“Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarians, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.”
Colossians 3.11 (NIV)
I was reading the blog of a new Facebook friend Dave Owen the other day. Dave is the president of Pacific Islands University. He was reviewing John Piper’s book Bloodline in which Piper talks about the multicultural church and so on. The context of course is the American (especially Protestant) church.
I’m going to cut to the chase and ask some simple questions. When people think of the American church in the global church, whom do they think of? John Piper, Franklin Graham, Bill Hybels? Yes, that’s the galacticos of American evangelicalism.
Notice the list of names I give are all white middle class church leaders. Now, there’s nothing wrong with white middle class church leaders. But if we want to look at our impact globally, then our intent have been lost in our impact because most people (American or not) think of the American church as the white church. In light of recent election and all the debates about racial divide and white privilege, that’s precisely the kind of impact we have globally. Oh, I know at least one or two readers (at least) will say, “Oh, you’re Asian. You have Francis Chan.” Right! Whether Francis Chan represents me is quite another topic. I certainly don’t “have” Francis Chan. I don’t own Francis Chan. While I appreciate what he says in some of his talks and books, I dare say that Francis Chan isn’t the global face of American Christianity. He isn’t the first name that comes up. His is the afterthought if that afterthought even occurs. His is the name people spit out when someone claims that American Christianity is so white. You can think of your own favorite minority Christian leader for that purpose. That appeal is by exception and not by average. Exceptions are exceptions. Exceptions aren’t the norm.
In reality, our church is the product of our society. Our church isn’t so sanctified FROM society as much as we like to think it is. Think about the photo I posted on there. I know I have an international readership. If you’re non-American, would the first thought that occurred in your mind is that this is a picture of an all-American kid? I bet not. If you’re American, some of you probably have at least entertained the thought of, “I wonder what country this kid’s from?” No, “all-American” wouldn’t be the first thing that popped into most of your minds, if you’re honest with yourself. Let me clue you in. That’s my all-American Sinopolitan (google that word) older kid and his car, posing on the driveway of my all-American colonial house (Georgian style, to be exact). Yep! The photo is very all-American. He was born in the USA (in the multicultural Bay Area), lived in UK and Hong Kong. He speaks perfect English, accented French and Mandarin. He gets all A’s all the time in any class that requires writing simply because his English is brilliant and vocabulary rich. If he were white, one would consider him to be privileged (since he’s multilingual, lived all over the world, dresses like a fashion model, and works for AMERICAN Eagle) upper crest, but he isn’t. Instead, people probably wonder if he immigrated from Asia somewhere. That’s OUR America. That’s OUR church. In America, the church is the spitting image of society.
What can we do as Christians if we want to move towards multicultural church leadership? I would say the solution is simple but not easily executed. Those in power have to deliberately train up and staff the leadership of their churches to be multicultural. When we look at John Piper’s church, Bethlehem Baptist Church, the staffing isn’t really full of the people of color. In fact, the staff is mostly white men. If you don’t believe me, check out their website. When the picture the global church sees is mostly white male, John Piper can talk and write until his face is purple that he values the biblical value of multiculturalism, it won’t amount to the worth of the stuff in the rubbish bin.
Before anyone accuses me of doing church Affirmative Action style, let me be quite clear about what I’m trying to say. The accusers against Affirmative Action usually say that it pushes unqualified people of color into opportunities that should be reserved for more qualified white people. Some may even go as far as saying that the Affirmative Action laws have cast doubts on truly qualified minorities simply because of other unqualified individuals filling positions. These assumptions aren’t application for the church. The days of unqualified leaders are long past. There’re as many good minority church leaders who can preach and write. In fact, many of them are more capable just to compete with less capable whites and still don’t get the leadership jobs. I rarely see white pastors actively seek out or train up people of color to succeed them. Without leadership from people of color, how would people of color be incorporated in our largely segregated white churches?
I’m not saying that people of color necessarily want to or need to (oh, please!) occupy those position of high profile. Many of us are just content to work within our own ethnic groups (e.g. black churches, Asian churches, Hispanic churches etc.). But let’s not write about diversity without any proven action and pretend that the American white church is diverse and that the image we present to the world is that of diversity. To me, as an Asian American, constituents of American evangelical Christianity simply don’t detect the absurdity of their faith: a white church leader who staffs his church with mostly white leaders writing about diversity. What rich irony! The image of the American church comes from the skin color of leadership, not from books written about diversity by people who don’t practice diversity. My friend Dave Owen states bluntly, “It is pretty hard to have diverse disciples without diverse leaders.”