Archive for the ‘Ethnic Heritage’ Category

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Reaching the Nations Among Us: Part 3 The Seven Fatal Errors of Ethnic Ministry: Error #2: Ethnocentrism

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Ethnocentrism is defined by the Random House Dictionary as, “The belief in the inherent superiority of one’s own group and culture, accompanied by a feeling of contempt for other groups and cultures.”

Unlike racism which blatantly spews hatred toward other groups, ethnocentrism is much more subtle and its practices are more acceptable in the church. Whether red, brown, yellow, black, or white, ethno-centric churches resist transitioning to a multi-ethnic multi-cultural church for three basic reasons.

The Heritage of the Church.  The national origin of main line denominations in America originated in Europe and served a particular national group (see, Is Multi-ethnic Ministry Biblically Prescriptive or Descriptive) Immigrants brought these denominations to America and they worshipped God in their language and cultural context. Over time with the decline of foreign-born members in their congregations and the increase of American-born these non-English speak Churches were forced to conducted their services in English. Immigrant Churches from Latin American and Pacific Rim nations are encountering the same issue today.

The Culture of the Church. We all have a church culture that is reflected in what we believe to be acceptable grooming, attire, genre of worship music, expression of worship, pastors delivery style, the theological credentials of our staff, and even the language in which we want our services conducted. The increase in age diversity through birth and marriage increases the generational tension over the culture of the church (see Understanding the Differences Between 1st & 2nd Generation Immigrants).  Churches that are unwilling to change will fall into decline as older members die and younger members move on to churches that offer a church culture that is more in line with their preferences without compromising their theological beliefs.

The Prejudices of the Church. Every ethnic group has some prejudices. Let’s be honest we all have at least one reason for feeling some sense of superiority to others at best or verbally expressing our disapproval at worst.  If we listen carefully we will hear derogatory terms used by church members of other ethnicities, socio—economic or educational levels.  If we watch closely we can see the facial expressions and body language that reflects this disapproval.  It is this ethnocentric socialization, when left unchallenged that perpetuates segregation and these unloving attitudes.

Is it any wonder that homogenous ethnocentric churches are not interested in multi-ethnic multi-cultural ministry?  The Homogeneous Unit Principle is used by these churches as an excuse whether they realize it or not to preserve their isolation from those who are not like them.  The HUP was never intended to preserve Christian biases but to evangelize unbelievers.

Becoming a multi-ethnic multi-cultural church is a process. Everyone regardless of ethnicity or socio-economic status must work to overcome his or her personal biases and church culture preferences.  Like Paul we must become all things to all men to save some. Here are some things you can do to help you break down some prejudices you might have against other ethnic groups.  If you know of other resources please send those in.

Movies

Amazing Grace

Flower Drum Song

Books

Strangers Among Us by Roberto Suro

Pursuing the Pearl by Ken Fong

Letters Across the Divide by David Anderson and Brent Zuercher

Friends

This is your greatest resource of all. Spend time with your ethnic friends and ask them questions about their culture, church liturgy, family, church leadership, and attitudes toward Americans.  Ask them about anything you want to know. If you don’t have any its time to make some.

 

Ethnocentrism is perpetuated by ignorance, believing what we have been told about others and observing them through our cultural grid. To overcome ethnocentrism we must seek to understand other cultures while befriending them.

That’s my opinion. I welcome yours.

 

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Reaching the Nations Among Us: Part 2 Understanding the Difference Between 1st & 2nd Generation Immigrants.

Friday, February 27, 2009

“Beto, ven aqui.” (Bobby, come here.) Grandma and Grandpa Lucero had just arrived from Ciudad Juarez and were eager to greet, hug, and kiss the family. My brother Bobby understood grandma was calling him, he just couldn’t understand what else she was saying as she bent over to shower him with hugs and kisses.

Like so many second-generation descendents of immigrants they have some knowledge of what I call ‘House Spanish.”  House Spanish refers to the simple commands and everyday terms used in the immigrant household and in their social networks among other 1.5 and 2.0 immigrants. But their primary language is English.

Among some Hispanics “Spanglish,” the intermingling of Spanish and English is the official language.  Ilan Stavans in his book, Spanglish, The making of a new American language, writes that ­Spanglish is often described as “the trap, la trampa Hispanics fall into on the road to assimilation…”  used predominately by the growing lower class, it hinders their ability for a better future.  He goes on to say, “English is the door to the American Dream.  Not until one masters el inglés are the fruits of that dream attainable.”

