As I wrote several months ago, multi-ethnic church conversations are currently popular in Christian circles. However, by multi-ethnic church, Christians from majority culture often mean they want more minorities to attend their worship services, and to assimilate. Some Christian spaces want black and brown faces, but not black and brown voices or leadership. Some from the majority culture have even sought to colonize minority urban contexts with their suburban, mono-ethnic, and dominate cultural worldview by planting churches that expect minorities to appropriate majority culture, and to discard non-white cultural characteristics.
Social psychologist and professor at Duke Divinity School, Christena Cleveland, has written on this. Borrowing language from an Asian American scholar, she employs the term “church plantations” to describe the efforts of certain church planters within the majority culture when seeking to plant a so-called multi-ethnic church in a minority cultural context.
She contends when some from the majority culture seek to colonize the minority culture and make it assimilate within the norms of the majority culture, even when those norms have nothing to do with the gospel or the bible, those from the majority culture create a multi-ethnic church plantation (diverse minorities under majority leadership in a minority context expected to assimilate to dominate white culture).
In my own work in the area of racial reconciliation in Christian spaces, I’ve observed many Christians talk about racial reconciliation and the desire to build gospel-centered, multi-ethnic churches. But it’s difficult for mono-ethnic churches to make the necessary multi-ethnic negotiations for a multi-ethnic gospel to produce a multi-ethnic church. By multi-ethnic negotiations, I refer to the Spirit-empowered pursuit of gospel-unity in the midst of racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. If this work is easy, why are so many churches still segregated and lack racial reconciliation?
As a good friend of mine and a pastor of a multi-ethnic church once said to me, “multi-ethnic churches have multi-ethnic problems.” One of the many challenges facing multi-ethnic churches is the different racial, ethnic, and cultural preferences unique to diverse communities. Nevertheless, my view is one powerful tool against racism in American Evangelicalism is the birth of gospel-centered, minority-led, multi-ethnic churches and church plants.
Not everyone is called to plant a church, and certainly not everyone is called to plant a multi-ethnic church. But some people are. One contribution to the great work of reconciliation is to partner with minority led multi-ethnic church plants, or to form a team of diverse sisters and brothers in Christ to plant a multi-ethnic church.
The Multi-Ethnic Gospel Can Produce Multi-Ethnic Churches In Appropriate Contexts
The bible supports that racial division is a universal power that rules and reigns like an evil tyrant over all, because of the historic fall of Adam and Eve (Gen. 3-4, 11; Rom. 5:12-6:23). Adam and Eve were part of the human race (Gen. 11:6). Their transgression resulted in both a vertical (Gen. 3) and a horizontal curse of the entire cosmos (Gen. 4). The vertical curse separated humans from God. The horizontal curse separated them and their offspring from each other, evident by Cain’s murder of his brother Abel in Gen. 4. This murder represents the first violent and hostile act between the human races in the bible.
Paul generalizes racial division as Jewish and Gentile division in a few of his letters. He calls the Ephesians “Gentiles in the flesh” (Eph. 2:11). Racial division between Jews and Gentiles in the Old Testament and continuing in the New Testament was based on Torah, not the color of one’s skin or racialization. Jews and Gentiles came in all shapes, colors, and sizes in the ancient world. “Gentiles” (ethnē) were separated from the commonwealth of Israel when they were dead in transgressions and sins prior to their association with Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. (Eph. 2:1-11).
Ephesians 2:12 affirms this interpretation with the words “without Christ,” “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel,” “strangers of the covenants of promises,” “without hope,” “and those living without God in the world.” “Gentiles” were separate from God’s promises of salvation to Israel, God’s covenant people (Rom. 3:1-2; 9:4-5; 11:1-2; Phil. 3:4-6), separated from access to God’s Messianic promises given to Israel in the Old Testament (2 Sam. 7:11-13; Ps. 2, 110), separated from God’s covenantal promises made to Abraham regarding land, seed, and a universal blessing (Gen. 12:1-4; 13:14-18; 15:1-21; 17:1-21; Eph. 2:11-12), separated from the promises to David regarding a descendant to reign over his kingdom forever (2 Sam. 7:12-17; 23:5; Ps. 89:3, 27-37, 49), and separated from the promises to Israel and Judah regarding a future restoration (Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36-37).
Sin vertically alienated humanity from God and horizontally from one another (Gen. 3:15). However, the law further divided Jews and Gentiles from one another when it entered history, because the law revealed a knowledge of sin (Rom. 4:15; 5:13; 7:1-25; Gal. 3:19) and because it served as a dividing wall between the children of the covenant (Jews) versus those who were outside of the covenant (Gentiles). Paul states in Ephesians that God accomplished reconciliation for Jews and Gentiles. Paul asserts Gentiles were brought near God’s promises of salvation to Jews “by the blood of Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:13).
According to Eph. 2:13 and 2:14-16, the good news of the gospel is the Jewish Messiah, Jesus, died so that he would put an end to the dividing wall of hostility (=the law of Moses) between Jews and Gentiles, so that he would reconcile Jews and Gentiles to God and to each other, and so that he would create Jews and Gentiles into one new man into one body through the cross (Eph. 2:14-16). By means of Jesus’ death (Eph. 2:13, 16) and resurrection and exaltation (Eph. 1:15-23), God recreated Jews and Gentiles into one dwelling place of God, in whom the Spirit dwells (Eph. 2:18-22). And Jesus himself provided the model for this racial reconciliation in that he preached this gospel of peace (=reconciliation) to Jews near the promises and to Gentiles far away from those promises (Matt. 15:21-28).
Christians from every racial stripe have a very important role to play in removing the stain of racism from Christian churches. One way Evangelicals can put an end to racism in their Christian spaces is to plant, pray for, support, or join diverse, minority-led, multi-ethnic and gospel-centered churches or church plants. May God breathe more multi-ethnic churches into existence as the Spirit blows where he wills.