Can you really condemn racism when your church is one color?

In 2005 Australia had its own version of Charlottesville when race riots and mob violence broke out in the southern Sydney suburb of Cronulla. It happened on a hot Sunday in summer when around 5000 people gathered to protest the presence of Middle Easterners in their predominantly white beachside neighborhood.

It began ominously with white Australians chanting that they wanted Middle Easterners, particularly those of Lebanese descent from a nearby suburb, out of their town and off their beaches.

When a Middle Eastern man happened into the middle of the crowd he was surrounded and attacked. The police intervened and all hell broke loose. Other assaults and retaliatory attacks combusted across the southern parts of Sydney, resulting in 26 serious injuries, including two stabbings, and attacks on paramedics and police.

A local man, Eiad Diyab was quoted as saying, “We knew always there was racism, but we never knew it was to this extent.”

It was as shameful to Australia as Charlottesville has become for the USA.

The Prime Minister John Howard condemned the violence, but refused to acknowledge racism was at the heart of it. “I do not accept there is underlying racism in this country,” Mr Howard said, “I have always taken a more optimistic view of the character of the Australian people.”

Nonetheless, many other politicians, police, local community leaders, and church leaders condemned the race-based riots in no uncertain terms. The Archbishop of Sydney and the leaders of a number of other denominations spoke about the unacceptable nature of the Cronulla riots. There is no place for racism, they echoed. It must stop. In fact, the kinds of things I’m hearing American church leaders say in the aftermath of Charlottesville are exactly the same things said in Sydney over a decade ago.

But if I was a white supremacist in Cronulla or Charlottesville I’d be wondering whether these church leaders have a leg to stand on.

What makes the church think it can lecture its society about everybody getting along when there’s so little evidence of it happening in the church?

 

In Sydney we have white churches, Chinese churches, Aboriginal churches, Korean churches etc etc. In the US there are black churches and Hispanic churches. Very few of us connect intentionally with members of other ethnic or cultural communities in our neighborhoods, let alone within the church. Martin Luther King’s chastisement “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning” still holds true.

The church can’t presume to lecture its society about racism until it shows it is working hard and intentionally on fostering greater ethnic diversity within congregations and denominations.

 

Some are much better than others. It was inspiring to see a diverse group of church leaders, including Dr Cornel West, Traci Blackmon, standing in defiance of racism and hatred in Charlottesville, but we all still have a long way to go.

How might we embrace greater diversity in our churches? Here’s a few suggestions:

Repent – Just call it for what it is. If your church is just one color, especially if you’re located in a large, multiethnic city, there’s a problem. Acknowledge that you haven’t done enough to foster diversity and ask God’s forgiveness for not taking race seriously.

Stop referring to “multi-ethnic” or “multicultural” ministry – All ministry should be diverse, inclusive and integrated.

Stop using attendance alone to measure the success of your homogeneous church – Replace it with measuring the breadth of a church’s demographic base and its subsequent influence in a diverse community.

Be intentional – My friend Mark DeYmaz promotes a measurable goal of 20% diversity in 20% of churches throughout the U.S. by 2020 (and 50% in 50% of churches in 2050). Read Mark’s book Ethnic Blends for ideas on how to do this. In brief, he says unless churches set their minds and hearts in this direction it won’t happen incidentally.

Develop a diverse leadership team – Mark DeYmaz talks about a non-Christian praising his church by saying “I want others to know that your church is not just diverse on the outside but diverse on the inside as well.” In other words, what had caught her attention was the fact that the church’s leadership, including the pulpit, was fully integrated. The leadership of most churches is not diverse, and a mono-cultural leadership team will only ever produce a homogenous church.

Embrace a collaborative stance – Partner with other local churches to develop multiethnic relationships and pursue multiethnic competence, both of which are critical for leaders hoping to engage their community effectively in and through the local church. Go meet your local Korean or African American pastor. Invite the Chinese pastor or Aboriginal preacher to visit your church. Suggest that the 4.00pm Spanish service combine with the 6.00pm English service occasionally.

Get to know your neighborhood – Many Christians (and especially pastors) live in a bubble. They don’t even know which ethnicities are present in their own communities. I once saw a homeless man panhandling on the streets of Portland with a sign asking for help in five different languages. He knew the dominant cultural groups in his city better than the local church pastor it seems. Our churches should reflect the cultural diversity of our neighborhood.

