessary to make a church like this survive.

“The key has been humbly becoming a learner,” says Patrick, who adds that he had to overcome racist attitudes he picked up from his parents. “I went in as ignorant as could be. And more than once, I’ve gone to our church and said, ‘I want to ask your forgiveness. But if you’ll give me a lot of grace, we’ll go together trying to reach our community for Christ.’ ”

I liked how in the video Reggie Slater made the point that worshiping with people unfamiliar with us requires us making an effort. It’s easier to stick with what’s familiar, and many people choose easy. But easy is seldom best. If it was easy we’d have solved this problem a long time ago and moved on to the next topic.

I also liked how Reggie turned the initial question around, “Am I too black for your church?”. As a minister I can ask all day whether or not I’m too white to be your pastor, but if my church believes the individual is too black, too Latino, or too Asian to fit in, then I’ve asking the wrong people the wrong questions.

Lastly, let me point out from the article that River Pointe didn’t set out to be a multiracial church. It simply set out to serve it’s community with a willingness to become multiracial as a reflection of that community. Kelley comments, “It’s not a goal of River Pointe to be diverse, but to help all people groups find a meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ. We have to figure out how to be all things to all men in order to win some.”

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May I Vent?

I am enough of a sports fan that I also publish a christian sports blog. As an Australian football fan I’ve been poking around their league website as the season is just starting. As I poked around I immediately noticed two articles (here and here) related to promoting multiculturalism in the sport and tolerance in our society.

Look at the vision and resources dedicated to this program described in this quote,

The AFL is pleased to announce 183 multicultural community leaders from around Australia will join the AFL Multicultural Community Ambassador program in 2014.

The aim of the AFL Multicultural Community Ambassador Program is to further engage multicultural communities in Australian football through a network of dedicated volunteers… representing 44 countries of birth, 65 nationalities and around 100 languages.

So here’s my vent…

How can a football league recognise the value of racial and ethnic diversity to its future growth while many Christians complain that the complexion of their neighbourhood has changed?

How can a football league proactively recruit and train “lay people” to spread the good news about football within their communities, while the answer most churches have is to start a new church for the new people?

How can it seem so normal for a football league to celebrate cultural diversity and such a political statement for a church to do the same?

How can a football league possess greater passion in spreading its game to new people than the church has for spreading the message of new life in Christ?

Can you imagine the church recruiting and training 200 “ambassadors” representing 44 countries of birth, 65 nationalities and around 100 languages? Wouldn’t that be a dynamic workshop?!

A separate article describes how Essendon captain, Jobe Watson, joined the AFL’s multicultural ambassador program as “the token white guy”. The rest of the players in this program represent immigrant or aboriginal communities. So why would a white guy from the suburbs join? I love his answer,

How can you expect society to be inclusive if a proportion of society only think multiculturalism is the responsibility of people with multicultural backgrounds?

To build on being an inclusive game and being accessible to people from all different backgrounds, it’s important that someone who doesn’t have as diverse a multicultural background as others is interested and is part of the program.

Those two sentences carry a lot of weight when applied to the church. Unless people of all ethnic backgrounds willingly work together our churches and society will never change. It shouldn’t be about a minority or collection of minorities conducting a campaign. It shouldn’t be about the majority legislating a path forward. It should be about everyone being willing to talk and work together.

Cultural Competence

This is the fifth and final post discussing a five stage continuum of growing cross-cultural competence that Mark DeYmaz describes in his book, Building a Healthy Multi-Ethnic ChurchHe calls this destination stage “Cultural Competence”.

We should not confuse Cultural Competence with expertise. DeYmaz describes Culturally Competent people as “individuals who value diversity, conduct self-assessment, manage the dynamics of difference, acquire and institutionalize cultural knowledge and are able to adapt to diversity and the cultural contexts of the communities they serve.” (105) That’s quite a mouth full.

This definition becomes clearer when we contrast it with the previous stage, Cultural Sensitivity. Sensitivity emphasises asking the right questions. Competence has learned the answers to the question and now does something about it.

Notice the action words in the above definition: Value, conduct, manage, acquire and institutionalize, and adapt. The Culturally Competent person still continues to ask questions and explore different cultures. This person remembers previous lessons, avoids the pitfalls and uses their inquiries to benefit others of that culture.

