Tag Archives: diversity and the Church

It makes no difference

You say, “Tomato”; I say, “Tomato.”  We look, say and do things differently.  This should come as no surprise.  The diversity of the world is not a new reality or a new struggle within the Church in America or anywhere else.  The early Church wrestled with its cultural identity and their identity in Christ.  The latter was and is not something to be added or customized to fit other identities.

Paul says it plainly to the Galatians and again to the Colossians: “ As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”[i]

Poet Jessica Goodfellow captures best our response to oneness, to wholeness in her poem “The Invention of Fractions”:

God created the whole numbers:

the first born, the seventh seal,

Ten Commandments etched in stone,

the Twelve Tribes of Israel—

ten we’ve already lost—

forty days and forty nights,

Saul’s thousand and David’s ten thousand.

‘Be of one heart and one mind’—

the whole numbers, the counting numbers.

It took humankind to need less than this;

to invent fractions, percentages, decimals.

Only humankind could need the concepts

of splintering and dividing,

of things lost or broken,

of settling for the part instead of the whole.

 

Only humankind could find the whole numbers,

infinite as they are, to be wanting;

though given limitless supply,

we still had no way

to measure what we keep

in our many chambered hearts.

G. K. Chesterton says rightly, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” We simply have not tried hard enough, tried long enough, made our efforts strong enough at answering Jesus’ prayer for oneness. And saying it is too hard or it will not work is not enough.

Stanley Hauerwas pushes back saying, “We shall have to break our habit of having church in such a way that people are deceived into thinking that they can be Christians and remain strangers.”   And I agree with him along with bell hooks who says, “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”  With the eyes of Paul and Peter, I come to church every Sunday with my own personal party hat.

In Acts 10, Peter has had a vision and in Acts 11, he is now gathered with the leaders in Jerusalem for a church meeting.  Gossip spreads faster than sermons; persons are talking about the non- Jewish people who are now Christians.  Forget that they have accepted Jesus as their personal Savior, what matters most is whether we accept them.  So, they will receive eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord, but we have to decide if we want to live in community with them now.  Jesus has shared his broken body with them but we need to vote on whether or not, we will sit at the Lord’s table with them.  Because though they want to be like Christ, I also want them to be just like me.

So, Peter shares with the leaders the vision that he receives and the sight of the Holy Spirit falling on his hearers, the same as him.  And God is not only speaking to Peter but sharing this partnership opportunity with Cornelius in Caesarea.  So, God has to first make sure that Peter can see straight.  Because as Soren Kierkegaard noted, “Once you label me, you negate me.”  And Peter understands now what Evelyn Underhill teaches that, “My growth depends on my walls coming down.”

No insiders and outsiders, they have come to investigate Peter but he now asks them the question: “If God gave them the exact same gift when we believed in the Master Jesus Christ, how could I object to God?”[ii]  Because we are supposed to be God’s welcome mat, what message would we be sending?

And though you have a position description for the kind of Christians you are looking for, “The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us.”[iii]  As the Spirit said Peter, so I say to you.  For all the fingers that point out how we are not alike; Jesus’ hands pinned down to the cross and the Holy Spirit that called Peter and Cornelius together says, “It makes no difference.”

_________________________________

[i] Galatians 3.28, NRSV

[ii] Acts 11.17, The Message

[iii] Acts 11.12, NRSV

Segregated Sundays: A Conversation on Race and the Church

Why does the Church of the God “who so loved the world” struggle with embracing a multicultural, multiethnic community (John 3.16)?  Why does the church of the Christ who commanded us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves and who commissioned us to “go and make disciples of all nations” often confine the good news of the gospel to our culture (Mark 12.30-31; Acts 28.19)?  Why does the church of the Spirit that was poured out on all flesh continue judge the expression of the Spirit if it is not expressed based on their cultural expectation (Joel 2.28; Acts 2.17)?  Why aren’t cultural intelligence, diversity and empathy core values of the Church?

