Russell and Duenes

Whose culture will multi-racial churches have?

with 8 comments

If we had a racially integrated church, which culture would prevail in it? Would it, yea, could it be “multicultural?” What kinds of songs would be sung? What kind of preaching would happen? What would be the order of service? Etc, etc. You see the issue here. Americans like to talk about multi-racial churches and even multi-cultural churches, but they remain vague in describing how this would cash out in real terms. And when they DO describe it, it often seems to me to turn out to be a desire for a multi-racial, mono-cultural church. Thus, if blacks want to come to “white” churches, they have to sing songs written by Chris Tomlin and Hillsong. Understandably, many don’t want to. If I want to go to a “black” church, it will likely be a cross-cultural experience for me each week, not just a cross-racial experience. If I go to an “Asian” church, same thing. Which culture bends to the other? Or does Jesus have some sort of cultural “blend” that will form up when we all get together? We look at this as Americans and say, “Well, isn’t this “segregation” on Sunday mornings a shame. We’ve got to break down these barriers.” But what will it look like when they’re down? Does God want a racially diverse mono-culture? I simply don’t think American Christians, laymen and scholarly, have wrestled sufficiently with the biblical teaching and historical record on ethno-national identity. If you really want to read a book that I think will stir up some good thoughts on all this, you should read Ethnic Realities and the Church: Lessons from India, by Donald McGavran. The usual response is to say that “race doesn’t matter in Christ” and thus we should try to somehow transcend it in a kind of “melting pot” form. I’m not convinced. There’s a kind of knee-jerk resistance to anything that smacks of favorable notions about national and ethno-national identity and distinctives. But I need to continue to think about it a lot more. I think my questions above, however, would provide some fodder for discussion.



Written by Michael Duenes

March 2, 2010 at 5:24 am

Posted in Duenes, Race, Theology

8 Responses

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  1. The service that Jessica and I attend and the body that comprises it is quite unique. We are in downtown Long Beach, so we have the really rich, and the really poor. We have red, yellow, black, and white as the song goes. Each ethnicity is pretty split, there is not a real majority. I’m not making a point about the way things should be, I’m just providing a case study… This is the most interesting extension of the body I have been apart of. The members are committed to a culture where we love God, each other, and our city (and Long Beach is just as diverse as our people). This culture is seen both in our service where rich and poor, black and white, serve each other, and in our city where they serve alongside each other. Each person has their own cultural background too. We have people that are homeless, people that were homeless, people that live in an urban context, people who are blue collar, people who are white collar, people who speak English as a second language (e.g. the filipino family who serves in the children’s ministry…), and other people who are from other distinct cultures and backgrounds. Our services have had different cultural styles at different stages in the plant. At one point we had gospel music worship, at another point we had ‘Christ Tomlin’ songs. Our preaching, however, is pretty consistent. God has just called Citylights to be the way it is… it works for us?

    As I said, I really don’t expect this to answer any of the questions you posed. I am just using our Church as an example from which to draw more food for thought.

    Kevin Parr

    March 2, 2010 at 5:58 am

    • Great input, Kevin. America is a unique place to minister in many ways because of the racial, class and cultural diversity you see in urban centers like Los Angeles, et al. I have no doubt what you are describing is true and I rejoice in it. But as you said, it does not specifically address the issues I’ve raised. In McGavran’s book (which I highly, highly recommend to you for your own thinking, knowing a bit about you and your pastoral heart), he notes that there are churches in India which match the description of your church very well, but those churches were very limited in their growth. Whereas churches that were “segregated” by various ethnic strata grew like wildfire. Unfortunately, what happened is that American church planters and leaders got ahold of this and turned it into a “church growth” formula, which basically appealed to the white, suburban, dominant culture in America. McGavran’s stuff should certainly not be swallowed wholesale. I would gather that there is still a dominant culture reflected in your church, and that culture obviously appeals to certain people from a variety of ethno-linguistic backgrounds. But what I question is whether that’s the kind of culture that God wants to be normative. In other words, does God think it’s an abomination for a church, say, in Kazakhstan, to be comprised primarily of Kazakhs, reflecting Kazakh culture and folkways? Does God think the Kazakhs need to adopt a more “multi-cultural” church where, say, Russians will feel just as culturally “at home” as the Kazakh believers do? Extrapolate this scenario out to other missions fields and you begin to get a sense of what I’m driving at.