One personal example of obtaining Cultural Competence involves football. Coming to the United States in 1999 I was aware of “gridiron”, but had zero understanding. Over time I asked questions and listened to sports talk radio. I selected a team to support and participated in conversations with American fans. I still know more about Australian football than American, but I have reached a level of competence so that I can blog about American sports, including NFL.

What areas of church life require us to pursue Cultural Competence? Of course, individual relationships are the most important, but many other areas of congregational life present opportunities for cultural misunderstandings. The worship service can potentially project the values of inclusion and acceptance by the people involved in public responsibilities. A variety of musical styles communicates openness to diverse cultures.

Less obvious ministry opportunities to demonstrate Cultural Competence include church meals and the nursery. If the church fellowship team prepares a menu for each church meal that is monocultural some members and guests will feel overlooked. While chicken and mashed potatoes may be staples in one cultural setting, others long for various beans and even different meats. Drinks also present a challenge not only between coffee and hot tea, but in a variety of cold drink preferences.

Then consider the nursery. As the parent of a 4 year old I’m aware of many different parenting approaches just within my white middle class community. Are Hispanic or Asian parents as willing to drop their children off at the nursery as White or African-American parents? Do different racial groups have different behavioural expectations for their children in the nursery? How can these differences be accommodated? How do these differences impact the scheduling and training of nursery volunteers? These cultural distinctions are not limited to racial differences but could also be relevant between urban and suburban families.

When churches can navigate these potentially troubled waters there’s a great likelihood that they’ve achieved Cultural Competence. At least in those areas of church life.

How Sensitive Are You?

This isthe fourth post discussing a five stage continuum of growing cross-cultural competence that Mark DeYmaz describes in his book, Building a Healthy Multi-Ethnic ChurchHe calls this fourth stage “Cultural Sensitivity”.

If you’re reading this blog you’re probably already on the path to cultural sensitivity. Not because you’re learning from the most sensitive person in the world. I’m not. But because you’re making the effort to learn more about the subject. Hopefully you’re just as willing to learn more about other cultures you encounter in your church and community.

Many people practice cultural sensitivity when we travel overseas. In 1958 an influential fictional book was published with the title The Ugly American. It described a sensitive and insensitive approaches to interacting with locals in foreign countries. In time the phrase has often been associated with American tourists. However, tourists from all countries run the risk of being “ugly” when insensitive to local customs and values.

Most people I know when preparing for international travel take time to research the culture of their destination. Internet articles and numerous travel guides alert travelers to possible local sensitivities. Other people I know make an effort to speak to friends who’ve already traveled to those places and learn from their experiences.

But surely if I’m attending church with people who grew up in the same city as I did, I don’t need a “travel guide” to understand them!

Phil RobertsonFor several months I attended the church where Phil Robertson is an elder. I respect him, his family and the church. However, his comments in a GQ article regarding African-Americans that he observed prior to desegregation in the South demonstrated a lack of cultural sensitivity. He seems to assume that what he saw reflected the hearts of the people.

Practicing cultural sensitivity requires sitting down with those same people and saying, “I saw this and this on the news. How does it affect you?” Or maybe asking “Do you feel that our laws treat you as a lesser human being?” Without those conversations and efforts to understand those from another culture we’re never going to be sensitive to the thoughts and hearts of others.

Pursuing cultural sensitivity requires that we seek more than the facts regarding a culture, a race, or an historical event. True sensitivity demands that we seek to glimpse the feelings and heart of people with different experiences and values than ours.

Churches can promote the pursuit of sensitivity through organised events where different cultures exchange perspectives on various events. However, this does involve a risk of debating or comparing values. The most effective way for churches to embrace diverse ethnicities is for leaders to model the practice of cultural sensitivity one-on-one. These leaders will find themselves better equipped to lead the congregation along the multi-ethnic journey toward Cultural Competence.

The need for cultural education isn’t limited to when we travel. Too often we assume everyone sees the world the way we do. We need to pursue cultural sensitivity each time we engage people from a different cultural background to ourselves. Since loving our neighbour requires us to express that love in a way that is meaningful to them, we have a responsibility to first learn “what is meaningful to them”.