Remember Paul’s words in Romans 12:9-18 and let them be our guide:

Love must be sincere.

Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

Be devoted to one another in love.

Honor one another above yourselves.

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.

Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

Live in harmony with one another.

Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil.

Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

 

 

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The views expressed are my own and do not necessarily represent the official views of Morling College or its affiliates and partners.

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17 thoughts on “Can you really condemn racism when your church is one color?

  1. You included suggestions for moving forward. We need more of that. But you began with what is becoming a pet peeve of mine. The piling on of guilt and more ways to find blame. There should be guilt, and as you say Repentance, much of it. But for those who have it/get it, time to move forward and cure it.
    The 11 oclock hour has many reasons, not all racist. First, my fellowship is far from lily white. Diverse is a word you would even apply to it. But our Indian students chose to attend an Indian gathering on the campus at ASU so they can fellowship with young people from their country. They are out in the “world” all week. My Korean friend attends an all Korean fellowship for similar reasons. The black family we met at the restaurant after church one Sunday go to the church of their preference, not racist, their choosing. And the old white couple who still wear suit and dress every Sunday and sing from hymnals go there, not because they’re racists, but because they like the hymns.
    We have preferences, choices, favorites. Honor them. BUT WE MUST MOVE PAST THE PREJUDICE, THE INJUSTICE, THE BLAMING, THE INTOLERANCE OF THIS TIME and look upward and move forward, together. #ReachesOfReconciliation

    1. This. Very much this. Is Australia perfect? I doubt any decent person would say it is, but that isn’t helped when we’re consistently pounded by the ‘White Australians are Racist’ balltwaddle.

  2. Much of the separation on Sunday morning has lots to do with
    1. locations of churches and neighborhoods.
    2. with preferences in worship style
    3. with culture likes and dislikes
    4. other things
    5,churches can be like organizations people go with friends and family and preferences
    NON OF THE ABOVE IS RACIST

    1. I didn’t say homogenous churches are racist. I said it’s difficult for church leaders to condemn racism if their churches are all the same color. Of course it’s easier to meet with people who are like us, but I think the church needs to reflect the diversity of God’s kingdom, not simply taking the easy monocultural way.

      1. I know, as usual, I am reading it wrong. But it seems an indictment on churches with like-ethnic or like-skin or even like-interest. My preference is that I am not comfortable singing along to rap or all Hillsong or over the top format 3 music. So I am a racist? Preference is not a sin. But to not be the solution to the racism in the church is a sin. When Jesus said Go, I think that is the disconnect. Because some go to “their” church, close the gate and never GO.

        1. Actually I was replying to Sher’s comment.

  3. Maybe even celebrate with your Fijian friends win a gold medal instead of taking exception to their worship song. Just saying…

    1. What on earth does that mean???

      1. I remember looking at your comments when Fiji won a gold medal in the Olympics, in Rugby 7s. You were making fun of us because we worshiped God with a song after the final. Goes a long way to show how ready you are to try to understand others, our traditions and our ways.

        1. I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about. Are you confusing me with someone? I don’t think we’ve ever met. Where did I supposedly make this joke? I wouldn’t “make fun” of someone for worshipping God, so it might have been a gag about Fiji winning the Rugby 7s because I was jealous that Australia didn’t win. But I still have no clue what you’re referring to.

  4. In 1915, during the first World War 1, leaders of the Turkish government set in motion a plan to expel and massacre Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire. Though reports vary, most sources agree that there were about 2 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire at the time of the massacre.

    By the early 1920s, when the massacres and deportations finally ended, some 1.5 million of Turkey’s Armenians were dead, with many more forcibly removed from the country. Today, most historians call this event a genocide–a premeditated and systematic campaign to exterminate an entire people.

    Dan Carlin, who does a Hardcore History podcast on The Great War, points out something interesting. He notes that ethnic cleansing is seen in almost every country that has ever existed throughout history. He says that all of our ancestors at some point were involved in this evil behavior. And he is right.

    From the moment Adam and Eve sinned in the garden we are all wrought with evil and in desperate need of cleansing. Our hearts are wicked if left unchecked and must be transformed. All the laws the government can write will not stop human depravity; which was manifested in a vile and cruel way in Charlottesville.

