I have been reading book after book on questions of race, racialization, and racism, as well as on mutli-ethnic churches. Eventually, some of my thoughts will show up in one 60 page paper as I complete my MA. Simultaneously, though, I have been spearheading a workshop for this fall, Messy, Diverse and One in Christ, which will be led by four of us representing different ethnic streams: African American, Hispanic, Asian American, and Caucasian.
Recently, my reading and my workshop planning overlapped on a conference call. This team and I have spent hours on the phone comparing experiences around race and faith. But that day I asked this question: what have been experiences of genuinely beautiful cross-cultural unity in your life?
You could hear a pin drop.
An hour earlier I’d just read United by Faith: the Multiracial Congregation as an answer to the Problem of Race. Looking for congregations reflecting “a hybrid of the distinct cultures that have joined together in one church,” the authors admit they “are hard pressed to cite definitive examples of such congregations from [their] study…” (168). I quickly relayed this information on the phone: We are not alone in our limited experiences!
Getting off the phone, I began thinking. My brother and his wife’s house church in the Middle East includes men and women who are Arab, Phoenician, African-American, and Caucasian, from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish backgrounds. This group, with has a unified vision for fellowship, worship, and outreach, desperately needs one another for encouragement and strength (for many, their faith is life-jeopardizing). Likewise, I began reflecting on an upcoming global gathering of single women leaders in the Navigators: the 25 or so women will hail from Africa, Europe, Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia, and North America. We will come together expressly to encourage one another to keep moving forward in God’s kingdom purposes.
Continuing to reflect, I realized that in my every experience of cross-racial unity, not only has there been an organizing, shared purpose, but there has also been a genuine sense of needing one another to accomplish that purpose. Could it be that the beauty of unity in the body of Christ has the best chance of emerging across historically difficult lines when we actually recognize our need of one another in a shared purpose? And could it be that God has equipped different cultures (the ethnos) with different strengths because we, His global people, actually need those strengths to walk in God's big kingdom purposes? Maybe there's something this diverse group of women leaders needs to learn from one another as we all face questions about faithfulness to Jesus Christ in a globalizing culture? Maybe that house church gains strength to realize God's purposes in the Middle East because of the members’ respective cultural insights?
Race-related issues in the US alone are so complex they can silence many of us. The more I've ventured relationally and studied personally, the more convinced I am that there are--particularly in black/white questions--profound mine fields. But maybe a small starting place might be in discovering places where we genuinely need one another. So, to that end, perhaps you might ponder....
Do you share a purpose in common with a person from any other race or ethnic group? If so, what do you genuinely need from that person in your life? What about that person’s background, experience or perspective has enabled him/her to teach or give to you? What might you offer back in return?
I hope you’ll share your answers with someone, potentially, even, that person or people who came to mind. And I’d love to hear what you learn.