When grandma visited from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, the most commonly used phrase in our home was “Que dice?” or  What did she say?” 

My brothers, unlike me, didn’t have the opportunity of spending their summers in Mexico.  Consequently, they never really learned Spanish. Although my parents would speak in Spanish to one another, they would speak in English to us. So, whenever my grandparents visited us from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico either my mom or I would have to translate my brother’s comments to grandma and her comments to them. Left unattended they would just smile, shrug their shoulders and walk away not knowing what had been said.

Here is my point; a single immigrant household can have family members at various levels of English language proficiency and cultural assimilation. This assimilation diversity in a single household presents a challenge to the immigrant church.  Some challenges that lead to 2.0’s either attending an English speaking church or dropping out of church all together are:

  • The Problem of Generations. The preservation of a cultural heritage is dependent on it being passed on from one generation to the next. This process is broken when the second generation due to assimilation prefers their newly adopted culture to that of their ethnic heritage. The second generation leaves the ethnic church for the very reasons their parents joined it, to preserve language, culture, traditions, and customs.
  • English language proficiency. As 2.0’s become more proficient in English the language of their cultural heritage goes by the wayside simply because they have not been educated in it.  The words, idioms, and illustrations used by their immigrant pastors do not connect with them the way they do in English.  2.0’s have their own heart language and it’s not the language of their immigrant parents.
  • Marriage. 2.0’s that marry someone of his or her ethnic background that does not understand the language of his/her cultural heritage finds it hard to stay in the immigrant church.
  • Inter-cultural marriage.  1.0’s, 1.5’s and 2.0’s who marry outside of their ethnic groups soon wrestle with being accepted as a couple in the immigrant or non-immigrant church for that matter.  Their spouse feels out of place for lack of knowledge of the immigrant language and culture.  Not to mention the lack of acceptance experienced by  some inter-cultural couples in homogenous churches.

What is needed is a church model that will minister to families at all levels of assimilation 1.0’s, 1.5’s, and 2.0’s.  Such a model will minister to 2.0’s in English while ministering to 1.0’s  and  1.5’s in their language and cultural context.  Homogenous, ethnic specific immigrant churches serve the first generation well but often times at the expense of the second generation. 

What is a ministry dilemma for immigrant churches becomes a ministry opportunity for English speaking churches. In our next installment of Reaching the Nations Among Us we will address the Seven Fatal Errors of Ethnic Ministry.

That’s my opinion.  I welcome yours.

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Reaching the Nations Among Us: Part 1 A Nation of Immigrants

Monday, February 16, 2009

1952, East Los Angles, CA  – “Look Mijo”, she said to me in Spanish, “See that big building? That’s where your daddy is going to work!” I was four years old as I sat on my mother’s lap looking out the window into East Los Angeles. As the train slowed down through the community of Boyle Heights for its arrival into Union Station, I looked in awe at the massive building my mother pointed out – the Los Angeles County General Hospital.

My mother’s words expressed the hope of my stepfather, Roberto Serrano, affectionately referred to as “Bobby” by the doctors and medical staff at his retirement as a surgical technician from Queen of the Valley Hospital in West Covina. But in 1952, he was an immigrant from Mexico with a new wife, a son, little money, a sixth grade education, yet full of hope and a dream for a better life.

 The next decade my dad would work toward achieving his dream. During that time my mom’s brothers would cross the border one by one, housed by my parents until they got a job and were able to rent a place of their own.

 The story of my family is similar to that of many immigrants that have come to America in search of hope and the opportunity to achieve their dream. America is a nation comprised of immigrants and their descendents. Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Remember, remember always, that all of us… are descended from immigrants…”

The present reality is that the majority of descendents of immigrants is shifting. Demographers tell us that by 2042: 

  • Whites will be less than 50% of the U.S. population.
  • Hispanics will be over one in four.
  • African-Americans will be 12%.
  • Asians and Pacific Islanders will more than double their 2006 population to 28.3 million.

A more staggering figure by the Pew Hispanic Center is that new immigrants arriving after 2005 and their descendents will account for 82% of the U.S. population growth between 2005 and 2050 as a result of natural increase (the excess of births over death).

Children under the age of 18 are expected to reach majority-minority status of just over 50% of the population by 2023 and 62% of all children by 2050, mostly due to the growth in immigrant children. 

