How Do We Pursue Racial Integration? Some Practical Considerations

This is the third of a multi-part series on racial integration in the church. For the previous post, click here

I do not claim to be an expert on pioneering racial integration within church. I am very much still a learner, eager to hear from others what has worked, what has not worked, and what they believe continues to stand in the way. But through my experience and the experience of others, I offer some practical considerations to keep this much-needed conversation going:[1]

1. Elevate the “third race.”[2]  I will tease this out in a later post, but this concept comes from Paul, who said that to the Jew he “became a Jew.” How could that be? He was a Jew. Paul never got away from his Jewish roots, but his ethnic Jewishness was so “light” that he felt he could take it on and off like a garment. His “third race” (“in Christ”) was weightier to him than his ethnicity.

In the same way, “whites” can never cease to be white, “blacks” to be black, and Hispanics to be Hispanic–and there is nothing wrong with a black or white or Hispanic person fitting in best with the culture of his heritage. But our identity in Christ should be weightier to us than our white American ethnic identity and thus make unity in the church possible. It’s not that our cultures and heritage are unimportant to us, just that those things don’t take on a greater “weight” than our “in Christness.” There is nothing sinful about having cultural styles and preferences, we simply possess a unity that goes deeper than those things.

2. It’s not just the music.  It is surprising how popular the myth is that music drives diversity. One author calls this myth the “musical buffet theory.” Do you want black people in your church? Play gospel music. Want Latinos? Play salsa music. Not only does this sort of mentality reinforce the differences between us—many of them based on unfair stereotypes—it also nearly never worksMusic matters, but many other things on this matter much more.[3]

3. But it is the music.  There are some who feel that those who are not expressive in worship are not connecting their posture to their hearts and not giving God what he is due or not showing God’s worth to a watching world. And to that concern I say, “Valid.”

There are others who feel like aggressively “charismatic” worship leaders play on emotion, building crowd dynamics, and then unjustifiably labeling that “the Spirit.” And to that I say, “Valid.” Unbelievers in RDU are particularly skeptical of manufactured crowd emotions, especially when you label such events “God’s presence.”

What is wrong is for either side to declare the other’s concerns to be invalid. We must therefore go forward with the sensitivity to both, knowing that, in general, we need to grow at the Summit in our expressiveness in worship, especially if we are going to reach people from other cultures. But we also need to be aware that outsiders are very sensitive to what we call “Spirit moments” that are little more than group hysteria.

4. Let’s not pursue marbles or a melting pot, but a pot of beef stew.  This is another point that I will expand on in a later post. The basic idea is that there are three competing analogies for what racial integration should look like. The “Bag of Marbles” analogy puts us in close proximity to each other, but no one is changed in the process. On the other hand, the “Melting Pot” analogy sees us taking on one blended “Christian” culture. Both are a little too reductionist.

Between the two is the analogy of “Beef Stew.” Each of us is a component of this stew—beef, carrots, onions, broth. And while each culture is distinct, when combined together the various ingredients season each other without losing the distinctive qualities of each. Together they taste better than they would separately.

5. We must pursue diverse leadership.  Racially diverse congregations always have racially diverse leadership. That means that if we want our church body to be diverse, we’ll have to lead with diverse leadership. Some object, “Isn’t that just ‘tokenism’? ‘Tokenism’, as I see it, is when you either (1) put an unqualified person in a position of leadership simply because of their skin color, or (2) when you have no intention of actually giving away authority and just want a face up front to make it look like your leadership is diverse when in fact it is not and you have no intention of it being.

6. We need a goal larger than merely multiracial-ness.  Multiracial churches are united by a broader vision of the gospel, not solely by the idea of racial integration. Multiracial diversity is one of the things we pursue at our church, but it would be unwise to pursue it at the expense of other parts of our mission.

7. Multiracial-ness is a fruit of the gospel, not the gospel itself.  These can never be confused!

8. We must begin with the assumption that racism is in all of us.  Each of us has inherent racism, ranging from preferences to which we give too much weight to an insecure desire for self-justification that manifests itself in a sense of superiority to others not like us. As John Owen said, “The seed of every sin is in every heart.” As long as we deny that impulse is present in our hearts, we can make no progress. 1 John 1:8-9. This will put us in a posture of humility and repentance when talking about racism, which is extremely important. Martin Luther said, “All of a Christian’s life is repentance.” Our discussions on race should flow out of that.

9. Humility is necessary on all sides.  We have to be willing to listen and learn: quick to hear, slow to speak.

10. We must be willing to adapt.  Obviously, a white congregation is going to have to change things if it expects other races to join. This might, for instance, include incorporating other, less familiar styles into the service.

11. We need to employ basic people skills.  If we are serious about multi-racial churches, patience and the ability to navigate conflict will need to be high on the list.

12. We should always extend the “benefit of the doubt” to each other.  This is extremely important, so let me emphasize it with a series of random stars. ******************* We hammer this principle on our pastor team: always assume the best about others’ intentions until they prove they have bad ones. If you assume people are against you, you will find evidence of it everywhere. If you assume the best about their intentions, then you will find less to be offended by. Much of the angst over racial political correctness stems from the fact that we always assume the worst about other people’s motives in what they say and do. Little progress will be made until this is addressed.

13. Certain evangelicals should be open to this as a “calling.”  Not every Christian is called to focus on everything, but we need more white evangelicals being sensitive to this as a specific call of God on their lives.

14. We need intentionality on all levels.  This may seem obvious, but few churches become multiracial without trying to be.

15. We are in a kairos moment regarding race.  I do believe this a “kairos” moment for evangelicals. Racial harmonization as sentimentally presented in movies—based on some sort of generic goodwill—is just not accurate. We have a chance to demonstrate real, amazing unity. It should not displace, but complement, our focus on missions and evangelism.


[1] Many of these proposals were borne out of One Body, One Spirit Principles of Successful Multiracial Churches, by George Yancey.http://enrichmentjournal.ag.org/200703/200703_066_sb_SevenPrinciples.cfm

[2] I first heard this from D.A. Carson at the Gospel Coalition.

[3] This from Gerardo Marti, who served at multiracial church in LA in an article he wrote for Calvin College. http://worship.calvin.edu/resources/resource-library/gerardo-marti-on-successful-multicultural-churches/. From

 

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