As I prepared today’s blog post, I came across CNN’s article entitled, “Why Many Americans prefer their Sundays segregated.” The article reveals that church diversity is not simply an “us vs. them” or “make a decision and change” solution. During the first part of this series, I focused on multi-cultural churches because we need to better understand how and why we worship the way we do in local congregations in America. The churches featured had similar values and principles but they all practiced diversity differently. As we transition into the second part of these series, I want us to consider how well we listen to each other. In the below interview, we are challenged to consider the church diversity conversation. Maybe multi-cultural worship should not be a goal of all local congregations. Maybe God is pleased to allow “both” homogeneous “and” multicultural worship. What do you think? Take a reading:
Dr. Michelle Loyd-Paige is a professor (she teaches within the African and African Diaspora Studies Program) and Dean of Multi-Cultural Affairs at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI. She earned her BA from Calvin College, MA and PhD from Purdue University. Dr. Paige is the Founder and President of PreachSista!, and serves as an ordained minister on the leadership team of Angel Community Church in Muskegon, MI. I was first introduced to Dr. Paige when she gave a dynamic presentation at the Synergy 2010 Conference. Since then, I have come to value her ministry and leadership. She is someone who has traveled this road of racial reconciliation. I am thankful she has taken time to share some of her reflections here:
Regarding racial reconciliation and the church, many speak of the need, focus, and priority for multi-cutural churches, ministries, and fellowships. You and I have discussed the multi-cultural church dynamic previously, and I understand your position that not all homogeneous churches (churches with one dominate race or ethnic group) are bad. In other words, there is a way for us to honor God and the unity and diversity of the universal church without all churches being multicultural. Can you please elaborate on this point?
I’d like to think that the Body of Christ is big enough to handle both mono-cultural and multi-cultural churches. The church I attend is predominately African-American. The neighborhood where the church is located is predominately African-American. We are a community church which reflects our neighborhood. I think of my church and others like it as contributing to the overall diversity of the universal church (the Body of Christ). Mono-cultural churches provide a cultural context for understanding and relating to God which is often absent from (intentional) multicultural churches. In my experience, informed by scholarship, multicultural churches tend to avoid a “liberation theology” and tend to favor a “triumphant theology”. Liberation theology will say, racism is still here and the church is not exempt. Triumphant theology tends to be more color-blind or “let’s-just focus on our one identity in Christ.”
A pastor once asked me, “Do you think it is more difficult for a minority to worship in a congregation that is predominately white, or the other way around?” I shared my view that it is much easier for minorities to worship in a congregation that is predominately white because many of us basically live in that reality everyday. When discussing something as intimate as worship, how important is it for worshipers to connect with God in their native creative design? (When I say native creative design, I am including everything from language; to the way we hear, process and internalize information received from the pulpit; to the way we sing, dance, shout, or respond to what we hear.)
It is important, but it is not essential to worship. We have to be careful not to say that “real” worship only happens this way. There is something about the way a sista sings amazing grace that is just not the same as when a White suburban “privileged” worship leader sings the same song. It is not just the music. The presentation, in fact, has more to do with the theology that shapes our worship.
I would agree with you. I think it is easier for people of color to worship in White congregations than vice versa. But, that doesn’t mean that easier is just as nourishing for the soul. Sometimes, people of color (and Whites to a degree), are called by God to be bridge builders between cultures within a local congregation. Not everybody is called to do this. It takes courage, faith for those who seek to maintain a strong sense of ethnic identity. There are some, let’s be honest, that do not have a strong sense of ethnic identity. For them, being in a White church is not about crossing a cultural barrier or line, it is just about being somewhere they feel at home or special or “this church was close to my house”.
Why is it important to honor each other’s culture and native tongue within the church organization? How easy is it for a minority to assimilate into the dominating culture when placed in a church environment that has a majority culture or even multi-culture? Why is this assimilation a negative thing?
It is important because God created the diversity we now experience. In the book of Revelations it states that all tribes and nations will be gathered singing praises in their own tongue … not one tongue, not one nation, not one people-group. We will be one in Christ, and our diversity will be evident. Just as we are not all preachers or singers, we all bring our gifts to build up the whole Body of Christ.
How easy to assimilate. As you mentioned above, People of Color have to be adaptive because we have a duel reality just by living. Assimilating works for some and not for others. No one should have to give up their cultural identity in order to worship the God who created them that way in the first place. The Gentiles were not asked to become Jews in order to follow Christ (Eph. 2:11-22), in fact this was discouraged (Gal 2).
So why are we picking up where the Judizers left off? Think of this … if the push is for every church to be multicultural, there will not be any “ethnic” churches but there will still be all White churches. There are simply not enough people of color to diversify every church. So why do I have to give up the rich history of the Black church…the Mexican church…the Korean church? And Whites do not have to? Why give up “ethnic” churches when God is not asking us to? Are people calling for an integrated church (it already is) or integrated local congregations?
I make several observations when discussing race with friends, and one of the things that is obvious to me is white and black people, even among Christians, are having vastly different conversations. It is almost as if we are literally living in two different worlds. I sometimes take the risk of sharing these closed door, kitchen table conversations with those who were not invited to the table but it seems to me that not only are people not listening to each other, there seems to be no compassion or respect for the various realities of what life experiences in American actually looks like. How can we build bridges in the church to not simply listen to other people’s realities, but actually enter into them and care enough to intentionally and consistently bring about lasting change?
I wish I had THE answer to that. It would make my life a lot easier. I could even be out of a job. 😉 But, we have to first realize that there is a racial divide. We are not post-racial, even in the age of President Obama. We have to be willing to be transparent about the ways that race still matters. We have to not make people “pay” for the wrongs of our ancestors, but we have to acknowledge that the momentum of history is still causing a great deal of pain for people of color. The church has to own up to its own racial issues and then, we have to create the safe spaces to really, really learn about each other.
Is this possible? As much as possible we are all called to live at peace with one another … even when the other does not look like us.
If you attend a church with one dominate ethnic culture, what are some unique things you value about that particular church that you may miss in a multi-cultural church? If you attend a multi-cultural church, what are some perceived traded-offs (as far as culture, race/ethnicity is concerned)?
© Michelle Loyd-Paige and Natasha Sistrunk Robinson 2012