As a pastor of a multi-ethnic church, many have asked me what can I, or we as a church do, to become more multi-ethnic. My short answer is always one word… Intentionality. Almost every church in America has on their church sign “All Welcome.” However, the reality is that you are really welcome if you look like us, act like us, smell like us, dress like us, vote like us and worship like we do. Often in our practices we are intentionally exclusive. I often say, “Nothing grows by mistake, except weeds and your waistline. Everything else grows through intentional efforts.”
There are lots of intentional efforts or steps to becoming a more multi-cultural or multi-ethnic church including a spirit of inclusion in worship, considering who sits at the table of power, hiring to vision, etc. (all kinds of good fodder for future blogs). However there is one area of intentionality that I feel led to highlight. It is one that is critical at this time in our nations recent history that feels particularly divided racially. Here it is… Speak Up!
If you are an evangelical leader, particularly if you are a white evangelical leader, speak up, stand up and intentionally stand against racism and injustice whenever it rears its ugly, demonic head! More and more people of color are distancing themselves from the evangelical church. One notable example is the Hip Hop Artist Lecrae. Raymond Chang wrote an article called An Open Letter to John Piper on White Evangelicalism and Multiethnic Relations. (To read the full article, click here) In it, he offers a number of reasons for this exodus. He states, “Like Lecrae, people of color are finding that white evangelical churches and institutions fail to truly embrace them. After doing their best to carve out a space for themselves within white evangelicalism, give it a fair shot (or multiple shots), and even endure through the challenges for decades, there is a growing number of people of color who are seeking places where they can finally feel at home, while still yearning for the greater eternal home.”
One significant reason people of color often don’t find themselves at home in many evangelical churches is its silence on issues that matter deeply to them, and should to all of us. Many evangelical churches either ignored or avoided even mentioning anything in relation to significant cultural incidents or tragedies like Ferguson, Charlottesville, and the Laquan McDonald shooting. This silence speaks volumes to people of color. It says we don’t hear you, see you or identify with you and at worst can be perceived as an alignment with the Alt right. Alternatively, we can stand up, speak up and identify with our brothers and sisters and show the love and unity Jesus called for in his high priestly prayer in John 17. Our current cultural climate is an incredible opportunity for the furthering of the gospel of Jesus who “destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,” (Eph. 2:14-18) between we and God and between we and our brother and sister.
How To Speak Up
There have never been more ways to speak up than today. We can stand up to racism and injustice in prayers, words, messages or forums in our public worship gatherings, classes, or special gatherings. We can write blogs, e-blasts and should use any social media platforms we subscribe to. What is more tricky and challenging is how to speak up and what to say.
My encouragement would be not to speak simply from your own experience or out of your own “camp.” Read widely and listen to people even if you disagree with them to get different perspectives. Build relationships with people from different ethnicities and cultural or socio-economic backgrounds. Ask their perspectives on current events and how it affects them and their families. If you don’t have relationship with anyone outside of your own camp, it is time to widen your relational base. If you don’t have your own words, re-tweet, re-post or quote other leaders you respect and have been impacted or challenged by… But Don’t remain silent.
Below is a simple example, albeit an imperfect one, to the Charlottesville Tragedy. It is one attempt to speak up to the racial divide that is so alive and well today. Perhaps it might be helpful…
Responding To Charlottesville
I like you am saddened and sickened by the recent tragic violence in Charlottesville. I am also sickened by the response from some in power who infer that somehow both sides were responsible for the violence. The reality is that these events reveal the fact that overt racism is alive and well in America and it is a grievous stain and evil scourge in our land with horrific results.
Let me just say publicly that the words, deeds, and desires of the so-called “White Nationalists” and others groups who are like them are directly apposed to and incompatible with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Their posture does violence to the Imago Dei – that all people are created equal in the image of God, and the mission of Christ whose “purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross…”(Ephesians 2:15-16).
My heart breaks for my brothers and sisters of color who live with an open wound of fear, uncertainty, hurt and anger that is newly awakened by this most recent tragedy. I grieve with the parents of color who must now try to explain these events to their children, comfort and guide them. I am so sorry for the words and actions of these groups!
We must Act! As a multicultural church Living Springs, and other churches who value diversity stand in an important position in our communities – to stand against any and all racism, hatred, and injustice, and to fight for righteousness, justice, peace and equality. We must stand up, speak up, and make clear the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ who came to break down walls of division, and send us as his agents of reconciliation.
We must pray! It is prayer that releases miracles. It is not government, policies, laws or law enforcement that will turn the tide, it is only the power of God that can transform a human heart and heal our land. We must repent of the sin that is not only “out there”, but the sins that are in our own hearts and as 2 Chronicles 7:14 reminds us that it is the repentance of God’s people that heals our land. I offer this prayer from Jennifer Ackerman from Fuller Theological Seminary…
Lord we commit our lives to you, believing that you are working in the world in spite of destructive powers and principalities. Bring healing to those who are hurt, peace to those who are anxious, and love to those who are fearful. We wait for you, O Lord. Make haste to help us.
Oh Lord, only you can make all things new.
We must Hope! We place our hope in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ that sets us free from sin, death the devil and all evil principalities and powers. Come Lord Jesus!
As A Gospel Alliance, let us work together to show the world how Christ gives us every compelling reason to make room for all who call upon His name. Let us work together to demonstrate to the world the unity Christ prayed for in John 17, but let’s not remain silent!