7 Pitfalls when Preaching on Race

7 Pitfalls when Preaching on RaceSadly, not everyone in our churches will jump for joy when we introduce a sermon addressing issues of race.

Some people have heard speeches on the topic for years and are simply worn out.

Other people get defensive and insist that there’s no problem to discuss. At least not with them.

I’ve attended churches where people fear confrontation. Since this topic smacks of controversy, they’d rather not talk about it.

There are always some people who enjoy the status quo and believe it’s okay and reasonable to discriminate against minorities. Alternatively, they see accommodations granted to minorities and believe the discrimination is against them!

Any of these people can get hurt or angry when discussions around the issues of racial equality arise.

Then there are always inherent risks for the preacher when presenting these ideas. Numerous ways exist to speak insensitively, use the wrong words, or misrepresent an issue. Fear of these mistakes has often prompted churches to avoid the topic. In today’s society churches cannot afford to skirt issues of race. So here are some mistakes preachers should work hard to avoid:

1. Do not stereotype! Not all Indians are good spellers. Not all Chinese are mathematical geniuses. Not all African-Americans grew up around gangs in urban environments. Even large churches have experienced trouble using stereotypes as the story of this Asian-based VBS curriculum reveals. Stereotypes place a large group of people in a single box, and that box is often demeaning.
When strangers quote Crocodile Dundee to me they imply that all Australians carry knives, live in the desert and wrestle crocodiles. In fact, Australia is one of the most ethnically diverse and urbanized countries in the world. Stereotypes most often make the person using them look ignorant.

2. Do not mimic or imitate cultural differences. By all means, please do talk about racial/cultural differences. Your congregation needs to have this open conversation. But how you conduct the conversation is crucial. RESPECT is vital. Talk about cultural differences. Describe awkward situations and misunderstandings. However, if we start adopting accents, or walking in different/funny ways to illustrate a cultural stereotype, we instantly move much closer to mockery, than respect. Focus upon speaking clearly, not theatrics.

3. Do not think that there won’t be any misunderstandings. No matter how gifted your speaking abilities, people will still hear what they want to hear. If you say nothing about affirmative action, some people will think your whole talk was about affirmative action. Some people will criticise you for bringing politics into the church even if you spend the whole time exegeting one verse. No single sermon can address all objections. Expect misunderstandings.

4. Do not feel pressure to tell people “I’m sorry”, unless you are. This is a complex topic, but here are a couple of simple thoughts:

  • Don’t apologise for things you haven’t done… unless you represent institutions that have committed wrongdoing. You can can express sympathy for suffering, outrage at injustice, regret for the actions of others, but you can’t apologise on behalf of those other people. The exception is demonstrated in 1999 by Dr Royce Money the Chancellor of Abilene Christian University when he apologised for policies and practices of the university in years previous.
  • When we simply say “I’m sorry” we place a burden on the other person to forgive. It’s as though “I’m sorry” says, “I’ve done what I need to do for reconciliation, now it’s up to you.” We make it easier for minorities to forgive when we demonstrate contrition by taking tangible steps toward reconciliation.

5. Do not merely mention racism as a footnote in a sermon on another topic.  This might not apply if you’ve already raised the issue in a serious way, but simply including racism in a list of vices does not count as “speaking on race”. When you decide that you need to address racial issues with your church, preach from the best biblical texts. Because of #3 above we should address these issues with clarity. Assuming that people will catch tangential references and understand our goals reflects a misplaced confidence.

6. Don’t pretend to have all the answers. No one person has all the answers. Reading a book, talking to a minority friend, or having a dramatic story to tell, doesn’t make anyone an expert. After working in multi-ethnic churches for almost 20 years and researching as much as I can on the topic, I still find I have more questions than answers. As a leader in the church you might have clear insight into the next step the church needs to take. You might have a clear view of the goal of racial reconciliation and unity in the church. Those things are not the same as “all the answers”. ALWAYS preach and speak with humility on this topic.

7. Don’t minimise challenges. Related to the previous point, we face the danger of communicating a message that says something like, “If we all just did what the Bible tells us and loved our neighbours, racial prejudice wouldn’t be a problem in this country.” Other observations like, “If they just did what the police told them they wouldn’t get shot” fall into the same category. These types of statements minimise centuries of mistrust and abuse. It can be akin to telling a minority person to “suck it up and get on with life“. But life is not simple. For example, many of the factors that contribute to disparate educational outcomes for students of different races involve complex sociological issues. Loving more, or allocating more money to a school, won’t alter rates of childhood poverty. Honestly acknowledge the size and scope of the challenges ahead, then break it down into smaller steps for your congregation. Remember that what seems like a small step for you, may be huge for other members.

