Editor’s Note: in part 1 of this article, David Swanson articulated the progression that he has seen with regards to the multiethnic church, from invisible, to idealized, to interrogated. In this segment, he will offer his prediction on what is to come with the future of multiethnic church ministry.
I’m glad the multiethnic church is more visible today than it was a decade ago. I still believe these churches are a powerful witness to the reconciling gospel, evidence of what Christ accomplished on the cross, and an invitation into the boundary-crossing life in the Kingdom of God. It’s also good that we’ve matured past idealization. By elevating certain kinds of churches above others, we inadvertently communicated that reconciliation is only for a select group rather than for the entire body of Christ. We also overlooked important nuances and missed the connections between reconciliation and justice. By elevating certain kinds of churches above others, we inadvertently communicated that reconciliation is only for a select group rather than for the entire body of Christ. Click To Tweet
We can also be thankful for this difficult season of interrogation. Behind many of the difficult questions is the desire for these churches to grow into what God has called us to be. The critique belies a hope that we will be better than we’ve been, that reconciliation can reflect more accurately how radically the gospel interrupts our segregated and hierarchical status quo.
What, then, is next for the multiethnic church? I think we can look for three characteristics of the ministry of reconciliation in the next season.
First, rather than idealizing diverse congregations, we will honor the critical role that churches of color play in our communities. In a racialized society which has yet to grapple honestly with the strain of white supremacy which runs through our institutions (including, subtly, through some of our churches), these congregations have long played the vital role of discipling women and men beyond the bounds of whiteness. Think, for example, of a church in which first and second generation Latina/o immigrants comprise the congregation. In recent years, as public rhetoric about immigration has often veered toward dehumanization, a congregation such as this is poised to minister the gospel of hospitality and courage as their members regularly face hostility and fear. To suggest that such congregations are somehow inadequate because they are not racially diverse is to miss a significant work of the Holy Spirit among them. Think of a church in which 1st & 2nd generation Latina/o immigrants comprise the congregation...To suggest that such congregations are somehow inadequate because they are not racially diverse is to miss a significant work of the… Click To Tweet
Second, as more white Christians are waking up to the essential Christian characteristic of unity, many white churches have begun wondering about the role they can play. No longer are they willing to outsource the work of reconciliation and justice to multiracial churches or to those which are located in diverse communities. In the past, these churches might have assumed that the only path forward was to become more racially and ethnically diverse. But, for the reasons we noted above, this will no longer be viewed as the only option. Instead, white ministry leaders will take up their responsibility to disciple their members toward increasing solidarity with the diverse body of Christ. As a result, women and men in these churches will find creative and humble ways to come alongside sisters and brothers of color as they do the work of justice. Over time, some of these churches will become more diverse and—because their focus has been on discipleship—truly intercultural in their disposition. Others, perhaps because of the racially-homogenous nature of their communities, will remain mostly white. Yet their discipleship efforts will lead the members to understand their profound ties to those who share their faith if not their race.
Finally, as one who remains intensely committed to the multiethnic church, I think we will see reimagined expressions of these churches. No longer content with a veneer of diversity, we will work to prioritize the lived experiences of members of color. This will mean setting aside an understanding of reconciliation which was primarily interpersonal and relational for one which addresses the underlying causes of the societal segregation which so easily maps onto our churches. This will also include developing a biblical vocabulary and imagination for confronting systemic injustice and oppression as disciples of Jesus. No longer invisible or idealized, having experienced the bright light of interrogating critique, multiethnic churches can simply take their place among other congregations who also understand the Christ-like mission of reconciliation.
At a time of so much predictable division and antagonism, in and out of our churches, we can pray that the message of reconciliation is one which all of our churches might proclaim and embody in the season to come.