“Cross my heart and hope to die. Stick a needle in my eye.” Our promises use to mean something. As children, we took our commitment– no matter how trivial or time- sensitive– seriously. We meant what we said with our little mouths about a rumor we had heard or the score of last night’s game. It was the difference between life and death for us to break a promise. Our very life was staked on our fidelity.
But, words don’t mean much now. We say words and take them back. We say things that we later claim we didn’t mean. We don’t think through the impact of our words and later maintain that we misspoke. But, what of the promises that we have made to Christ?
Certainly, we meant it then but do we mean it now? And going to church is no indication of our allegiance. The story of the disciples removes our rose- colored glasses and any doubt that you can follow Christ and still deny him, that Jesus can call you by name and you still betray him. Proximity is not an indication of one’s ability to keep a promise. Friends and enemies share the same space.
So how do you or I know how committed you are until a time of testing? How does God know that you are committed? Would we know if our commitment changed? Because betrayal is a slow backing away. We take long breaks and then Sundays off before we leave the faith altogether. It simply starts with our fellowship.
Consequently, confessing Christ as our personal Lord and Savior is not a one- time declaration. Instead, we must confess Christ daily as there are continuous assaults on his position in our lives. Everyday, the forces of our society, the traditions of our family, the tyranny of our workload threatens to unseat him.
And what of our commitment to Christian community? What happens to our confession to love when the community does not reflect our culture, when the people “don’t look like us”, when it becomes apparent that we have created a version of Christianity that suits our people group and no one else’s? Then, we realize that our promise was conditional and the challenge to “renew our minds” so that we become one in Christ is presented (cf. Romans 12.2,5). Because we crossed our hearts and hoped to die to self and all its carnal desires, too.
Didn’t you promise?
We have all kinds of Bibles that vary in language, size, appearance, focus, audience and even translation. There is seemingly a Bible for every kind of person. For some, the King James Version has been dethroned, replaced with Eugene Peterson’s The Message or some other version with less thees and thous. Still, the Bible is chosen because it speaks to you or me. Our goal is singular in scope.
But, what if there were a Bible that focused our attention on our togetherness, our oneness, our sameness? That was devoted to our aimless prejudices and wandering stereotypes? That redirected us back to love?
What if there was a Bible that highlighted the importance of our commonality as believers and that challenged the notions of separation and segregation in our relationships? What if we reflected more deeply on the words and ways of Jesus for the purposes of reconciling our differences? If we took those words written in red and used them to correct our lives? Because it doesn’t matter if we understand the Bible better due to more accessible language if our relationships remain closed off to other cultures.
Not to be confused with inclusive language that acknowledges everyone, this hypothetical multicultural Bible would emphasize the goals of our relational God. Pointing out again and again the tie that binds us together, this divine Thread that holds us all together, that hands stretched out on a cross that invited us all to love God together. Of course, we would have to use some color other than red to call attention to these passages of Scripture. Still, I think it an important contribution to our apprenticeship with Christ.
It has to be more than a Bible study or a Sunday school lesson. If we believe in “one Lord, one faith, one baptism,” then we must become one people (Ephesians 4.5). We start turning to Galatians chapter 3 and reading verses 27 and 28 in our multicultural Bibles.
That’s what yesterday’s Wall Street Journal article by Laura Meckler is reporting in “How Churches Are Slowing Becoming Less Segregated.” In the article, the senior pastor of the Peoples Church of Cincinnati, Rev. Beard, makes a necessary connection, “If the church is segregated, no wonder the city is segregated.” For Reverend Beard, the Church determines the relationships and the way in which we interact within those relationships– not the government. Interesting.
Meckler doesn’t gloss over the problems that arise when persons of different cultures attempt to worship under one roof but Reverend Mark DeYmaz’s conviction after reading Scripture (i.e. The Revelation 7.9-10) settles the matter: “If the kingdom of heaven isn’t segregated, then why on earth is the church segregated?” I’ll leave that answer up to you as well as the rest of the article.
Jeff Brumley wrote in August of 2012 “Pastors forsee a raceless church.” But, before I celebrate this word of encouragement, I must say that Brumley’s definition of a multicultural church: “(socially colored) black and white church members” is incorrect. Two cultures is bicultural not multicultural. And though this is a great triumph for American Christianity, it is by no means the image of the kingdom of God. Now, where was I?
In the above- mentioned article, now almost two years old (How did I miss this?), pastors speak of a foreseeable future when congregations will be culturally diverse. It offers insight as to why the change is needed and what pastors are doing to encourage it. Amy Butler, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. summed it up well, “The church will have to do this or the church will die,” Butler said. “The churches that are not ready and willing to open their doors to anybody eventually will find that no one is there.”
Do you serve a multicultural congregation or believe that your church should be culturally diverse? Then, these resources are for you! As members of Christ’s body, our witness will be dysfunction so long as we remain disconnected. Join me in spreading the race-less gospel of Jesus Christ, just one of the tools for Christ’s multicultural Church.
Church Diversity: Sunday the Most Segregated Day of the Week by Scott Williams
Becoming a Multicultural Church by Laurene Bowers
Building a Healthy Multi- Ethnic Church by Mark Deymaz
Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart by Christena Cleveland
Divided By Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America by Michael O. Emerson & Christian Smith
Multicultural Ministry: Finding Your Churches Unique Rhythm by David Anderson
Leading a Healthy Multi- Ethnic Church: Seven Common Challenges and How to Overcome Them by Mark Deymaz & Harry Li
Where the Nations Meet: The Church in a Multicultural World by Stephen Rhodes
Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions by Paul Louis Metzger
The Multi- Ethnic Christian Life Primer by Mark Deymaz & Oneya Fennell Okuwabi
Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church by Soong- Chan Rah
The Post- Black and Post- White Church: Becoming the Beloved Community in a Multi-Ethnic World by Efrem Smith
The Presbyterian Church USA’s Office of Multicultural Congregational Support has prepared this list of recommended reading as a part of its mission to identify and provide resources that are meaningful to the growing diversity in the Church. Click here.
Becoming a Multicultural Church produced by the United Church of Christ
Continuum on Becoming an Anti- Racist, Multicultural Institution