Racing Together @ Starbucks

Did you see THIS STORY in the news? “Starbucks to encourage baristas to discuss race relations with customers”

starbucks race together 02Starbucks is a business.

Starbucks sells coffee.  And sugary frozen drinks.  And tea.  And hot chocolate.  And expensive pastries.

Starbucks exists to make money for shareholders.

Starbucks has decided to take the risk of encouraging its baristas to discuss race relations in the US with customers.

Churches are not businesses.

Churches represent God to the world.  And usually make Folgers coffee.  And homemade cookies.

Churches exist to spread the message of God’s love throughout the world.

Churches, more often than not, choose not to risk discussing race relations but to remain segregated in black and white church buildings.

Why would a business, whose goal is to make money, show greater willingness to address controversial social issues than churches? This move is clearly not part of their business strategy for increasing sales. It’s a decision by Howard Shultz, the CEO, that his company should have a voice on social issues.

Why would a church, whose goal is to spread good news, not want to spread a message that God can bring racial reconciliation to this country? This message is clearly consistent with the greater message of the Gospel. Have we allowed a concern for congregational well-being to take precedence of faithfulness to the Gospel message?

Do you think that Starbucks baristas will have all the answers to improving race relations in the United States? I don’t. But their willingness to initiate the conversation provides the vital first step.

Too many churches, and preachers, and elders, are unwilling to begin the conversation because they feel that they don’t have all the answers. Answers won’t come by waiting for them to drop out of the sky. Answers come through listening to each other and working together to develop mutual respect and even love across ethnic boundaries.

Tragically, churches’ unwillingness to start these conversations denies the power of the Gospel. It suppresses the truth that “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.“(1 John 4:4) It allows fear to seize control of the church. Perhaps fear has this power within the church because we haven’t cultivated the loving environment that makes our churches a safe place for these conversations to take place. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 Jon 4:18b)

Starbucks should never provide a safer environment than the church. Something is broken.

How would your church lobby look if you gave each attender this week a cup that said, “Race Together”, along with permission to start a conversation about race.

Communion cup 01Is it irony that each week we actually do hand each other a cup that says “Race Together”?

It’s a cup that Jesus gave us to remind us that he died for all humanity. (Hebrews 10:10)

It’s a cup that reminds us that all Christians form one body. (1 Cor 10:16-17)

It’s a cup that reminds us that we run a race…together. (Hebrews 12:1)

So church… Let’s #RaceTogether.

The Cultural Mosaic blog exists as my effort to initiate conversation on this topic.

I am also greatly encouraged by the work of the The Racial Unity Leadership Summit. This is an organization within Churches of Christ carrying out conversations about race. You can listen to recordings of their most recent gathering, which was held in Memphis, HERE. (The site has several events listed, so look for the heading “Audio Racial Unity Leadership Summit 2015”.)

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Conversations on Race and Racial Reconciliation

As my last post indicated I’ve been struggling a bit with my other workload and writer’s block on this blog. But in the wake of the grand jury’s verdict in Ferguson last night I feel like something positive and constructive needs to be said.

A friend pointed me to this video and so I’m sharing it with you.

It’s not a perfect video. It wasn’t filmed yesterday. Thirty minutes is hardly enough time to solve all the challenges confronting Ferguson and other communities around the United States that live under the shadow of racism. Some of the statements in the discussion made me really wish the pause button would let me jump in and seek clarification.

I share the video because in it I see hope. I see hope because church leaders are discussing serious issues around racism. I see hope because they’re willing to talk about difficult subjects. I see hope because I know the passion these guys display for racial harmony is not an act for the camera. I see hope because this video models the conversations that need to take place in churches around the country. It’s conversations like these that can open eyes and hearts leading to transformation and reconciliation. And I see hope because you’re taking time to watch it.

Walking the Racial Tightrope for Jesus

There are times when multi-ethnic churches seem glamourous. They’re trendy. They’re healing. They’re redemptive. They embody reconciliation. Above all, they’re Godly as they proclaim God’s love for ALL people.

As a minister in a small multi-ethnic church I can attest that they’re also FRIGHTENING!

Missteps are common. Disaster constantly appears to be just the next word away. “If we get this wrong… half the church could leave this week, and never come back.

Racial and cultural integration is unnatural. We naturally affiliate with those who are similar and familiar. So ministry in multi-ethnic churches often feels like swimming up stream. And as much as we dream that the whole church shares our vision we routinely find ourselves promoting diversity and cross-cultural appreciation to people who’ve begun a move back to their familiar social circles.

