Posts Tagged ‘ethnicity’

This post is dedicated to two Steves: Steven Hamilton and Steve Schenk. You can check out Steven Hamilton on his blog Verve and Verse writing about theology, church, and his future plans to start a faith community in Pittsburgh and you can check out Steve Schenk writing on his blog Damascus 9 about his adventures as a church pastor in Buffalo here.

In recent years I have become aware of the issue of race more so as the pastor of a multiethnic church and through my studies at Fuller and this has caused me to explore not only the social issue of race but where I stand in regards to race and ethnicity. It has caused me to ask serious and honest questions about what I believe in regards to God’s perspective and viewpoint on race, culture, and ethnicity. Questions like

“Should there be a multiethnic church this side of heaven and is this a mandate for every church?”

“As an African American who has been robbed of culture should I place myself in a congregation where my culture is not dominant or at least valued?”

“Is there a place for a Christian black nationalist/separatist or is this going against God’s purpose for his church?”

“How can I be true to my culture and ethnicity while at the same time being a blessing to the different people around me?”

Many of these questions have been answered and many of them have not. The one thing that has emerged is that I do not want to be boxed in by race. Race is a social construct created to justify oppression. By being categorized in this way and operating within that construct I only give power to false notions of who I am as a person. To put it simply:  I am more than my skin color and physical features and these do not determine who I am. I am a human being who is capable of doing and achieving many things and experiencing the range and variety of human emotions and feelings.

With that being said.


I refuse to be boxed in. categorized. labeled. Stuck in what others have thought of me and planned for me. I refuse to be prejudged and placed in a fabricated construction of someone else’s reality. I am more than my skin color. nose size. hair texture. I am more than my history and my background. I am that but so much more. I refuse to be barred from anything life has to offer. I refuse to be excluded from all of the experience of humanity. I refuse to let my identity be dictated by others who do not know me. I refuse to grab at the small amount of options that society has opened for me.

Instead I choose to be different. unique. African. American. Loving myself. Loving my culture. I choose to be someone who lives and loves the thought that black is beautiful. I choose to contribute and give these gifts to the rest of the world. I choose to have an identity that embraces these things and goes beyond them. I choose to love others who are different. unique. European. Korean. Mexican. Chinese. Argentinian. Human. These are my people. They are me. For we are all human. I choose to speak life giving and affirming words that transcend language. transcend accents. transcend culture. transcend hatred. I choose to follow in the tradition of Martin and Malcolm. Mother Teresa and Cesar Chaves. Jesus and Buddha. I choose to speak the truth that transcends race. I choose to a be race transcending prophet.


One of the things that we are trying to navigate as a community is how to effectively represent the different styles and ways that we express spirituality since we come from so many different cultures. It has not been easy as there are so many to choose from across the spectrum of the different races and ethnicities. Some are from a more pentecostal background. Others are from a more high church background. While still others are rooted in an evangelical heritage. Last night we had a prayer meeting and it was an experience of God weaving the unique spiritualities of our different cultures together into something more beautiful than they would be alone.

In that small space of time we got a glimpse of Revelation 5:9,10 as we prayed Korean style with everyone crying out to God in unison for the needs of our church. One of our leaders who is 1st generation Korean bowed down on the floor and prayed in korean. Several of our leaders exemplified a familiarity with God and the plain language that characterizes many protestant evangelical churches today. Finally I close out and shouted prayers to the top of my lungs pentecostal style while people exclaimed “Amen!” and “Yes Lord!” It truly was an amazing experience and I was grateful to be a part of it. God is doing something awesome among us and I know that he was pleased.