    Only Jesus can save us from bigotry, racism, and hate. I hope and pray that God’s people will engage those around them to look to a Savior who alone can change a heart of stone into a heart of love.

    I pastor a small Baptist church that has multiple races. Our church building is used by Ethiopians, Haitians, Hispanics, and us. It is wonderful to see so much diversity. I meet with the other pastors quarterly but wish our church bodies could come together more often. The biggest difference is the language barrier – each service uses their particular language. I am trying to find ways to build more bridges across the great cultural divide!

  5. Honest Q? Why is it difficult to condemn racism if your church is all one color? Explain your logic? It’s a nice bumper sticker, or meme, but why is it more difficult for a Brown Pastor in a latino congregation to speak against racism than a Black Pastor in a mixed congregation? Or were you only speaking of all white communities of faith? It must be terribly difficult for you to speak out against racist since Morling College is so monoculture. And yet you are able? We have/had multiple Spanish speaking congregations sharing our vision and our campus along with Portuguese, Burmese, Indonesian. My congregation is mixed and has always reflected the context in which we lived and had relationships well beyond the 20% diversity. However a few years ago We have largely Filipino, Indonesian, Black, White, MIXED UP races based on what is happening in the area. A church cannot say we will be 20% Black or 20% Gay, Male, Female, Young, Old, it has to reflect its community and be intentional about it. The fact is that many ethnic churches wisely or unwisely seek homogeneity in a diverse culture. Jesus’ personal oikos had only one non Galilean, did that make it difficult for Him to speak out against racism? I am Native Indian as well as other groups personally and according to my daughter’s heritage test which can be trusted with a “50% confidence!” an infinitesimal amount of Sub Saharan African. Relationships over Quotas.

    1. Roy Hobbs, I think there are some people we know, and mainly respect, who feel a need to be outraged over the current crisis. Racism, sexism, age discrimination are all problems and have been problems since before the New Testament times. Jesus addressed it, Peter got caught up in it, deacons came out of it, Paul addressed it, it is a problem today. We need to stop with the outrage and be the solution. I am not sure the church can do it systematically. It has to be very organic and each person has to take it upon themselves to be Jesus to their neighbor.

    2. I’m not sure what objection you’re making. It is obviously more difficult to call our society to embrace diversity, inclusion and integration if our churches haven’t done so themselves. What do you find objectionable about stating that? As for Morling College, if you think it’s monocultural you haven’t been on campus in a long while (ever?). As for Greg’s comment about stopping outrage and offering solutions, that’s exactly what I was doing in my blog. I think it’s you who is confecting outrage here.

  6. could not agree more bro

  7. Having been to a few different churches over my lifetime I’m wondering whether we’re gtting this wrong. Like attracts like. Some churches have their services in other languages when a large proportion of the surrounding people are from one ethnecity. One time after I’d moved I went to a quite nice little church. The next time I went, well… I’d misread the timesheet. The same church had several different services during the morning. One was in English and another in one of the Islander dialects. (Can’t remember which, now. It was close enough to understand it, but kinda difficult to follow, if you get my drift). Guess which one I walked into. 😛

    They were perfectly friendly, as I was to them. There was nothing ‘racist’ about it, it was just that they’d gathered to celebrate in their way and language and we did in ours. Apart from having a hard time understanding what was being said, I didn’t have a problem with it. Nevertheless, I didn’t go back to that service I went to the one I could understand what was being said, because it was easier to hear the message when not having to concentrate so hard on the words. (Think of it as being able to see the forest instead of a few trees)

    Pretty much every – including that – church I went to had services that were attended by many ethnecities, but like does attract like and so you do get situations where people are more comfortable among their own. Possibly, like with me in that church, because it’s easier to concentrate on the message which is the main reason we go.

  8. “Stop referring to “multi-ethnic” or “multicultural” ministry – All ministry should be diverse, inclusive and integrated.”

    Thanks for the article Mike. I strongly agree with this point. Multi-ethnicity should be so in-grained in what we all do that we shouldn’t need to point it out like the flavour of the month. McDonald’s don’t market themselves as a multi-ethnic restaurant, yet we can clearly see a mix of all races, demographics and people present in their customer-base (perhaps a lack of healthy people though).

    Perhaps children do it best, they just don’t see race/colour as a thing. Let’s treat the person for who they are here and now as opposed to the colour of their skin or where they or their parents were born/brought up.

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