Friday, February 03, 2006

E-Racing Church Culture

I am a white man and I go to a white church. That's putting it WAY too simply. Let me try again...

I am a US citizen of primarily European descent born and partially encultured in the Midwest and partially encultured in the southeastern midatlantic piedmont. I was baptized in a modern Anabaptist denomination, confirmed in the Lutheran tradition and have committed myself and my family to serve with a congregation of conservative evangelical Baptists. My cultural exposure includes the US military, British, Middle Eastern, South American, Texan and Cajun. (They even made me an honorary Cajun for sucking the fat out of the heads of boiled crawfish, which is quite tasty.) I am as comfortable in a Penthouse on Park Street as I am in a tent in the desert. I enjoy bowing to Japanese, eating matza with Jews and kebobs with Arabs, reveling with Brits in a pub, working with country boys in the fields, and trading stories with Russians. I've played in an R&B band, jazz combo, jazz orchestra, symphony orchestra, marching band, Dixieland band and brass quintet. I've led traditional Christian worship on a pipe organ, blended worship on a piano and contemporary worship in with a praise band. I've sang in jazz quartets, black gospel choirs, southern gospel trios, small church choirs and large church choirs. I enjoy every kind of music (but have no tolerance for bad lyrics). I can say in one sentence that the Civil War was as much about slavery as at it was a war of northern aggression against the economic freedom of the South.

...No one who knows me would call me "racist."

The article in the title link was printed in Christianity Today last year. It is a call for churches to be ethnically diverse. The crux of the argument is that racism is a sin. Whenever we talk about white churches and black churches, the issue of racism is touted as the big reason why more churches aren't ethnically diverse. The problem is that hatred of people who look different isn't the real issue. I'll get to the real issue after I investigate some terms.

There is a difference between race, ethnicity and culture (or sub-culture). We most often use the term "race" to refer to a person's ethnicity. Actually, there is only one race: the human race. Culture is a set of traditions and normalized behaviors that serve as a foundation for establishing homes and provide a context for communication; and not simply communication by words denotatively, but connotatively as well as providing a set of literary references and etymological foundations. Ethnicity is a combination of genealogy and culture.

For most of time in most ethnicities, culture has changed very slowly. Therefore, people have lived much as their grandparents lived. Because of advancements in technology, communication and social engineering we have experienced an increasing rate of change of culture throughout most of the world in the past century or two. This has caused this anomaly called the "generation gap". The effect it has had on the church is that we have a mix of preferences for church programs that either follow older cultural patterns or newer ones. It has also led to a rise in church culture experiments that border on the profane, disgraceful or outright blasphemous.

There are churches that have managed to successfully become transcultural. For the most part they are populated only with those who accept newer iterations of the culture. This is because as communication increases, cultures grow together. However, those who can only apprehend relationships in the older cultures are left to wither in slowly dying churches. This is the challenge of today's church as it attempts to become more ethnically diverse. Where homogeneous churches are faced with struggles over style, any attempt to become more ethnically diverse would only add to the cultural tension. This is the real issue that we must struggle with.

Despite my zeal for many different cultures and sub-cultures and despite my benign disposition toward different ethnicities, I am a white man whose primary culture is that of Anglo-Saxon middle-America. I can grow spiritually in my native culture, but would lack the cultural communication skills to grow as effectively in a foreign culture.

Nevertheless, I must and I will...

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