Today is the 40th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior. I think everyone in this country owes him a debt of gratitude for raising the consciousness of a nation that has always prided itself on being the land of the free.
Well, it’s not over. Since I’m a white man, people sometimes think its safe to make racist comments to me. The vast majority of people don’t, but every so often someone does. And that means we haven’t arrived yet.
As a pastor, I am acutely aware of the cultural divisions in our society and how they affect the church. The old saying is that Sunday morning at 11:00 is the most segregated hour of the week. That’s not 100% true, but the effort to build multicultural churches isn’t an easy one. It’s much easier to gather around people who have as many things in common with us as possible. For example, many new “start-up” churches are built around that concept – build community around middle class parents between 25 and 45 with children between 1 and 10 – usually without a lot of cultural diversity. The families all share a very similar context so it’s easy for them to understand each other, make connections, and form community.
The problem is that the Body of Christ is made up of many different parts. Where do older people fit in? Or young adults? Or unmarried people? Or people struggling financially? Or people from other cultures?
I firmly believe that the church is at its strongest when it embraces diversity. Our Christian faith is enough to unite us. And when more voices are present in the conversation, we can challenge each other. We can challenge stereotypes and assumptions about who “the others” are.
And there’s a strictly practical reason too. Increasingly, American families are mixed. My wife is Mexican-American and my kids all have the middle name “Mendoza.” Our church is drawing more and more couples of mixed racial-ethnic backgrounds. Are we going to create a separate church for 50-50 European and Mexican background families like mine? Obviously that makes no sense. It’s impossible!
But becoming multicultural means giving up some amount of comfort. You don’t have “instant community.” Sometimes we have to work at it. For example, it’s not possible for every part of worship to speak equally to every person. Sometimes, something will be in a language that we don’t understand. Or a tradition will be unfamiliar and possibly uncomfortable. But we can learn from each other! And over time, we find the beauty in traditions that others bring.
Trinity’s church board has made a commitment to becoming a multicultural church. It won’t be easy. But it wasn’t easy to get from where we were 50 years ago to where we are today. Dr. King and those who worked with him were able to see a possible future that didn’t yet exist, and many paid a high price for that vision. The price to continue their work today is much lower because of the strides that have already been made, and the potential payoff is great.
The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:12
I look forward to seeing Christ’s Church lead the way in bringing people together to become the very different, equally necessary, parts of the body of Christ.