Sometimes our travels tell more about our heart than our words. In this chapter Jesus addresses ritual washing (7:1-23) and he actually pronounces all foods as ritually clean. These were two major barriers to the inclusion of the Gentiles into the people of God. So Jesus addresses this issue verbally but if you continue to read the chapter you will notice something. Every story in this chapter has Jesus interacting with and ministering to Gentiles. The next story is about the Syrian Phoenician woman. Jesus is in the area of Tyre and Sidon and this woman was probably ethnically greek. The greeks and jews had a deep hostility towards each other due to greek conquest and hellenism. This resulted in clashes and fighting throughout Palestine prior to its occupation by the Roman Empire. In spite of this bitter interethnic rivalry Jesus casts a demon out of this woman’s daughter (7:24-30). His actions are in line with his words. The next story has Jesus healing a deaf and mute man in the region of the Decapolis or the ten cities (7:31-37). These cities were notoriously populated by Gentiles. Now the text doesn’t say that this man was a Gentile but Jesus was in Gentile territory and possibly had multiple interactions with Gentiles.

This is Jesus not only pronouncing the “the other” as clean but living life like the “other” is clean. His travels tell more about his stance and his agenda towards “the other” than his words. Many of us will say we could not include or love those that are not like us because we were not around them but is that really a good reason? Encountering and loving “the other” is a matter of choice and most of what we do in this consumer driven society is a matter of choice. When we see Jesus going through Tyre and Sidon and the Decapolis he is choosing to be with those who are not like him and in the process ministry happens. Where have your travels taken you? To the safe and secure place with your kind of people or to the risky place where “the other” dwells. Something to chew on.

Yes I said it. I am still a part of the black church. But first I want to clarify what that means. I do not mean the black church in a local church sense but the black church in a philosophical/ideological sense. The black church was started as a way to affirm the culture and dignity of African Americans. It was a sign and an expression of freedom at a time where although politics, economics, and even sports were controlled by whites the one thing that was still the ownership of African Americans was worship! This is my culture and I have not left all of it in a particular locality. I take it with me into my small group interaction, my sermons, my mentoring times, my prayers. I cannot deny who I am especially as I am involved with a group of people seeking to create a third culture. My contribution is important.

Whenever you enter a cross cultural situation you cannot leave behind who you are. Most think that you have to become 100% Nigerian, Filipino, Chinese etc. to relate to people within that ethnicity and culture. The real fact of the matter is that is impossible to be 100% incarnated into a different culture. You would have to be born into the culture. I believe many are afraid to truly relate to others on a deep level because they fear their identity will be left behind. The truth is as Sherwood Lingenfelter says in his book Ministering Cross Culturally “the goal of every missionary and possibly every Christian should be to become a 150% person.” It means not to deny who you are but to become more than who you are by the give and take that you experience as you relate to others incarnationally.

So I am still part of the black church. What does that mean? It means that I still am in solidarity with all those who are oppressed and want the justice that God brings. It means that I release others to worship in the form that they want to worship in. At the same time it means that in whatever context my intonations of speech, circular method of preaching, crowd participation etc. etc. betray me like Peter’s Galilean accent betrayed him in Jerusalem. Yes I am still part of the black church.

Many people have come to believe that I myself am the pastor of a white church. I am a part of the Vineyard movement but that doesn’t mean that I am a part of a white church and I will give you three reasons why:

-If I am the pastor then how could it be a “white” church. When was the last time you saw a black man as pastor of a white church?

-There are korean, taiwanese, african american, japanese, and hispanic people on the leadership team.

-Within our congregation there are people who can speak chinese, japanese, spanish, and amharic

Historically we are a part of a movement of churches that has been characterized as suburban and white. Although this may be the case for the movement in the United States it is not the case for the movement overseas and not the case for us as a local congregation. We believe as Leslie Newbigin has stated that the “church is the hermeneutic of the gospel” This means people come to interpret and understand the good news of the kingdom of God through the actions, lifestyle, and relationships of the local church. In a context like Los Angeles (location of numerous race riots, police brutality, ethnic gang rivalries) what better way for people to understand God’s message of reconciliation than through the relationships that we have with those of other ethnicities as we are baptized into the body of Christ. This is what it means for us to be on mission with God as he reconciles the world to himself. So that’s why I am not part of a white church.