The demographical changes in the next forty-nine years are shocking, but what is the demographic reality of today? According to a 2005 report by the U.S.Census Bureau, Hawaii, California, New Mexico and Texas are majority-minority state, along with the District of Columbia. States on their way to becoming majority-minority are Maryland, Mississippi, Georgia, New York and Arizona. 2007 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau show that about 10% (302) of the country’s 3,141 counties are already majority minority counties. Another 218 counties are at the “tipping point” and in the next few years will become majority-minority counties.

So what is the pathological impact of these demographical changes on the local church?  It’s deadly. Dr. Peter Wager in his book Your Church Can Grow identifies the disease as “Ethnikitis.” The symptom is that the people in the pew no longer reflect the people in the community. The diagnosis is that the church will eventually die.  When we take into account the exodus of baby boomers from more densely populated to less densely populated areas when they retire, minorities will fill the housing vacancies but not necessarily the pews.

The churches in greatest danger of dying are homogenous churches that have predominately targeted a white middle class population. That is because their demographic is in decline. The options for survival are: (1) sell or give the facilities to a homogenous ethnic congregation and relocate to where your constituency has relocated. (2) Become a multi-cultural congregation ministering to multiple congregations in their language and cultural context. These multi-cultural congregations may be one church with multiple language departments, or multiple congregations sharing one facility. (3) Transition to a multi-ethnic congregation where the church has a diversity of English speaking ethnic groups. This list of options is by no means extensive. If you know of other options please submit those options in the comment box for the benefit of our readers.

If the homogenous church is to survive and thrive the people in the pews must reflect the people in the community.  The question now, is how? We will begin to address this question in our series, Reaching the Nations Among Us. 

That’s my opinion. I welcome yours.

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Assimilation is Spiritually in the Best Interest of Our Immigrant Children.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

“Arturo”

It was Mr. Sanchez, a deacon of the Spanish congregation that rented the fellowship hall of our church for their services. I had just pulled into the church parking lot when he called out to me. 

As I gathered my Bible and Sunday school class notes from the passenger seat, he said to me in Spanish…

“Arturo, I’ve been meaning to ask you, why are you worshiping over there with the Anglos instead of here with your people?”

I was taken back by his question.  The only word’s that came to my mind as I got out of my car and started walking away were, “Because I like it.”

As I crossed the street from the parking lot to the worship building I felt anger swelling up inside of me.  I was upset that someone would use my ethnic heritage as a stick to manipulate me into changing churches. I also objected to the effort made to make me feel disloyal to my Latino roots because I was not worshipping in a Spanish-speaking congregation. And I especially did not appreciate the obvious attempt at proselytizing.

As I entered the worship center I was greeted by a number of other young bi-lingual Latino men like myself who preferred to worship in an English speaking service.

My experience is not uncommon for the 1.5 and 2.0 children of immigrants. When their English language skills increase while their ancestral language skills decrease, they will prefer to attend English-speaking services. 

I’m reminded of a story told by a Pastor of a Spanish speaking congregation who said that his own children and several other high school students from his congregation would sit in the last two pews of the auditorium during the praise time. But they would all get up and leave the service once he got up to preach to sit under the teaching ministry of the English speaking pastor.  The students commented that they preferred the livelier Spanish ministry praise time to the boring English praise time. But they better understood the teaching of the Word in English than in Spanish.

Christians at all levels of assimilation into a host country have the liberty in Christ to attend services in their language and cultural preference.  For the immigrant believer (1.0) to deny his children (1.5 and 2.0) and grandchildren (3.0) the freedom to attend a worship service in the language that best teaches and equips them in their walk with Christ, for the sake of preserving a cultural heritage can hinder their children’s spiritual growth. Believers need to hear the Word taught in their heart language and cultural context, which is not always the same as the language and culture of their ethnic heritage (Acts 2:5-11).

The reality is that you can’t fight assimilation. The immersion of immigrant youth into the educational system, culture and language of the host country will eventually draw 1.5’s and 2.0’s further away from the language and culture of their ethnic heritage.

In the days to come, I will be writing a series of blogs entitled, “Reaching the Nations Among Us,” to discuss how a local church can reach the immigrants in her community at all levels of assimilation. I would like to hear your stories of the issues you faced as a 1.5 or 2.0 descendent of immigrants.

That’s my opinion. I welcome yours.