This week I am attending the annual meetings of the Evangelical Homiletics Society where the subject is “multi-ethnic preaching.” The keynote speaker is Bryan Lorritts from Memphis, Tennessee. I have deeply appreciated his emphasis upon the importance of displaying the diversity that is the Kingdom in our churches. He has much to say about the ways by which we can encourage a greater integration around the gospel.
One of the complexities I have been noticing as I listen is how different my experience is on the west coast of Canada from what it is in places like the American south. In Memphis, multi-ethnicity is about the challenge of integrating long-entrenched cultures – black, white, and Hispanic primarily. Where I come from, the challenge is very different.
My part of the continent is one of the most diverse places on the planet, but the variety of cultures we experience are not well entrenched. Most of the diversity in our part of the world is the result of recent immigration, primarily from places like China, India, Korea, and Pakistan. Segregation, in these cases has to do with the natural desire of the immigrant to band together with others of a similar background and experience.
The difference, between these cases has to do with the experience of the second generation. Where I come from, one of the most hopeful things is the way by which the second and third generations seem to be able to integrate fully with people of a variety of ethnicities. I don’t want to say that they are color-blind, but many others have. While this is not a specifically Christian phenomena, the good news is that we are not seeing a strong entrenchment of culture distinctiveness beyond the first generation.
What I am thinking is that given the freshness of our experience of diversity, we have a unique opportunity to create diverse congregations among the second and third generations, before they become entrenched. This kind of “multi-ethnicity” might require an even different array of considerations than what we have so-far managed. Perhaps there are cultural approaches that transcend ethnicity.
For example, Lorritts described his experience visiting Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City. Tim Keller and his team has been effective in developing a multi-ethnic congregation which is, conversely, largely mono-cultural. That is to say that while the people come from a variety of ethnic experiences in their backgrounds, they are largely united in terms of their youthfulness, their urban-ness, often their singleness, and their interest in a highly cognitive presentation.
When that is the case, I wonder whether we are as diverse as we might think. It is natural for people to gravitate toward people they are comfortable with regardless of their ethnicity. But if we truly want to represent the Kingdom, we will figure out how to transcend all of these distinctives. In other words, maybe the Kingdom would be most fully represented when we have those second and third generation people of every ethnicity integrated with the older folks of every background. Maybe we need a whole array af multi-interests – multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-generational and more.
Clearly we still have some work to do.