Ministry in multi-ethnic churches brings tension. Something as fundamental as asking how to refer to the racial minority segment of the church is fraught with controversy. If I want to express my respect for the minority culture, should I call it: black culture, African-American culture, the culture of people of colour, or just refer to it (and the people) as the minority culture?

Earth hands 01This quandary would provide enough challenges if the mission of a multi-ethnic church was just about bringing black and white Christians together. In reality, we have members from the Caribbean, some first and second generation Hispanic families, students from China and in my case a preacher from Australia! Must our church respect all these cultures and races, or should we give priority to the largest minorities?

Then perhaps the most challenging question for traditional churches is how will this diversity impact our worship service? If you’ve ever attempted changes to an established worship structure in a mono-cultural church, you understand this minefield. If the mingling of hymns and “camp songs” gives Sister Brown a hernia, what will happen when we break out in Calypso? Or have a prayer lead in Spanish?

But ministers are familiar with many of these challenges. We face similar issues as we attempt to meet the demands of older and younger members. We practice reconciliation as different dominant culture sub-groups seek to express worship in a way meaningful to themselves. We took Conflict Resolution 101 in seminary, and often that training is sufficient to successfully navigate these bumps in the road.

Multi-ethnic churches find their greatest challenges in the arena of social justice.

Because of my context, I felt a burden this past Sunday to intentionally talk about the shooting and protests in Ferguson, Missouri. (I’ve written about that here.) In an all-white church it would be prudent not to pry open the lid on Pandora’s box. I suspect that in an all black church it would be unthinkable not to speak of justice and oppression, probably with strong rhetoric.

In a multi-ethnic context the church finds itself filling the role of educator as well as prophet. Church leadership must guide the congregation through the process of listening to each other. At times the pulpit will be used to provide a voice to a minority that will not otherwise be heard. As an example, Matt Chandler ventured into this role as he took time in his sermon this week to explore the meaning of the term “white privilege”.

This additional role of educator brings additional hazards with it. In his book Working the Angles, Eugene Peterson makes this statement, “Most misunderstandings come not from missed definitions but from missed contexts.” (p125) How can a dominant culture speaker accurately reflect the context of the minority? It requires that we have awkward, frank conversations about impolite topics. I must ask “dumb” questions. I must listen to the stories of my minority members and reflect their experiences in my sermons.

Multi-ethnic churches, more than most churches, depend upon two Godly virtues for our existence: Humility and Forgiveness.

Although I live in the US and am married to an American, I will never understand American culture as well as my wife. Humility reminds me of this fact and prompts me to keep asking questions and learning. Cross cultural churches need to cultivate an environment that encourages the asking and answering of questions. This is the only process that will lead to cultural competence and understanding.

I also rely upon the forgiveness of my church as I minister to them. Because I’m continually learning, sometimes I’ll say too much, or too little. Sometimes I’ll say or do the wrong thing. I’ll offend and upset people. Some members will think I’ve getting political instead of Biblical. Other members will think I should discuss contemporary social events much more than I do. Because I’ll never get a balance that pleases everyone I depend upon their grace as we explore together what it means to live in Christian community as a collection of diverse cultures.

Finally, as I worship with people of minority populations, I accept them as my spiritual family. This means that we love one another. Because we love one another, when they hurt, I cry. When they succeed, I cheer. When they’re oppressed adn discriminated against, I stand with them. I can’t just pat their hand and say “there, there” on Sunday morning. This article provides some good suggestions to help white people and churches moving from rhetoric to reality in supporting their black neighbours.

blog tour 01I’ve decided to make this post part of the Compadres Summer Blog Tour. This is a group of Christian bloggers who are taking turns over the course of the summer to write about the Glory of Christ. You might wonder how this blog post fits that criteria. It doesn’t… until now.

The events of Ferguson and the ensuing barrage of related articles have served to remind me how ill equipped I am for this ministry context in which I find myself. Yes, I have relevant training and life experience, but the issues revealed in Ferguson run so deep. Any steps toward solutions or reconciliation that I might propose seem so inadequate. I’ve preached for this church for 6 years and yet at a moment of crisis like this I question my credibility to speak meaningfully into the lives of those most touched by the death of Michael Brown.

But before I drown in my doubt and self-deprecation, I find hope in 2 Corinthians 12:9. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

I constantly need the reminder that the presence of a multi-ethnic church in this community is not a personal accomplishment by me. The church was here before I arrived. Rather, multi-ethnic churches bring glory to God because it is only his grace and power that allows them to work. They exist as entities giving glory to God. Without God’s presence my efforts to build a multi-ethnic organization would fall miserably flat.

