Tuesday, October 14, 2008

United, or Divided, by Faith?

Is “white Christianity” the norm and other racially specific congregations only “special ministries?“ Curtis Paul DeYoung, Michael O. Emerson, George Yancey, and Karen Chai Kim respond to this question in their volume entitled United By Faith: The Multiracial Congregation As An Answer To The Problem of Race (NY/Oxford University Press/2003).

Part One
considers biblical antecedents for multiracial congregations. Ch. 1 shows how scripture reports the church as a house of prayer for all nations. Ch. 2 describes Pentecost as the birthing of the early church in its multi-ethnic, multi-lingual splendor. That church spread throughout the Acts of the Apostles like wildfire, in spite of adjustments needed to maintain it (cf Ch. 2).

Part Two
traces the history of multiracial congregations in the United State (1600 to 1940) and shows the emergence of the color line. The multiracial congregation re-emerged between 1940-2000, primarily a result of the Civil Rights Movement.

In Ch. 4, Ghandi suggested to a group led by Howard Thurman that “it would be through the African American struggle for freedom in the United States that ‘the unadulterated message of nonviolence’ would reach the world.”

This was fulfilled in the context of the civil rights movement. From there, the authors examine four multiracial congregations: Riverside Church of NYC, the Mosaic Church of LA, St. Pius X Church of Beaumont, TX and Park Avenue United Methodist Church of Minneapolis.

Part Three
offers rationales for, and responses to, racial segregation of the worship hour. Chapter Six details events that result in the rejection of the white man’s church by ethnic minorities, and the failed attempts of a Euro-white Anglo society to assimilate ethnic Christians into “white definitions of Christianity.”

Chapter Seven argues separate but equal, whereas Chapter 8 calls for multiracial congregations, as illustrated by Richard Twiss. This native American, asked how to relate to his native culture as a Christian. The revealing answer came back with a reading of Gal. 3:28, acknowledging neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. Everyone is one in Christ. The reader then concluded, “So Richard, don’t worry about being Indian; just be like us.”

Part 4
suggests developing multiracial congregations in the 21st century as an answer to the race problem.

“If we claim to follow Jesus Christ and to have inherited the Gospel of the first-century church,” the authors contend that “present-day congregations should exhibit the same vision for and characteristics of those first Christian communities of faith.” Therefore, “we even go so far as to say that a Christian, by biblical definition, is a follower of Jesus Christ whose way of life is racial reconciliation” (129).

“A church that does not aim to become multiracial almost never does” … “Leaders will fail if they are not thoroughly convinced that being multiracial is God’s design” (170).

In our research, we found that “all racial groups experience the benefits of multiracial congregations, but the costs are disproportionately born by the congregational minority groups” (172).

Multiracial congregations require intentionality and adaptability as well as multicultural worship (pp 175-79)

Successful multiracial congregations generally begin by “redesigning their mission statements, worship styles, and social practices in ways that reflect the New Testament call to be multiracial” (185).

We need people, say these authors, who not only speak truth to racism but who can envision a future church where racism is no longer a defining characteristic of our faith. Unequivocally, they insist that we must move forward with the task of reclaiming the vision of Jesus Christ and the New Testament model of inclusive congregations. “We are calling for a movement in the church toward multiracial congregations!” They conclude.
Further quotes:
P4 When religious people make choices based on their individual rights, they largely end up in homogeneous congregations
P5 …the United States is more racially diverse than it has ever been but not as racially diverse as it will be in the coming years.

P19 The author of Mark understood that the last four words of that quote from Isaiah--for all the nations--SUMMED UP WHAT CAUSED THE RELIGIOUS LEADERS TO FEAR Jesus and look for a way to kill him (ll1:18).

P20 Jesus offered a counter kingdom proposal: he foresaw a time when every people of every nation would call God’s Temple their house of prayer. (Brian Blount)

P22 The church was multicultural and multilingual from the first moment of its existence.

P26 The Greek word Gentiles literally means nations. (David Rhoads)

P32 Ben Witherington believes, ‘It is here in Ephesus that he has the longest stable period of ministry without trial or expulsion, here that he most fully carries out his commission to be a witness to all persons, both Jew and Gentile.

P37 Their broad inclusiveness decreased only when the church became more aligned and identified with the Roman Empire and the culture of the elite.

I’m passing my copy on to a friend in KY who has launched a multicultural congregation. I highly recommend friend Curt’s works, and others are COMING TOGETHER, 1995; RECONCILIATION OUR GREATEST CHALLENGE--Our Only Hope, 1997; BEYOND REHETORIC, Reconciliation as a Way of Life, 2000 (which I keep for reference).

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