becoming a multiracial church, part 5

Last weekend at The Vine, I was part of a panel discussion on racial reconciliation. I read excerpts from my blog posts on becoming a multiracial church. It was a good mix of presentations with personal stories, offenses, forgiveness, and (occasional) reconciliation.

But looking back, it was yet another rehash of the same conversation. Having been part of racial reconciliation talks/ panels/ seminars/ conferences for at least 3 years now, it feels like the same advocacy of what has to change gets voiced, and yet nothing big really happens. (Only 2 of the white majority were in the audience — either indicating other concurrent panels were more compelling and/or a lack of interest in dealing with this topic.)

There are (at least) 2 levels to dealing with racism: individual and institutional. Individual encouragement tend to hover along the lines of finding forgiveness for past offenses, personal, historical, social, unintentional or intentional, and building a relationship or friendship. Institutional change, which is much more needed, is often neglected. I am realizing that power dynamics are really a part of this mix, perhaps inherited and unintentional. It’s the decision makers of an organization, like a church, that can build the relationships, select and appoint the right people (coach, mentor, and groom them, as needed), and diversify the core as a means of changing the culture of the institution, ethnically and racially, as well as other categories too. This is not a matter of policy, but one of politics, in the sense of people in positions of organizational leadership. Implicit in my comment is that this cannot be done by mandate or quota, but relationally, as how most organizational leadership is done anyways. So, until that changes, intentionally and dramatically, the wheels will keep on spinning in the mud.

Meanwhile, in the blogosphere, Mark Van Steenwyk (“Van S”) triggered some buzz about the emergent conversation being largely white. Charlie Ware (next-wave) thinks the reason for this is cultural. PostmodernNegro thinks that this is because of the history of the American church: the reason why there is a white church and a black church is because of racist white Christians. All good observations and comments, and we’ll see what the core planning team decides to do about the hoi polloi’s concerns of gender and racial diversity. (at the closing session of the Emergent Convention in Nashville, there was mention of similar emerging church dialogue already going on among some church leaders in South America, so while Emergent goes global, it’d be more encouraging to me to see that dialogue go on right here in multicultural America)

[Also see previously posted: part 4, part 3, part 2, part 1, original post. ]

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1 Response

  1. Anthony Barr-Jeffrey says:


    Hi. Scott Coil of the Vine just hipped me to your site. Thanks for dealing with this topic on your blog. It has brought a few things to mind. (Disclaimer: I’m a mid 30, African-american by ethnicity, multicultural by culture, stay at home Dad, who is married to a caucasian woman, grew up in black pentacostal church but has recently joined a Catholic church, and have been working and training in the field of intercultural relations for nearly a decade)

    1) If I may be so bold to ask, what the heck is the Emergent church? What is it emerging from and what is it emerging into?

    2) Of course the emergent church is mostly white. Churches are segregated, their Gen X and Y kids got disgruntled and are trying a few new things mixed with few old things. There is not enough common relationship between Black and White churches to even think there would necessarily be parallel processes.

    3) Black congregations are a pillar in a somewhat collectivist (at least on paper) group of people in a mostly individualist (at least on paper) country. Collectivism inherently has a protectionist mechanism that keeps the group in tact. Veering from the norm is not supported. Black congregations, like White congregations have their theology and their culture so wrapped up in each other that they Black youth question theology at the cost of cultural rejection and White youth question theology so freely that it’s almost par for the course (PROTESTantism has European roots). The middle ground is virtually unexplored. For crying out loud, black kids can’t do hip-hop in their churches without and as soon as a white kid picks up a guitar yesterday and he feels he’s ready to write an entirely new tome of worship songs and to join the “modern worship” movement– contemporary service and all. It’s cultural to a degree that has barely been scratched. Not saying it’s all wrong or right just mostly unexplored and a desperate point of prayer for all Christians. Without the Lord’s inspiration and insight, predominantly Black congregations will not change because they don’t realize that protectivism is a core value in their community and it’s in their theology. White congregations won’t change because people older folks haven’t experienced spirit-let cultural tranformation enough to connected with and nurture the young folks enough to build a foundational community place that would seem familiar on any level to culturally-identified Black christians.

    3) Having people who look different in a church doesn’t make it multicultural, just multi-ethnic. Just take a look at President Bush’s selections. He has people of every shade working for him and that’s because nearly all of them (save Colin Powell) tow the same socio-culturo-economic pary line he does. He apparently thinks he’s doing something strategically special but has in fact missed something important (and why wouldn’t he, what self-respecting conservative president would actually hire someone who wouldn’t tow his line). This isn’t a commentary on them or the President, it’s a commentary on where this country is at on these issues.

    Just some thoughts.