Multi-cultural Church – The Challenge of Racism

A Little while back I had some correspondence with @Litabny about how we plant and pastor churches in urban, multicultural areas. I posted some of the correspondence here.

In the follow up conversation, we talked about how racism can be a barrier to achieving that.  Here are some of my jotted comments:

  1. The issue of racism and prejudice is one of the reasons why exegeting my own heart as a preacher/pastor is important and part of that will include being challenged about pre-conceived ideas, past ideas and blind spots. When I talk about exegeting my own heart, I mean that a preacher has to do three levels of exegesis. We start with the text and make sure we understand what it is saying. We recognise as well that we need to exegete the congregation, to think about who we are speaking to. However before that, God’s Word needs to challenge the preacher too. What do I need to hear? What do I need to change? What might get in the way of me faithfully communicating God’s Word.
  2. One area where we can have blind spots is that we think that because we are willing to be cross cultural means that we can’t be racist. The problem is that we can be willing to go to one particular culture whilst being prejudiced against another. We can also hold stereotypes about an ethnic group whilst being friendly to individuals.
  3. Linked to that is that often the issue is about immigration not about ethnicity. This complicates things because there is a legitimate conversation to be had about appropriate immigration controls. Personally, I’ve come to the conclusion that free movement of people is a good thing. However, I don’t think it makes someone racist if they think there should be tighter control on immigration and borders. The issue comes when our heart motives are fear and hostility or the belief that we are entitled to preferential treatment because of where we were born.
  4. A further challenge is that we can think that there isn’t a problem with our own hearts because we are motivated by a desire to do good and to help. However, there is a problem when we treat people as projects, patronise them and/or become saviour figures to them.
  5. Linked to the 4th point is that we can become blind to other needs if we think that the need is to help people because of economic, social and educational needs.  We miss the invisible needs and respectable sins of people who don’t present themselves as outwardly needy. That’s why it’s important to remember that the church’s focus is on meeting the Gospel need.
  6. It is good to know our history. Sadly people experienced racism from the church of all places. I have heard some truly distressing stories. I’ve also seen the incredible grace of God and the faithfulness of believers.
  7. We may not be able to directly undo some of the actions, decisions and effects of what happened fin the past.    Being aware of the past is still important though. It may be that our immediate focus is on making sure that we don’t repeat past mistakes. So, my focus is on who we are working with now.  It may even be that churches with multi-ethnic leadership even though it is from a different background will have leaders better placed to work for reconciliation with communities that we let down in the past.
  8. Our own contemporary culture talks a lot about “hearing the voices” of people but part of me wants to push further on that. What do we mean by that and to what end.
    1. Is it leading to healing for those who have been hurt?
    2. What lessons need to be learnt?
    3. Where is there responsibility and the need for repentance
  9. The key thing must be allowing God’s Word to disagree with us.
  10. These are reasons why the aim must be a fully functioning church membership (however you define membership) where people from all backgrounds are actively participating and where there is a mix of leaders.
  11. I think that where people have grown up in a multi-ethnic context then this can help because I don’t want the aim of multi-ethnic churches to be the latest Christian fad.  I grew up in an urban, multi-cultural context in Bradford, this permeated through the whole of life, school, church, family friends etc. So for me, homogenous contexts are unusual.
  12. Vital too is an understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church to make things happen that we cannot engineer.