For some positive suggestions when preaching on racial issues check out this previous article: 8 Tips for Preaching on Race.

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Seeing Inside Out

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“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

Perhaps you’ve heard that verse before.

We use it to tell other people to stop judging us. “God knows what’s in my heart.”

We use it to judge other people, because although they look good God, and I, know what’s really going on in their hearts.

Sometimes we use it to include people who have a lot of tattoos, or whose clothes are shabby… “the Lord looks at the heart.”

Sometimes we use it to excuse our laziness and lack of action. “I know I could have cooked a meal for that person who just had surgery. I’d have liked to but just didn’t get around to it. Well, God knows my heart.”

In reality, we all judge on appearance more than we’re usually willing to admit. Although we know and quote 1 Samuel 16:7 we often live in opposition to this principle.

We make all sorts of judgments about people based on appearance:

  • Football fans – we like people more or less depending which team they support;
  • Professional attire – we presume people are more educated and capable the more formal their dress;
  • Skin tone – we all tend to more quickly trust others who look more like us;
  • Hemlines – women in general are more regularly judged by appearance and people associate values with clothing choices us as the length of a woman’s dress.

Because we know people make judgements based on appearances we then begin to accept them and play along. We may even try to use those judgements to our own advantage.

donald trump 01“It’s not a coincidence that many politicians wear red-coloured ties with light shirts and darker suits.

“Red is the power tie,” said Mark Woodman, a trend analyst who studies colour in Laurel, Maryland, in the US. “There’s something about red that always comes back to strength and passion.”” [quoted from HERE]

When it comes to playing along there’s not much we can do about our skins. We all ‘play along’ to some degree in regards to clothing, but accepting skin colour as a reasonable basis to make judgements about a person is dangerous. Viewing a presidential candidate as passionate because he wears a red tie pales in significance compared to initially regarding someone with dark skin as dangerous or assuming that someone with white skin would ‘fit in’ better to our office atmosphere.

It’s difficult to see people inside-out when society, and perhaps our human nature, trains us to see others outside-in. Notice in the opening verse that God states that it’s completely natural for even the great prophet Samuel to judge people by appearance. But as we grow in spiritual maturity we must desire to see others as God sees them.

The apostle Paul expresses the same thought this way:

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation     2 Corinthians 5:16-18

Reconciliation as described here has many different applications. Primarily all humanity needs reconciliation with God. But given the history of the United States no one can claim to be reconciled with God while neglecting racial reconciliation. Given the tragedies we’ve witnessed around this country recently, the church can’t preach forgiveness while standing on the sidelines pointing fingers at violence and injustice in others.

Christians should be leading the way in practicing reconciliation because we regard no one from a worldly point of view.

  • Can we continue to describe churches as black and white if we no longer regard others from a worldly point of view?
  • Can we tolerate education systems with disparate graduation rates running along racial lines?
  • Can we remain silent while African-Americans fill our jails at a disproportionate rate?

Do we really believe that in Christ the old has gone and the new is here? Or is it too easy for us to rationalise the points above? Do we really see people differently because of Christ, or have we just memorised a couple of feel-good Bible verses?

Steps to See Others Inside-Out

  1. Remind Yourself Frequently: When you find yourself saying, “Typical, black drivers are always cutting me off.” or “Well, that’s no surprise, Indians are taking all our jobs.” Find ways to talk back to yourself. Remind yourself that each person is an individual with struggles and bad habits just like yours. Remind yourself that God loves them too.
  2. Understand that skin color is more than skin deep. People of different ethnicities experience the world in different ways. When we intentionally try to ignore skin color we ignore important aspects of that person’s life. Seeing people inside-out means acknowledging that a black male will most likely have different thoughts about dealing with the police than will a white female. The outside influences the inside. [I’ve written further on this topic HERE.]
  3. Ask Questions: Spend time with people from other ethnicities and cultures. Don’t tell them what the people in the news are doing wrong. Listen to their experience with the issues that interest you. Don’t argue! A simple ice breaker might go something like this, “What’s something about your experience living in the US that you think would surprise me, or I wouldn’t experience?”
  4. Make New Friends: If you live in a racially diverse community, and all your friends come from the same race as you, it’s time to develop some new friendships. It’s hard to demonstrate that you’re an agent of reconciliation if your friends are all one color.
  5. Be Color Brave: Encourage your church to address issues of racial reconciliation. If you live in an area with single race churches, then speak up for unity services and other forms of cooperation. Don’t pretend that race-based churches provide an acceptable status quo. Push for your church to embody the truth that “the Lord looks at the heart.” [Check out a great TED talk and other thoughts HERE.]

