Multiculturalism And The American Church
N.T. Wright, one of the world’s leading New Testament scholars and theologians, was asked, “What is the main problem you see in the western church?” His response, “I think the biggest problem the western church faces today is the scandal of disunity. In my home country, the U.K., we have dozens of denominations. I am told that there are hundreds here in the USA.”
The challenges of disunity are not only recognized by biblical scholars but the typical American as well as other influential believers such as rap artist Lecrae. In his song Dirty Water, he blends the church’s lack of interest for different cultures while referencing the infamous Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s quote:
"No Habla español, just show me tu baño
Ain't trynna get to know you; I'm too busy readin' Daniel
Most segregated time of day is Sunday service
Now what you think that say about the God you worship?"
Both Wright and Lecrae emphasize the significant challenge of unification in that the American church faces a highly divided and segregated body of believers. With the knowledge of this reality, many church leaders now understand that something must change with how church gatherers within the American culture connect and interact. However, it is also true that many American churchgoers are hesitant about such a transition and have yet to understand the significance of this change.
Though exciting for some and intimidating for others, one must realize that to adequately represent the church that Christ intended to be his representative, as well as remain relative to ever-changing American culture, one must study and apply successful methods of multiculturalism as it relates to the context of the church.
To accurately represent and identify with the growing diversity of 21st-century American culture, many churches across the country are expressing their desire to have a multicultural congregation, while others are struggling through the idea. With the realities of this 21st-century church shift at its doorstep, one must ask the questions of “What does that mean?", moreover, "What all is involved in actually developing such a church or ministry culture?”.
The challenges of segregation and disunity continue to hinder the forward movement of the body of Christ as healthy cross-cultural communication is silenced or discouraged by many believers. Unknowingly many of these same believers are opposing God’s plan for a united body that is intended to make Christ’s name famous. In other instances, people are simply unaware or ignorant of the desperate need for the church to become more multicultural. There is also the uncertainty of the necessary steps to move towards that objective.
Upon deciding to move in the direction of multicultural ministry one must remember there will be a price to pay for that adaptation. Communication and the application of effective leadership must continually be evaluated, the likelihood of slower numerical growth coupled with offense will rise, and less talk with greater emphasis on listening will be the focus.
Even with these identified challenges, research suggest that with the changing American culture the church must adapt, at least to some degree, to a multicultural model to remain relevant. Dr. Iris Barrett, a female African American educator, director and advisor of CAC Bible College Cohort, and former multicultural professor gives her perspective on multicultural ministry:
“The next steps for growth in ministry will be in multiculturalism. [Knowing] that, I value all of humanity and believe that no one should be excluded. Not doing so is [simply] an issue with one’s heart alignment with God.”
Like any progressive church movement, the potential for theological idolatry and a narrowmindedness to the peripheral perspective of others with differing opinions than one’s own is possible. It is indeed possible to feed the evil of segregation by shaping the theology of multiculturalism into an idol that replaces the person of God. In moving towards multicultural ministry, one must not lose sight of the fact of why the shift is necessary; to better represent Christ’s intentions for his church and “bring us closer to heaven on earth.”
Barrett, Dr. Iris. (Director/Advisor, CAC Bible College Cohort and former multicultural professor), interview by L.J. Johnson, April 2, 2018.
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