Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church (Moody, 2010) by Soong-Chan Rah
In Many Colors, Soong-Chan Rah aims to equip local churches and their leaders to be better adapted to becoming multiethnic churches by developing cultural intelligence. Cultural intelligence and understanding how culture operates in a church community are foundational to any hopes and efforts at building a multicultural church.
The book has three parts. Part I, Understanding Culture, lays the foundation for the rest of the book. It seeks a working definition of culture from a biblical worldview perspective. After drawing from different views of culture, including a biblical perspective, Rah arrives at this definition of culture:
So what is culture? It is a human attempt to understand the world around us. It is the programming that shapes who we are and who we are becoming. It is a social system that is shaped by the individual and that also has the capacity to shape the individual. But it is also the presence of God, the image of God, the mission of God found in the human spirit, soul, and social system. (p. 38)
From my experience, I have found that many disagreements around racial issues revolve around differences between the participants’ definition of what counts as racism and what does not. Hence, I have found George Yancey’s book, Beyond Racial Gridlock: Embracing Mutual Responsibility (IVP 2006), helpful in this regard. Yancey, a Christian sociologist at the University of North Texas, describes in the first part of his book two different definitions of racism and four basic models of racial reconciliation that flows out of them. In this blog, I want to briefly outline them for you. Continue reading “Four Models of Racial Reconciliation”→
Last week, I was privileged to attend the Christian Reformed Church’s 2013 Multi-Ethnic Conference. The keynote speaker was Rev. Alexia Salvatierra, an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and former Executive Director of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice. She is a leader in the faith-based economic justice movement in the United States among evangelical Christians. I want to share some highlights from her wonderful keynote speech at the conference.
Perhaps we can put this story in better context, my current context, the Deep South. Imagine the Syrophoenician woman as an African-American woman who comes to Jesus, a white male, seeking to be healed. In response, Jesus dehumanizes her, calls her an animal, a female dog, a bitch, even! Maybe he goes further, criticizes her for seeking a medical handout and labels her a welfare queen. He asks her why the good things meant for whites only should be given to the sweet little n*****s.
If those slurs are too harsh, choose a different one: a House Negro, an Uncle Tom, an Oreo. Boy. Dominant, oppressive cultures have a long history of assuaging their own latent guilt with terms of endearment for those they are abusing.
Do these diminutive forms, even when they have been used affectionately by whites, soften the sting of raw racism in the words? Clearly not, and I don’t think Jesus’ diminutive case of “dog” in this text softens the bite of his own racism either.
So what are we to make of this exchange? … This, I think, is the great lesson of the Syrophoenician woman. It teaches us the dynamics of racism, of how even the best of humanity — the Incarnation himself — can get caught up in systems of oppression, in a culture of supremacy. As a good Jew, Jesus would have been reared to give thanks daily that he was born a Jew, not a Gentile, a man and not a woman. Jesus could not help but become entangled by such a sexist and racist snare.
Jesus, given his embedded culture, could not be colorblind. And neither can we.
This created a little stir among my Facebook friends, which was how I was alerted to the article in the first place. Was Jesus racist? My position is that, YES, Jesus was not colorblind (in the way that most people use the term in North America in relation to racism) – Jesus would acknowledge and affirm everyone’s ethnic and cultural backgrounds – God created them as such! BUT Jesus (and God) shows no partiality to any persons or groups or peoples (Deuteronomy 10:17; Luke 20:21).
This is an edited excerpt from my previously published article, “Racism, Revelation and Recipes: Towards Christian Inter-Cultural Communities” (Christian Educator’s Journal, April 2008). It lays out a biblical-theological perspective on ethnic diversity and racism. I regard this as still a work-in-progress.
A Biblical-Theological Perspective on Diversity & Racism
1. Diversity, in and of itself, is a God-created good that reflects the unity (oneness) and diversity (three-ness) of the Triune God.
This post is the basis for a shorter edited version written for World Vision Canada’s Beyond the Welcome tool kit, a project designed to help Canadian churches open themselves up to new immigrants in their communities.
Here’s the question I want to answer in this post: Why is integrating new immigrants into the local church community biblically and theologically important? For the sake of brevity, I will focus on lessons we can learn from the early Christian church as recorded in the New Testament, especially in the book of Acts, in answering this question.