It has taken the United States centuries to reach this point in race relations. While prejudice may never disappear from our society, Christians have an opportunity, and responsibility, to demonstrate a better way. We can show the world what a difference it makes to move through life Seeing Inside-Out.


This summer I’ve been participating in a Summer Blog Tour with some excellent bloggers. Our theme for the summer is “[         ] Inside Out“. You can follow their work on my primary blog: www.ozziepete.wordpress.com. This post will also be shared on their sites in the coming weeks.
Church Inside OutAs part of our Summer Blog Tour you can win a copy of Tim Archer’s newly  released book and accompanying workbook Church Inside Out by leaving a comment on this page and then completing the form over HERE.

Same Words but Different

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As I’ve followed numerous articles, interviews, speeches and conversations related to race relations in the United States over the past couple of weeks I’ve come to realise that we’re not all using words the same way. Our words sound the same, but the meanings and emphases differ. White society faces the temptation to adopt the role of guardians of the lexicon and deny the validity of new definitions arising from within minority cultures.

This blog exists to encourage and provide resources for multi-ethnic churches. One of the keys to speaking to a diverse congregation is using the right words. The less our congregations look like us, the more carefully we need to choose our words. This is true in regular preaching, but exponentially more so when addressing cultural flash points.

So here are some words related to race relations that I’ve come to realise have at least two meanings each. If you can think of additional examples please list them in the comment section below. I intentionally focus on Black – White relations as that’s been the focus of attention in recent weeks.

RACE
This may appear to be a simple term for all of us who’ve completed numerous forms that ask us our race: Black; White; Latino; Pacific Islander; etc. However, consider this definition from FreeDictionary.com,

“A group of people identified as distinct from other groups because of supposed physical or genetic traits shared by the group. Most biologists and anthropologists do not recognize race as a biologically valid classification, in part because there is more genetic variation within groups than between them.

(While that’s hardly the most academic source, it’s a fair summary of many scholarly discussions.)

Although we think of racial differences in terms of physical features such as skin color, eye lid folds, or sometimes language, those physical differences are genetically insignificant. I have found that when we talk about different races, we most often refer to social and cultural differences rather than physical distinctions. If someone says, “Black (or White) people like this particular food or think a particular way” they are referencing a cultural value or taste, rather than a behaviour arising from a person’s skin colour or genetic makeup.

While this term isn’t disappearing any time soon, it’s valuable to remind ourselves of its limitations and foremost that all people belong to the human race. Our similarities far exceed our physical distinguishing features.

RACISM
Traditional (White) dictionaries define this word in relation to an individual’s sense of superiority over another because of race, or their hatred or prejudice toward others because of race. Racism occurs when one person treats another person badly due to their racial differences.

Many African-Americans include an additional word in their definition that makes a vital adjustment to the conversation. That word is “power”.  By this understanding of the term racism is a sense of superiority over a minority population with the power and authority to implement policies and systems that honor the superior and suppress and oppress the inferior.

According to this definition a Black person in the USA cannot be racist towards Whites, because almost no sphere of society exists in which Blacks possess power over Whites. Racism isn’t an attitude an individual possesses. Racism exists in systems, policies and institutions representing the majority (White) population who have the power and authority to implement and maintain those systems.

This “power” definition doesn’t mean that people of color bear no guilt in their relationships toward White America. There are plenty of vices that reflect racial hate, just not “racism”. These attitudes can be found in people of all colors: prejudice; hate; discrimination; bigotry; intolerance; and arrogance.

WHITE SUPREMACY
When most White Americans hear the term “White Supremacy” they’ll picture images of Ku Klux Klan hoods and neo-nazis. To label someone a white supremacist is a grievous insult. Because of this association when White America hears the term “White Supremacy” being directed toward them they naturally grow defensive and the conversation stalls.

