Why Multiculturalism Is a Must for the Church

It's time to get serious about diversity in the body of Christ.

There’s a fine, gray-ish line between things in life that are nice and things that are absolutely necessary.

Cable TV and Wi-Fi access? Nice, but not necessary. No-chip manicure with shellac polish? Nice, but not necessary. My iPhone 5? Nice—and embarrassingly crucial to my sanity—but ultimately, not necessary.

There are plenty of choices we make on a daily basis that can be categorized as either nice or necessary, but what about when it comes to more weighty topics—like multiculturalism in the church, for instance?

First off, let’s talk about what multiculturalism is and is not. The dictionary talks about multiculturalism as being “the preservation of different cultures or cultural identities within a unified society.”

Multiculturalism means inviting someone to be fully oneself, unapologetically, and actively celebrating the difference.

I like that word: preservation. To preserve means to keep alive or in existence, to keep safe from harm or injury, to maintain, to retain. So to only tolerate and blindly accept people of many colors (or to be multicolored) isn’t enough. A person’s culture and experience must be kept safe and alive. It must be threaded so flawlessly into the human tapestry that others start to learn and eventually grow from the truth of someone else’s identity.

Multiculturalism means inviting someone to be fully oneself, unapologetically, and actively celebrating the difference. Multicolored leaves gaps and disconnection. Multicultural builds bridges and elicits celebration.

Interestingly enough, my first bout of wrestling with the value of multiculturalism didn’t start in the church. It started the day a little girl in my after-school program innocently asked me if I took showers because my skin was so dark, and it continued the day a girl on my club track team asked me why I talked so “white.”

So my wrestling with this value didn’t start in a community context at all; it started with me. Why was it puzzling to others that I was so different? What was so threatening—if anything—about my dark skin and dialect? I didn’t have answers to those questions at that time, but I knew I felt singled out and uncomfortable.

I was uncomfortable being myself around my white friends, and I was uncomfortable being myself around my black friends. There was a huge, painfully daunting gap between me and people with whom I so desperately wanted to engage in friendship and community. I internally apologized for my uniqueness and decided to become whoever I needed to become in order to be accepted. The idea of fitting in, then, wasn’t just nice to me; it was necessary.

Anyone feeling out of place experiences some level of discomfort when they’re the “other.” What I realized later in life, however, was that discomfort was actually good for me. Not only was I forced to seek my true identity in Christ—an identity formed on much more than the color of my skin—but I also took inventory of the people I’d chosen to surround myself with, and the inventory was beautiful.

Though uncomfortable at times, the pursuit of multiculturalism in the Church isn’t just nice—it’s necessary

I realized my life was richer and more wonderfully complex because of others' uniqueness and truth in which I’d chosen to engage. Over time, I resolved that sacrificing my comfort for the sake of that beautiful advantage wasn’t just nice; it was necessary to my walk with God and a deeper understanding of how His Kingdom worked.

I truly believe God feels the same way about His Church. A simple, yet profound display of this sentiment is found in the Gospel of Luke, when Simon of Cyrene was made to carry Jesus’ cross. Cyrene was a city in Libya, a country in Northern Africa. An African carried Jesus’ cross.

Not much is mentioned about Simon of Cyrene, but metaphorically, his being singled out and uncomfortable says something to me about the heart of God: that everyone—regardless of race or ethnicity—has a vital role to play in the Gospel story.

Though uncomfortable at times, the pursuit of multiculturalism in the Church isn’t just nice—it’s necessary. We ultimately develop richer, more wonderfully complex views of God and a deeper love and appreciation for one another when we choose to actively participate in one another's stories that are different from our own, that originate from different places.

My hope for the Church is that congregations and communities become more challenged—more uncomfortable, even—in wrestling with the idea of welcoming not just color, but culture, and that expressions of worship, teaching, evangelism and discipleship would be influenced by multiculturalism so richly that Christ in all of His beauty may be known more fully by many.

