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.