I’ve increasingly noticed writers using this phrase in reference to social systems and structures where those with white skins enjoy advantages over other ethnic groups. Like “racism”, this shift in definitions applies the term less to individuals and more to collective organizations.

For Example: If I were to say, “The NFL demonstrates and facilitates White supremacy”, I’m not accusing the NFL of being run by members of the KKK. Rather, I’m highlighting a system where a disproportionate number of owners and coaches are White, particularly in comparison to the ratio of White:Black players.

Personally, I believe church leaders should only use this second definition with great caution. In all likelihood the vast majority of the audience will associate it with extremist groups and therefore find it inflammatory. However, we should expose our congregations to the technical meaning so they will be willing to pursue the speakers meaning and be less likely to respond negatively and impulsively when they hear the phrase.

PRIVILEGE
White privilege is difficult to define and describe. A quick glance at Wikipedia reveals 8 definitions submitted by contributors. At its core, this term refers to the concept that within US society a person of white skin colour experiences inherent advantages over those with darker skin colours. These advantages will not necessarily be the consequence of intentional preference, but nonetheless they exist.

The primary rebuttal of this concept isn’t with the definition, but with the reality. Many white Americans point to their own struggles and challenges to succeed in life as evidence that they didn’t receive any benefits because of their skin colour.

Because this could be an extremely long discussion on its own, I’ll just give two examples I believe would commonly be described as white privilege.

  1. Dictionaries: This entire conversation relates in some way to the fact that English is a language of white people and the dictionaries have been maintained by representatives of white culture. “Proper English” is defined by White society. African-American word usage or Chinese-American terms may never make it into the mainstream dictionary and will be regarded as “lesser English”. In order for a minority to be regarded as educated they must speak like White Americans regardless of the degrees they’ve attained. Yet at the same time White English continues to evolve over time and “proper English” is continually redefined in a way that most people are oblivious to. The double standard is glaring and it advantages (privileges) White society.
  2. Church: Picture two 16 year olds, one white, one black. They go to school together. They have the same classes and the same teachers. But on weekends they go to black and white churches of the same denomination. Demographics tell us that when they start looking for entry level jobs the one attending the white church is more likely to have relationships with civic leaders, farmers, small-business owners, and executives. In addition, the White church members are probably higher educated than their counterparts at the Black church in town and reinforce the value of education to this student.
    Because of these relationships the White student gains part-time work with a career track in larger businesses, internships, and relationships with influential people in the community.
    Although both students will work equally hard, and their families of origin may live at comparable levels of wealth, the social connections made simply by attending a white church provide one teen opportunities the other never received. Looking back, the white student may never appreciate the privileges that came with his skin color while she credits her accomplishments to her efforts and therefore disparages the efforts of those (minorities) who haven’t succeeded as she has.

Each of these terms has huge conversations behind them. I know I haven’t scratched the surface of the issues and attitudes involved. Hopefully, this blog post can raise awareness of conversations that need to take place around terminology, even before substantive conversations toward reconciliation can occur.

America, We Have A Problem

If your spouse tell you, “We have a problem.” How do you respond?

You can try to convince him that he’s wrong. You can tell her that she’s taking everything the wrong way. You can suggest that you’re not the problem in the relationship. You can argue that the relationship is better than it used to be. You can deny, deny, deny. But that just means you’ll be surprised when you find yourself sleeping in the car.

Alternatively, you can ask questions to understand the problem. Perhaps it turns out to be a misunderstanding that can be remedied by talking. More likely, resolution of the problem will require a change of behaviour.

White America, we have a problem.

We know this because black America keeps telling us.

We know this because of Ferguson.

We know this because of Baltimore.

We know this because of Charleston, South Carolina.

And we know the issues are complex, partly because of Rachel Dolezal.

We know this.

A couple of days ago I attended a one-day workshop featuring Dr Christena Cleveland. The workshop involved five hours of lectures. The first three hours were spent describing the need for reconciliation. She covered topics including:

  • Segregation within American cities (admit it, you know the “black” parts of town)
  • Perceptions
  • Discriminiation
  • Implicit Prejudice (take this research test from Harvard to gauge your own prejudice)

She also spend considerable time discussing and describing “Privilege”, which must exist whenever one group of people experience prejudice.

