Racial Integration: Of Marbles, Soup, and Beef Stew

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

Among those who agree that racial integration is a priority, there is the practical question: What would an ideal integrated church look like?

At this point, several analogies help to clarify the various views. You have, first, what I call the “Bag of Marbles” analogy. Imagine a collection of marbles, each a distinct color, being poured into one bag together. Each marble retains its unique color, but is placed in close proximity to marbles of various other colors.

When considered against the backdrop of segregation, this is certainly a step forward. However, the “Bag of Marbles” approach still tends towards isolation and does not adequately protect against ethnocentrism. The cultural differences, represented by the color of each marble, can never be changed, praised, or challenged. If you are a red marble and I am a blue marble, the best we can do is recognize that we are different.

Then you have the classic “Melting Pot” analogy. This is a familiar one for Americans, at least in theory. Various elements, distinct in themselves, are combined into one pot and melted together until a new mixture is produced. Or, to slightly shift the analogy, it’s as if various colors of paint were mixed together, forming a blended color. I think this is an improvement against the “Bag of Marbles” approach. It promotes interaction between various cultures, provides for the possibility that certain cultural elements should be changed, and legitimizes the idea of interracial marriages.

Still, the end result of the “Melting Pot” is not terribly appealing. The distinct features of each element are lost. When you mix a lot of paint colors together, you do not produce a more magnificent color, but a more boring one—some sort of bland beige. The same is true of people: the distinctions in our ethnicities and cultures cannot and should not be erased in favor of some blended “Christian” culture.

Finally, you have what I call the “Beef Stew” analogy. 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. Together they taste better than they would separately. This stands a sort of middle ground between the “Bag of Marbles” and the “Melting Pot.”

Even though no analogy will be perfect, I prefer the “Beef Stew” model to the previous two. Distinct ethnic features of culture are not destroyed, but amplified and redeemed. Christ does not make African Americans set aside their culture when the come to Christ, but he makes them Christian African AmericansLatinos are not called to leave their heritage wholesale, but become Christian Latinos. Because God is involved in culture, every culture has something worth redeeming and celebrating.

On the other hand, the “Beef Stew” model recognizes that none of our ethnic preferences is supreme. My white culture needs the influence of my Asian or African American brothers and sisters, just like they need influence from my culture. We are actually lacking something when our cultures fail to rub shoulders and borrow from each other.

In the end, we have to keep in mind that we are not marbles or cooking ingredients. Even the best analogy will break down. But however we talk about racial integration, we should be careful to use imagery that reminds people that all ethnicities need Christ’s redemption, and that all of us need to value and learn from what Christ is doing among those of other cultures.

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