These are questions that Christians in North America specifically but all over the world must begin to seriously consider.  But, we need not simply reflect on these questions but ready a response and an action plan.  Because there is a generation that wants answers and wants to see the change in believers and the transformation of the world that the Scriptures attest to.  Below is a video of a conversation on race and the Church.  Prayerfully, their stories speak to yours and inform your journey as we walk behind Christ together.

A Recipe for a Successful Church

orangecard

“Coming together is the beginning. Keeping together is progress.  Working together is success.”

~ Henry Ford

Too often, we believe that our ministry is successful because we had good attendance at our church, because we served a record number of neighbors at our church, because we our church is growing and maturing in Christ.  But, it is easy to see success when we are only looking at ourselves, comparing ourselves to ourselves.

The Church is the body of believers all over the world.  Let’s talk about our attendance now, our service to date, our growth and maturity in Christ based on our fellowship with other churches, with all churches.  The Church needs to be evangelized as we are not so connected when we step outside of our four walls, when we leave our pews or our community.  We stop singing, stop holding hands when we start to talk about other churches.  Because we have a good thing going here.  And they might mess it up.

Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor company, presents a potential measuring stick for success and coming together is only the beginning.  It is easiest to gather for a meal, for a march, for a mission because afterwards every one gets to return to their corner of the community.  It is a limited amount of time with a set purpose and goal.  Once the dishes are put away, justice has been served and the mission accomplished, we’re free to go.

“Keeping together is progress.”  Staying together, staying connected is an improvement upon the relationship.  Intentional fellowship without reason other than common interest in the other person.  Dare I say, creating a friendship.

“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live, dwell, keep together in unity” (Psalm 133.1).  It is not enough to share a pew on Sunday morning for an hour or two.  We need to take a seat in the homes of fellow believers of other cultures and contexts and stay awhile.

But, even this is not the end all, be all.  Ford says, “Working together is success.”  And I would agree.  It is easy to share a cup of tea or coffee, share words while in conversation but sharing power, even spiritual power, can be difficult for people of faith.  And finding agreement though we believe in the same God, the same Savior of the world and rely upon the same Spirit, now you’re pushing it.

Yet, this is what we must do.  We must push it.  We must push the boundaries of our tradition, our program, our routine.  We must be willing to roll up the sleeves of our theology and get involved in the mess of life: the differences and diversities of life.

We must push ourselves beyond what has been done and do something new.  Agree to worship and work together to the glory of God and the success of His Church.

 

The Most Segregated Hour

“It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” ~ Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. King’s words are often employed when there is talk of Christ’s Church and its lack of cultural diversity in worship. It is said as a matter of fact and there is no sense that the persons who employ it also find it appalling. No, it is simply repeated, expressed without a challenge to our poor Christian witness and without a plan to change it. That race and its progeny do much to undue our declarations of the unconditional love and acceptance of God is never mentioned. It seems that it remains for “Christian America” a necessary hypocrisy.

I have heard persons say that it is because we worship differently, that it is because of cultural preferences and understandings of what this looks and sounds like.  But, to reduce the reason for the absence of diversity in American churches to worship style is too easy, too simple a conclusion.  And it’s an excuse not a reason.  The manner in which we celebrate God is not what separates us.  God has already told us how we are to worship: “in spirit and in truth” (John 4.24).  It is a posture not a particular practice that God desires and this should determine the manner in which we worship– if God is the focus of the Sunday morning service.

But, most often, this is not the case.  Our time spent with God is determined by our schedules, our social comforts and sinful, self- serving conclusions.  We treat Christ’s Church no differently than our homes, schools and local municipalities.  We know the way that persons are to live and who we want to live with us– even in the house of God.  How we continue to believe that we are worshipping “in spirit and in truth” while maintaining the racialized desires of our heart in God’s holy temple is a question worthy of discussion.

The truth is that eleven o’clock remains the most segregated hour because we don’t want to change the clock.   We are reliving history.  But, we would do much to relieve ourselves of its burdens if the Church in America would honestly and adequately address its complicity in the crimes of race (and this request is not one-sided).  We must confess the sins of race and seek forgiveness from God and our neighbor.  It will remain the most segregated hour so long as we do not see this as a judgment against us, the change as a part of the cost of discipleship and a priority of our faith.