We spent so much time describing the problems that before we broke for lunch I raised my hand to ask if all this groundwork was necessary. “Don’t people already recognise there’s a problem?

Dr Cleveland responded that until these issues are resolved, there’s an ongoing need to keep them in America’s consciousness.

During the lunch break a white woman at my table shared that her (white) church had someone make a presentation to them recently where much of this material was presented. She said it was new to her at the time and she needed to hear it.

Yesterday, I was talking to another woman who would describe herself as a non-Christian, social liberal in her 50h’s and she told me, “I don’t know any black people. I work in the city. I’d like to do something to address the poverty issues I see as a I drive around. But I don’t know any members of the black community or what to do.

If you’re reading this blog you already know there’s a problem.

You drive around on a Sunday morning and you see the vast majority of churches segregated by skin colour. You read the news stories about the shooting this week in Charleston, and see that the description of the church as an “African-American” church reveals a spiritual issue of which this shooting is the most recent manifestation. Sometimes this segregation reflects the neighbourhood demographics. More often it reflects the comfortable ambivalence of the members.

So what can be done to fix this problem?

Centuries of division demonstrate the stark reality that no answer will be simple or easy. But here’s part one of the solution: Convince people of a problem.

I’m not a World War 2 history buff, so I won’t attempt to make exact statements about why it took the United States so long to enter World War 2. What I do know is that US involvement increased dramatically after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. I’ll suggest that one element of that increased involvement was the widespread recognition of a problem. Once the problem was clearly identified, people were willing to sacrifice for solutions.

As long as people convince themselves that race relations in the United States were solved in the 1950’s & 60’s by Dr Martin Luther King Jr, and the process of school desegregation, we’ll never resolve the issues that continue to confront us today.

If you’re a church leader, you have a platform to peel back the band-aids and expose the continuing sores of racial prejudice, both implicit and explicit, in this country. Your church needs you verbalise the problems. Your community needs you to speak against prejudice. Your God expects you to speak up for those whose voices aren’t being heard. So speak.

What Happened in Oklahoma… Didn’t Begin There

A recent article in the Christian Chronicle prompted my to write this post. You can read it here: www.christianchronicle.org.

The story tells how one of the students at the University of Oklahoma who was caught on video making extremely racist remarks repented and sought forgiveness. The video made headline nationally and resulted in that fraternity being expelled from the University of Oklahoma. The article also mentions that this student had been baptised in a Church of Christ and how the Northeast Church of Christ (a black congregation) played a role guiding him through the process of repentance.

I am grateful for the role the church and its members (including State Sen. Anastasia Pittman) played in guiding his repentance and then granting him their forgiveness. They provide a powerful example of Christianity. I love this quote int the article from Arnelious Crenshaw Jr., the minister at Northeast Church of Christ. Commenting on the necessity to forgive even statements as hurtful as those on the video, he reflected, “I cannot rid the world of hate and prejudice if I’m full of hate and prejudice.

I do not know the student. I also don’t know his faith or family background beyond the statement in the article that he was baptised in a Church of Christ. So my statements from this point are more general than specific to this event.

I wonder, if a high school student was raised in a multi-ethnic church where loving all our neighbours was emphasised, would that student desire to join a white or black fraternity of social club?

I wonder, if a student had friends in a youth group and that youth group had the courage to discuss the emotional impact of racial slurs, would that student use hateful racist language?

I wonder, if our teenagers had spiritual mentors they respected from an ethnic group outside their own, would that influence their attitudes toward other races and cultures?

I understand that young people will always be influenced by peer pressure. I also believe that when our churches are segregated we [unwittingly] promote segregation. It seems normal for us to associate with our own racial group and to exclude others when we have a choice in the matter.

The hope of multi-ethnic churches is that racial diversity becomes not only normal, but valued. We hope that our members will find mono-ethnic clubs, frats, associations, etc strangely abnormal and irrelevant.

The Christian Chronicle story describes how the OU student met with African-American civil rights leaders and pastors. They shared their stories, values and emotional responses to the video. In his public apology the student commented to them, “I can never thank you enough for the way you have embraced me and opened my eyes to things I had not seen before.”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our churches could expose our young people to these stories and values before they leave for college. It’s not enough just to say “Racism is wrong”. The church should also give a face to racism so that prejudiced remarks are not directed to nameless, faceless, people “out there”, but can bring to mind faces of friends and Christian role models that are loved and respected.

