mulThe deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown impacted all of our lives. Hopefully, it has made many of us consider the great divides that separate us from people of other colours and ethnicities. I wonder if in the roar of the protests what real changes we are willing to make to our lives.
Are we really prepared for the huge steps we need to take so that people of other backgrounds and ethnicities feel not only accepted but welcomed as equals?
Who’s More Precious?
Not long before his death I participated in a meeting with Native American leader Richard Twiss. “We don’t want you to invite us to your table,” he said, “we want you to be willing to create a new table together with us.”
Leroy Barber expresses similar sentiments in his important book Red Brown Yellow Black White Who’s More Precious In God’s Sight? He says that even when people of color are asked to participate in white churches or organizations, the culture into which they are invited is still very Anglo and they are not given the freedom to bring about change.
I know what he means. I have worked with numbers of organizations that are ethnically diverse but culturally Anglo; dress, time management, worship styles and work techniques are very white.
What would it take to create a new table? A table where everyone feels welcomed, and all cultures receive equal value and expression? As the authors of The Spirituality of Imperfection suggest that to become one community we must learn to listen better. Listening means being present in a hearing way, to listen to others in such a way that we are willing to surrender our own world view. (94)
Truly listening, being willing to surrender our own world view so that together we can shape a new worldview, is not easy. But I think it is essential if we are to become the people, the church and the community God intends us to be.
Here are three questions for all of to grapple with as we plan churches for the future:
Three Questions for Determining How White Your Church Is
How white is your leadership team?
A church or organization will never become truly multicultural until their worship and leadership teams and their boards are ethnically diverse. And that doesn’t mean just having a few non white faces on the team, it really does mean inviting a new leadership style and a new organizational perspective that reflects the views and the cultures of all who are on the team and in the congregation.
How white is your culture?
This is an even more challenging question. Our church cultures are often both white and middle class. We place a higher value on those with more money, education and success than those without. We judge people by how clean they look, how old their clothes are and even by what cars they drive. Subtly we exclude those who do not fit our cultural viewpoint.
The way we live reflects what is in our hearts and sometimes it is obvious that our hearts are very white.
How white is your theology?
Twenty years ago I began reading African, Asian and South American theologians. Many of my colleagues were dismissive of theologies, such as liberation theology, that grew out a culture of oppression. For instance, there are Indian theologies that grew out of cultures of poverty or of South African Black theology which grew out of apartheid cultures.
Authors like Gustavo Gutiérrez and Cornel West changed my life and my worldview. Listening to my friends at NAIITS and indigenous peoples in Australia and North America turned my faith upside down.
When I work cross-culturally, I try to listen to other ethnic perspectives on faith and scripture. Often I find myself back at the drawing board wondering how I need to reshape my faith so that I am not excluding those whom God embraces.
Jesus’ parables often focus on God’s inclusion of those whom the Jewish culture excluded – Samaritans, women, lepers, sinners, were all included in his embrace. I am sure that it was these stories that slowly eroded his Jewish disciples’ worldview and made possible a church for all nations. If we are only reading white theologians and listening to white brothers and sisters we will never really find unity across cultures and nations.
Again I must harken back to Leroy Barber:
Jesus prayed in the garden before his death that we would be one people. We have a lot of work to do to become one heart and one mind. Locked into most churches is a designation or race or culture that separates, that shapes our view of each other and of God, leaving us isolated and divided. We are not the Church. We are at best, thousands of small pieces that contain strands of the Church. The Church does not have walls and designations; it is people from every walk of life pursuing the Kingdom of God here on earth. The Church is one expression of God here on earth. (203).
We live in such a divided world. What will it take for us to sit down with people of all races and cultures and create a table together?
Let’s take some time to not just think about it this Advent season but to do something about it too.
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