      March 2, 2010 at 7:08 am

      • It seems as though there are many types of congregations that please God. I’m certain there is no one right constellation. Each community must be faithful to the context God has given them.

        I’m not sure if your questions about Kazakhstan are rhetorical or not, because the answers seem obvious to me… God does not think it is an abomination–He loves his bride. If people from a different cultural background are comfortable coming into a service that is primarily influenced by a different culture, the dominant culture should not attempt to change their cultural expressions to accommodate the alien. However, the dominant culture should not reject the foreigner. In effect, what I am saying is that I think that we need to be careful of both extremes (over-accomidating and under-accepting).

        Of course, one’s thinking about this subject is primarily determined by their ecclesiology. For instance, are we talking about all Christians, the local Church community, or the Church service? The universal Church is by nature multi-cultural. The local Church community should be accepting and can be comprised of people from various cultures. The Church service is almost always restricted to one cultural expression. It is possible to have people from many cultural backgrounds attend a service that is primarily an expression of worship conducted in one cultural setting (e.g. Citylights). As far as services are concerned, Church bodies that have services in which people from many cultures attend are not better in any way than Church bodies that have services in which only one culture attends.

        Finally, I personally am of the opinion that in the eschatological Kingdom there will still be different cultures. It seems to me that culture existed before the fall. Part of man’s responsibilities of stewarding the earth probably included cultural creation (this creative capacity presumably being rooted in the doctrine of Imago Dei). Furthermore, culture is not intrinsically bad. Often times, however, it is perverted (just like all other good things). I look forward to the kingdom because Jesus will be glorified as Lord over all cultures. See Col. 1 starting at verse 15.

        Kevin Parr

        March 3, 2010 at 4:14 am

      • Indeed. Wise words, Kevin. I hope you’ll follow some of my further postings on ethno-nationalism, the church and God’s mission to the nations. Your feedback is always valuable.



        March 3, 2010 at 6:59 am

  2. Where are you going with this? Does this mean you would argue that there are other areas of our lives you suggest we segregate, or just church? Why only church?
    What do you do with Scripture such as:
    John 10:14-16
    “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.”
    Ephesians 4:1-6
    I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with long-suffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all,
    and through all, and in you all.

    Galatians 3:26-28
    For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
    1 Corinthians 1:9-10
    God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
    1 Peter 3:8-9
    Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.


    March 2, 2010 at 4:12 pm

  3. In my limited experience, it’s usually Westerners that care the most about being multi-cultural, and of the Westerners it’s usually Americans that care the most, and of Americans, it’s usually only white Americans that care all that much about it. Everyone else seems content to do everything, including church, within the context of their own culture. White Americans are the ones that hand wring the most over whether or not they are singing “Siya Bonga Baba” or “Yo Tengo Un Amigo Que Me Ama” often enough, or whether or not the leaders have a representative member of each ethnic group.


    March 5, 2010 at 10:12 pm

    • I generally agree. And of course, our IV experience seems to confirm this.



      March 6, 2010 at 12:00 am

    • It seems like America is a rather unique place when it comes to issues such as: it is clearly multi-ethnic and also MONO-CULTURAL in ways that many countries are not. It has a heritage of slavery that is far reaching in its implications. It has a vast array of geopolitical, ethnic and religious baggage to work through. It has a caste system that no one wants to say exists and that most argue would end if everyone just worked hard. These are not individually unique to America. But when they are heaped on top of one another, they give reason to show why a multi-ethnic church can be desired. I know many non-whites who want to see this vision happen.
      I realize you are referring to, what author Shelby Steele calls, “white guilt” when you state that “it’s usually only white Americans that care” that much about multi-ethnic churches. But in my estimation, every member of Christ’s Body should be interested in Christian connectivity whether it is across the neighborhood or across the oceans. And if churches are really “hand wringing” over singing “Siya Bonga Baba” or “Yo Tengo Un Amigo Que Me Ama,” they have missed the message of the Gospel.



      March 6, 2010 at 12:41 am

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