Thank-you Christian Chronicle for covering this story.

The Church’s Cultural Captivity

In my previous post I began a summary of a presentation by Dr Soong-Chan Rah that I recently attended at the Northeastern Seminary. In this post I will describe his second session.

What is Cultural Captivity?

“When the church looks more like surrounding culture than the values of Scripture, it has been taken captive.”

Dr Rah suggested three ways that Western/White culture has captured the church in America.

  1. Individualism;
  2. Materialism; and
  3. Racism.

Let’s look at these:

1. Individualism

Most Western Christians fail to appreciate that the Bible was written to communities. In the case of many Old Testament books the targeted audience was the nation of Israel. In some cases the prophets also wrote to the nations surrounding Israel. Likewise, the New Testament was predominantly written to entire churches. Even the pastoral books were included in the Bible because Timothy and Titus obviously shared them with the congregations they served.

Yet when we read Scripture we predominantly seek personal applications. We ask, “How does this passage speak to my circumstances, or improve my life?” rather than asking “How can this church better represent God to our immediate community and the world?”

Our individualistic mindset is demonstrated in 1 Corinthians 3:16: Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (NASB) Both the context and the plural Greek word make clear that this statement refers to the church, not the individual. This hasn’t prevented us from using this verse to support everything from prohibiting smoking to supporting dieting, etc. while completely missing the point that Christ dwells within his church.

Without going into details here, other cultures with a more communal worldview will more naturally value the spiritual health of the body, the church, rather than focusing upon individuals.

2. Materialism

This point extends beyond simply the pursuit of material goods. Rah proposes that our vocabulary often betrays how we have reduced life and relationships to an exchange of goods. Commerce becomes the lens through which we view and describe life. Consider this list of terms:

  • We invest in people.
  • We spend time.
  • We value or treasure  those we love.
  • We waste time.
  • We shop for churches.

You could probably come up with your own list.

Many churches also reflect a materialistic attitude. We commonly assess the health of a church using the ABC measuring stick: Attendance, Building, and Cash flow. Matthew 25 and Acts 2 both teach that spiritual health has nothing to do with these measures. Rather, Jesus seeks justice and compassion, love for the poor, dedication to God, and commitment to other believers.

If we accept these attitudes as symptoms of Cultural Captivity, then we need to open ourselves up to the possibility that we can learn from Christians and churches in other cultures.  This realisation challenges any sense of spiritual superiority we might have because of large ABC’s.

3. Racism

Although “race” is really a social construct to explain visual differences between groups of people, it has proved a major point of conflict throughout the history of the church. In the NT the divide between Jew and Gentile was at once cultural, racial, and spiritual. While it is too simplistic to view the Jew-Gentile conflict as purely racial, surely ethnic heritage played a significant part in creating that divide.

Acts 15 describes a major council within the first church to address significant questions about Jews, Gentiles and Jesus. Sadly, the church failed to embrace that lesson and has throughout history sought to exclude various racial groups from full membership in the body of Christ.

The rest of the book of Acts describes the power of the church to grow when we concentrate on the Spirit that binds us together rather than various aspects that differentiate us from one another.

American churches have allowed cultural values to validate the establishment and preservation of separate black and white churches throughout the country. Rather than embodying a lesson the first church learned 2000 year ago, we have lagged behind culture as we have resisted and devalued the racial integration of churches. We have maintained our racial islands while watching institutions throughout society integrate. In this instance churches are captive not just to culture, but to a culture of 30 years ago. In the meantime, society’s values in relation to race relations now often do a better job of reflecting Godly values than the church does.

Is there Hope?

A major empowering feature of Cultural Captivity is that it’s difficult to detect from the inside. With no other reference point we read Scripture through our cultural lens and it feels normal and logical.

My previous post demonstrated the “browning of America”. As a result of this demographic shift our cultural assumptions are challenged. We find ourselves exposed to alternative ways of reading and applying Scripture. Exposure to different cultural values should prompt us to reexamine our beliefs and practices for areas where western culture has skewed our reading of God’s Word. As we study the Bible, we need to listen to others who speak from a different cultural perspective. Not everything that is “obvious” to us is obvious to everyone. And sometimes what’s “obvious” may even be wrong.

