Multiethnic Ministry – Race & Reason in Church Life, pt.1

Posted on July 8, 2008


Leadership Weekly’s subject the week of June 3 was “Developing a Multiethnic Staff.” As an Associate Pastor at a very diverse church (a congregation of around 6000 members, ~50% black, 50% everything else — white, asian, hispanic/latino, pacific islanders, indians, etc.), my interest, and my mind was of course piqued. An article entitled “Ethnic Blends?” starts the discussion in Leadership’s weekly update, as well as this post. First, a quick disclaimer.

I am extremely perplexed by this issue. Race is highly complex, biologically, emotionally, philosophically… I admit that there is a lot of studying, reading, and personal interaction that I personally need to do before I can even think of making out any vague resemblance of a silhouette of a solution through the misty fog of race/cultural relationships (I hope that was somewhat sensical, if not sentimentally so). So, my reflections, observations, and responses to this article are along those lines; an ethic of inquiry with a deep desire to learn and discover better this difficult and challenging subject. I offer them here for reflection, and of course feedback, but in the spirit of dialogue and education.

The article starts by suggesting that we need to be RECRUITING WITH INTENTIONALITY. It is in someways affirmative action, “church-style.” My first response is “wow.” Like the controversies surrounding affirmative action, does not this author see the back-handed implications of staffing your church according to ethnic representation? And this quote was also intriguing,

Mark, if you hire or otherwise empower African Americans only to lead your church in worship, you may inadvertently suggest to people, ‘We accept them as entertainers.’ If you hire or otherwise empower African Americans only to work with your children, you may inadvertently suggest, ‘We accept them to nanny our kids.’ And if you hire or otherwise employ African Americans only as janitors, you are quite clearly stating, ‘We expect them to clean up after us.’ It is only when you allow us to share your pulpit, to serve with you on the elder board or alongside you in apportioning the money, that we will be truly one with you in church.

This seems to highlight and emphasize racial barriers rather than diminish them. Ought not people be hired based upon their own merits, skill, etc.? And what kind of reality are we facing when a particular racial group is continually feeling slighted in the power scheme? This seems to be a double-edged sword. It could completely ignore the values of humility and service for all people involved. It could also imply that our desire for “oneness” in our church is greater than our values for appropriate fit, gift-mix, and excellence in discipleship and love.

In BREAKING THE CYCLE OF SAMENESS, here the author and I agree. Diversity doesn’t “just happen.” Diversity, and consequently reconciliation is achieved through intentionality. For most of us, the absence of diversity is simply out of ignorance; mixed races are out of our purview. For many of us, it’s out of our comfort zone. Regardless, for all of us, we ought to be exhorted to continually reach across all dividing lines, and as the author has said, “picking up the phone” and start the conversation.

The DIVERSITY AT A DISCOUNT portion just seemed pithy, but perhaps it was poignant as a practical step towards applying the above principles at the volunteer level. My same questions apply here as they did with the first paragraph.

This last statement, however, I do not believe could be over-emphasized:

Restrictive thinking related to roles and ethnicity is formulated by fear, ignorance, or outright racism. Sadly, many remain largely unaware of conditioning that has long shaped the American psyche and its effect on who we are or how we make decisions from day to day. (emphasis mine)

As I continue to work on a daily basis with people of various colors and ethnicities, I find the above to be deeply true, and the major challenge that faces us all. Not only are we unaware, but we are in some ways incapable of understanding. The experiences of some, especially in this country, are so deeply engrained in their identity, that no amount of articulation could begin to “explain” to others (outside of their race) what it feels like, and what rationales one uses in their reasoning. I pray that this isn’t hopeless, but I find it to be the reality we are faced with.

Part two to follow soon…

Posted in: Culture, Race, Religion