15 Comments

Guimel Sibingo

1

Guimel Sibingo commented…

Thank you so much Ashlee for writing this article. I too am a black woman that grew up in a predominantly white environment. Add to that, that I was born in Angola, grew up in Portugal going to American schools (which Portuguese people generally do not do) and when I moved to America things got even worse as I enrolled in a predominantly white college in California. The gravity of the lack of multiculturalism is terribly heightened in America much more so than Portugal. Compared to each other America is a 10 on a scale of how segregated it can become (in Portugal, a small country, people are much more aware of different cultures). Feeling out of place is also my story and adapting myself to other people is my specialty. I have not yet come to the conclusion you have that the discomfort is a gift, I am still coming to my own and since I have so many opportunities to be in multicultural settings like when I am in Portugal or Angola with family and friends, it is difficult to accept the reality at my school and it often times leads me to exasperation and even anger. But I am grateful that you wrote this article and explained the issue in such beautiful terms. Whenever I talk about the issue of diversity, and because Im a passionate girl, my friends do not understand and probably write me off as the black girl talking about diversity again. They don't think issues of race are important and talk about it frivolously. That is frustrating. They've grown up in monocultural societies. I honestly don't know what to do about it anymore but remove myself. So your encouragement in this article to keep fighting for something is heavily needed. I hope that I can come to peace with it as you have, I am still very hurt and angry. But I know that God has placed me where I am for a reason and that he would not want me to simply walk away but brave the sameness outside myself and be who I am which is very different.

J

2

J commented…

I believe that the Gospel is a must for the church, not multiculturalism. The author makes a good point in that multiculturalism challenge us to step outside our comfort zones, which is a good thing. However, we have to understand that living out the Gospel does not always involve multiculturalism, and placing so much focus on the multiculturalism may shift our attention away from the Gospel. As a matter of fact, for some believers, it is easier to focus on the Gospel in their own culture than in a multicultural environment. As long as we believe the Gospel and live out the Gospel, it should not matter whether we attend a multicultural church or not.

Also, based on the main theme of the article, this article seems to be more about multiracial or multi-ethnic churches, rather than multiculturalism. A church with a single-ethnicity congregation may in some cases have multiculturalism if the members in the congregation is diverse in their backgrounds, beliefs, and preferences. On the other hand, a multi-ethnic yuppie church (for example) may not be considered multi-cultural because it may have only yuppie culture, despite the diversity in ethnicity.

J Conley

44

J Conley commented…

Wonderful, eloquent article. Loved it.

Eunice

2

Eunice commented…

Wow, I identified so much with this. Thanks for the insight!

Josh

3

Josh commented…

I understand where Ashlee is coming from, but I disagree with the terminology.
Multiculturalism is an acceptance that most if not all cultures represented are accepted and given equal weight. Which wouldn't be such a big problem if it wasn't deeply rooted in traditions of respective cults.
For ex. my great-grandfather comes from a culture in Asia which didn't respect girls, starved his wife when she bore his third daughter, and no sons. Proceeding to pour scalding hot water all over the baby girl. Needless to say she didn't survive. This ideology is rampant in this culture.
Another ex.: a friend returns from a medical missions trip to Africa to tell of a culture in which the father of a girl refused to allow his daughter to undergo emergency surgery to save her life -but required a leg amputation. The reason? The daughter would need her leg to work in the fields and fetch water, so she would be useless and would never find a husband. Again, this was the running culture of that area.
Multi-culturalism maintains we need to be accepting of cultures such as these as being equally valid as ours here in North America, which is obviously wrong and ungodly, since both men and women were made in the image of God.

Multi-ethnicity is probably a better term for what Ashlee is trying to get across, different foods, different tastes in a variety of things, different experiences etc -that are not Scripturally based, while important and should be appreciated, are not essential.

We and our worship, fellowship, discipleship etc should be influenced by the Bible -which makes that Christian culture, much less so than by culture that we live in or come from. We are called to be holy and set apart, not doing things the pagans do.

J

2

J replied to Josh's comment

I completely agree with you, Josh. I believe my post above addressed similar issues. Statements that do not have solid biblical basis concern me. I do realize that we (myself included) often lose sight of what's important (i.e. Gospel) while pursuing our own agenda.

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