Multiethnic churches have an opportunity to lead the US church  in this process of  self-examination. However, it still requires a commitment to raise, discuss and study topics that may lead us individually and as a church to uncomfortable places. Racial integration will lead to healthier churches, but it requires each of us to be willing to live with a degree of discomfort as we encourage each other on our journey toward Christ.

 

On Earth As In Heaven

This article was originally posted on the website www.GodMeetsBall.com in May 2013. Since football has become such a big part of the Christmas season in the US I thought it would be appropriate to share these thoughts here. I hope all my readers have a wonderful Christmas with those you love.

I remember the iconic picture on the news and in Australian newspapers 20 years ago. St. Kilda’s Nicky Winmar raising his guernsey in defiance after enduring an afternoon of racial abuse from the fans outside the fence. In 1993 it set off shock waves around the country. The profile of the “aboriginal issue” instantly grew on the public’s consciousness, not only in terms of national political policies, but in respect of individuals examining our own actions for racism. (Click HERE for a good short reflection on this event.) The fact that there’s still much work ahead is demonstrated in the abuse Adam Goodes received during a match this weekend from a 13 year old girl. (Read his reaction HERE.)

This might seem strange to many people today, but I graduated high school the year before and I don’t remember ever having a conversation about racism and the hurt it causes. There may have been other events that also placed racism on the public consciousness, but for young white males who admired Winmar as a superbly skilled football player, this image made an impact.

In the USA Jackie Robinson is honoured as the first black player in Major League Baseball in 1947. Just as the AFL now has an indigenous round each year, MLB also celebrates Jackie Robinson Day annually.

Sports have always had a close connection to race relations. Sometimes sports leagues, players and fans have disgraced themselves, but sports have also made some important contributions in race relations. Sometimes these improvements have come through official actions and at other times by unofficial events.

For many, Tiger Woods has become the face of a new generation with a bi-racial heritage and a drive to allow his talent to transcend racial issues. Although not the first black golfer on the PGA Tour, Tiger is certainly the most well-known and today the only African-American playing on the Tour. This past week Sergio Garcia found himself in hot water after making a “joke” about Tiger and fried chicken. Again demonstrating the work still to be done. This interesting article contained this description of Tiger,

It’s not Tiger’s way to bring attention to any aspect of his racial heritage. His aim is to transcend race through excellence as a professional golfer. He reaches for a higher plateau that is post-racial in a way that not even President Barack Obama could ever attain as a self-identified African-American.

One of the cruel ironies of Tiger’s hope for racial transcendence in a sport played predominantly by whites is that he has been both a symbol of racial harmony and a polarizing force along racial lines.

Apart from the statements made on the field, sports provide a unifying rallying cry for people from all backgrounds. Whether listening to a radio in the poorest hovel, or sipping wine in a corporate box, people connect by supporting the same team.

When I worked as a college minister in Melbourne, Australia, we had a large group of international students attending our church. I encouraged them to pick a football team, any team, and even if they weren’t interested at all, keep track of the team’s season from a distance. This would help them fit in with the local people they met and serve as a great conversation filler. Everyone has a favourite team. Even if your team is different to mine, at least an interest in the sport provides a commonality.

So if sports can unify fans across racial, educational and financial divides. And if sports can make strong statements opposing racism that impact society as a whole. The church has a lot of work to do to match the camaraderie of sports teams.

  • How do we welcome people different from ourselves?
  • Are our friends mostly like us, or do they reflect our community?
  • Shouldn’t the church be ahead of the local sports team, which basically are businesses, in acting as instruments of Godly social change?

Even today, many church growth consultants promote the idea that homogenous churches will grow more quickly than integrated, diverse congregations. I know churches that insist that they need to be racially black, or white or Chinese, or Latino to help them serve that particular ethnic community.

These might be valid reasonings. Even if they are, they shouldn’t apply to as many churches as they do. According to a 1999 survey (cited in One Body, One Spirit, George Yancey), only 8% of all US churches are multiracial. (I suspect this would be much higher in urban & suburban Australia, but I haven’t found any data.)

In Matthew 6:10 Jesus prays, “May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” What is God’s will for race relations and the church? Let’s answer that by looking at heaven. Revelation 7:9 describes “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language standing before the throne an in front of the lamb” praising God. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if that described our churches, “on earth as it is in heaven”?