So we step on the tightrope. Aware of the dangers of falling. Trusting in our God to carry us.

We step.

Not recklessly. Knowing our capacity to hurt others even more than ourselves.

We step.

Not because we need to. Because those with weak hands and voices need ours. Because God calls us to love our neighbours.

We step.

Because Jesus stepped into our world, our culture. Now he calls us to follow him. Along a tightrope. And through places we might otherwise avoid. He calls us to the other side. And so we step.

Colossians 3:10-11 beautifully describes how the church has adopted a new identity in Christ and “is being renewed in the image of its Creator.” What does the Creators image look like? Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” While we all can and should work to eradicate racial prejudice from our society, ultimately we can only accomplish this when “Christ is all, and is in all.”

To God be the glory!

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Changing Faces

many colorsEarlier this week I was fortunate to attend a workshop on Multicultural Churches presented by Dr Soong-Chan Rah at Northeastern Seminary here in Rochester, NY. Dr. Rah is widely recognised as a leading academic in the field of multiethnic churches. He has directly planted and ministered in a multiethnic church in Cambridge, MA and now teaches courses related to urban and multiethnic churches. In 2010 he published a popular book, Many Colors, advocating the need for churches and church leaders to understand the influence of culture and the need to develop Cultural Intelligence.

Over the next few weeks I plan to reflect on the material Dr. Rah presented at this workshop.

The Changing Face of Global Christianity

In 1900 83% of Christians were located in Europe and North America. These primarily white continents infused Christianity with values and practices that were meaningful to that population.

By 2050 sociologists project that a mere 28% of Christians will be located in Europe and North America. Even in these continents many of the churches will be predominantly filled with non-white members. For example, the largest church currently in Kiev, Russia is a Nigerian congregation.

Globally, God’s kingdom is growing, not shrinking. But the church of today and tomorrow looks very different from the church of yesteryear. By 2050 Africa will contain 29% of global Christians, Latin America will be home to 22% and Asia will have 20% of all Christians.

The forms and rituals of the predominantly white European church will also need to evolve to reflect this movement in global church demographics. Each of these cultures needs to find it’s individual voice with which to worship and serve God.

The Changing Face of American Christianity

As a result of immigration (legal and illegal) and birth-rate American society has changed dramatically since the 1960’s. In 2008 one-third of the American population were minorities of various backgrounds. By 2011 half of all births were within minority communities. At that rate, by 2023 one half of all children in the US will be racial minorities. As the trend continues, by 2042 the historically dominant white racial group will make up less than 50% of the US population.

Stephen Warner has observed, “The new immigrants represent not the de-Christianization of American society, but the de-Europeanization of American Christianity.” Elsewhere he noted,

Above all, the new immigrants make it decreasingly plausible for Americans to think of Christianity as a white person’s religion. . . . And although it may not be apparent in many congregations, American Christians are increasingly people of color.

There is no reason to think that this trend will reverse itself any time soon. Predominantly white churches will increasingly look like anomalies in this changing landscape. The question monocultural churches must address is whether they will embrace this racial diversification of Christianity, or resist it.

The Changing Face of Boston

Dr Rah illustrated the transition the American church is experiencing by using Boston as a case study. New England has long been recognised as the prime example of increasing secularisation and diminishing Christian presence. However, Dr Rah contends that much of this decrease in church attendance is primarily predominantly located within the white portion of society.

In 1970 the city proper of Boston was home to about 300 churches. Many of these historic churches no longer exist. In most cases their buildings have been repurposed or demolished.

However, this does not mean that God has fled Boston. Dr Rah cited a recent survey that listed 600 churches within the city limits of Boston. The difference is that these churches do not meet in stately buildings on prominent street corners. The churches are mostly found within ethnic, immigrant communities, and over half these churches hold their services in a language other than English.

According to a 2009 report commissioned by the Mayor’s Office of New Bostonians, by 2007 minority racial groups made up a majority (50.1%) of the city of Boston’s population. The demise of most of those 300 churches was not tied to a decline in Christianity, but the churches failure to engage the highly spiritual immigrant and other minority communities.

Between 2001-06 at least 98 new churches were planted in Boston. 76 of these churches responded to survey and reported that while 50% of those new churches worship in a language other than English, many of them, even with a majority non-white attendance, also have English services.

The Christian world is changing. American society is changing. Our cities are changing.

