Posts Tagged ‘Ethnocentrism’

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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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