The big question for established churches is, “Will existing churches allow God to infuse them with new life and cultures, or will God need to raise up new churches to continue his mission in the changing landscape of American cities.

Boston Immigration

The Value of Community

Last week’s post on Donald Sterling was well received. Thank-you to those who took the time to read it and also to those who sent me a private message on the subject.

I wrote that post just a couple of days after the NBA gave Sterling a lifetime suspension from the NBA. I’m happy with my comments and questions. But I appreciate a couple of friends who have written on the topic this week and the perspectives that they present. No one person or article can cover all aspects of any topic and each writer has a style that connects best with different audiences. So I accept my limitations, but look at this for a diverse lineup:

  • I write as an Australian who has spent most of the last 15 years in the US. I now life in upstate New York.
  • Jonathan Storment has white skin, was raised in Arkansas and now preaches for a church in Abilene, Texas.
  • Sean Palmer is an African-American raised in the deep South. He now serves as the Lead Minister at The Vine church in Temple, Texas.

You get enough of my writing on this site, so I want to use this space to highlight some elements of recent articles by Jonathan and Sean.

Jonathan’s article is one of his regular guest posts on Scot McKnight’s blog.  He opens and closes by racist attitudes in his life. The point of his article is that the church has helped him identify this sin and repent of it. Without this outside intervention in his life these attitudes may still remain unacknowledged and festering. Praise God for those in his life who were not too timid to speak truth. Too often we gather around us people who affirm us more than challenge us. While we certainly need affirmation and encouragement a healthy church will also help us identify blind spots in our hearts and lives.

Jonathan used one term that really caught my attention: “Elegant Racism”. While it’s hardly self-explanatory it accurately describes many of our churches today. On the one hand we confess that God loves all people of all races, all ethnicities, all  cultures, and all languages equally. But we take no steps to build bridges to the racial, ethnic, cultural and language groups different from our own. We are “elegantly racist” because we’re so darn polite about not associating with the “others”!

The sad truth is that it’s often easier to love people who aren’t sitting in our living room. It’s easy to be moved about the plight of poor children on the other side of the world and give lots of money to send a missionary so that they can hear the wonderful news of Jesus. It’s much harder to run an after school program for children on the other side of town.

Jonathan’s article is a needed reminder for me. Too often I get to the end of a week and look back on who I ate with and realise they were mostly, or all, white guys aged within 15 years either side of me. If I’m not intentional, elegant racism becomes a tragic part of my life. Who are your friends? Who do you eat with? Who do you go to the movies with? What activities in your life take you outside your cultural comfort level?

Sean’s article points out three ways our Sunday segregation undermine central tenets of the Gospel. First, we make cultural preservation a ministry of the church. Although Romans 16:4 has a puzzling mention of “all the churches of the Gentiles” the first church consistently worked to overwhelm the Jew – Gentile divide. When churches make the preservation of a particular culture part of their mission, we begin diluting the Gospel message.

Second, when our racial traits form a stronger bond than does our submission to Jesus we undermine Jesus’ death. Sean makes this excellent point, “Because we have deluded the scriptures and encased the Bible as a personal, self-help book, we’ve lost its deliberately public calls for social change.” Yes, we can make our faith too personal.

Sean’s third point naturally flows from his second. Not only is our faith too personal, so is our worship. The church is infatuated with worship styles. I’m part of that. I’m a big believer that worship needs to be meaningful to me in order to be meaningful to God. Singing hymns from the 1600’s with words I don’t understand prompts a disinterested attitude that disrespects God. But when we worship as a church we also practice sacrifice. We worship God when we sacrifice some of our preferences so that a sister or brother can express their heart to God.

I’ve recently been challenged to consider my entire Christian walk as one of submission. It’s tough. Ephesians 5:22 is an infamous verse as it instructs wives to submit to their husbands. If I’m asked to read this passage at a wedding I always make sure I read v21 “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” This certainly provides a great basis for marriage. What we often overlook is that this passage discusses marriage as a metaphor of Christ and the church (v32). Mutual submission is the basis of harmony within the church.

When I’m unable to worship God because of “style”, I’m also not submitting to my sisters for whom that style has great familiarity and meaning. But if other church members refuse to vary their worship style they’re also refusing to serve those in the church with values different to themselves. God’s model of worship requires submission and sacrifice by everyone, not just the minority.

Summary

I hope my reflections have encouraged you. Most of all, I hope my post encourages you to go and read what these guys have to say. I really appreciate their hearts and the authenticity they bring to the table from their distinct backgrounds. Leave a comment on their blogs and support them as they stick their necks out to challenge the church to represent God’s vision for his kingdom: that the church may be one.

3 Lessons on Racism that Churches can Learn from Donald Sterling

On Saturday a recording surfaced of a conversation between the owner of the NBA’s LA Clippers, Donald Sterling, and his girlfriend. This recording contained some very racist comments made my Sterling. It wasn’t that he was calling people names, but his distaste for African-Americans was clear. For instance, he told his girlfriend that he didn’t want her bringing her black friends to Clippers games.

On Tuesday the NBA commissioner announced that he was suspending Donald Sterling from the NBA for life, and fining him 2.5 million dollars. He also believed that the other owners would vote to force Sterling to sell the team. (This article contains a good summary of these events.)

This is not a sports blog. In this post I don’t intend to analyze whether or not this incident has been handled correctly. Here are 3 lessons I believe churches can learn from this mess.

1. Racism is a Big Deal.

Many churches across America ignore racial division in the church. The vast majority churches can be described as black, or white, or Asian, or Hispanic, etc. Remarkably few churches have a membership that matches the demographics of their community. Most churches are unwilling to take steps to change the racial and cultural mix of their congregation.

The lack of urgency regarding the racial mix of churches across America is jarring. Contrast this ambivalence with the urgency the NBA players showed in their response to Donald Sterling’s comments. They were willing to boycott playoff games if they believed the response of the league was inadequate.

Perhaps we get comfortable sitting in our familiar buildings looking at familiar faces. Perhaps we lose sight of attitude shifts in the broader society. But this incident and the immediate public and player backlash demonstrate that today racism is a big issue with very little tolerance for those spewing hate.

While I certainly don’t imagine any churches I know would issue statements like those Sterling made, the lesson to absorb is that we cannot overlook the messages we project regarding race relations because this is a big deal.

2. There are No Excuses.

When this story first broke on Saturday I heard a few comments along the lines of, “Sterling is 81. He’s an old man and his statements reflect the values of the society in which he was raised. We should just fine him and get on with the playoffs.” The ensuing public furor quickly made that approach indefensible.

Churches have many members that lived through the civil rights turmoil of the 1960’s. In predominantly white churches many of these members and their families were opposed to the reforms sought by the civil rights movement.

Today most of these same people love their multicultural neighbours just as God does. But many churches also harbour people who, like Sterling, continue to speak negatively of other races. They may not express these thoughts publicly, but they express them around the dinner table when they see another Mexican restaurant open in town.

I know that we have people in our churches who often passively project a message saying, “I don’t mind if you have black friends at school or work, but don’t bring them to my church.” Churches don’t place signs on the street saying “Minorities Unwelcome”, but neither do most churches communicate the message that minorities will be welcomed.

Some people will say that Sterling shouldn’t be punished for comments he made in the privacy of his own home.

When it comes to God we don’t have any privacy. We can’t make the excuse that although I think racist thoughts and don’t trust or welcome anyone representing a different culture, I’m not a racist because I don’t act badly toward them.

God’s standard is not whether we act badly toward those of other cultures. God’s standard asks us whether or not we love them! 1 John 4:20 won’t allow us to compartmentalise our lives between the way we view the Creator and his Creation, “If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?

When it comes to racism, there are NO excuses!

3. Racism Contaminates Everyone It Touches.

Did you notice how quickly the NBA started the process for removing Sterling’s association with the league? Within four days of the recording becoming public he can no longer enter team premises or attend NBA games, even though he owns the team!

This can potentially be a tough lesson for churches to implement. Churches are filled with sinful people making a journey toward God. Christians bring many sinful habits and attitude to church with us. It is quite possible that someone who attends a wonderful church could make racially insensitive, or even hateful, comments. This will inevitably reflect upon the church. However, churches need to view instances of racism as severe sins and spiritual immaturity. We need to actively work to transform those attitudes into those closer to God’s heart.

For this reason churches must make clear statements about God’s view of race relations. We must articulate that God loves all races and cultures. We recognise and acknowledge the differences between us. We value the diversity of our society as a gift that gives us new eyes through which to see and experience God.

When churches establish a culture that respects ethnic diversity, our community will be much more likely to view isolated insensitivities and statements as not representative of the church and God.  But if churches fail to make clear positive statements regarding the importance of racial harmony our community will clearly hear us making a negative statement.

If you have some additional ideas of ways churches can learn from these recent events, please continue the conversation by leaving a comment.

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.