Posts Tagged ‘Segregation’

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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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The Most Segregated Hour in America

Monday, January 19, 2009

On December 18, 1963, just four months after delivering his ‘I have a Dream’ speech, Dr. Martin Luther King was invited to speak at Western Michigan University’s “Conscience of America” lecture symposium on racial prejudice and race relations. Following a speech on “Social Justice and the Emerging New Age” Dr. King responded to a question by President Miller.

Dr. Miller: Don’t you feel that integration can only be started and realized in the Christian church, not in schools or by other means? This would be a means of seeing just who are true Christians.

Dr. King: As a preacher, I would certainly have to agree with this. I must admit that I have gone through those moments when I was greatly disappointed with the church and what it has done in this period of social change. We must face the fact that in America, the church is still the most segregated major institution in America. At 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand and sing and Christ has no east or west, we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation. This is tragic. Nobody of honesty can overlook this. Now, I’m sure that if the church had taken a stronger stand all along, we wouldn’t have many of the problems that we have. The first way that the church can repent, the first way that it can move out into the arena of social reform is to remove the yoke of segregation from its own body. Now, I’m not saying that society must sit down and wait on a spiritual and moribund church as we’ve so often seen. I think it should have started in the church, but since it didn’t start in the church, our society needed to move on. The church, itself, will stand under the judgement of God. Now that the mistake of the past has been made, I think that the opportunity of the future is to really go out and to transform American society, and where else is there a better place than in the institution that should serve as the moral guardian of the community. The institution that should preach brotherhood and make it a reality within it’s own body.”

         Dr. Miller’s question appears to be based on the deeply rooted racist attitudes that permeated America in the 1960’s.  When he asked, “Don’t you feel that integration can only be started and realized in the Christian church, not in schools or by other means? He was expressing the resistance of American society at large to allow integration and the duty of the church to pursue it.  The integration of local congregations in the words of Dr. Miller, “would be a means of seeing just who are true Christians.” This comment alone is a powerful indictment on the church which was expected to accept people of all backgrounds yet was no different than the secular institutions that upheld segregation.

         Due to the Church’s failure to be “the moral guardian of the community” Dr. King took his message beyond the Church. That powerful message impacted the lives of millions of American red, brown, yellow, black and white through civil rights legislation that would open the doors of secular institutions to integration. Regrettably the last bastion of segregation is still the “moribound” church.         

         According to the most recent studies, only 7% of all congregations in America are multi-racial.  Sociologist, Michael Emerson, classifies 5% of protestant congregations, 15% of Catholic congregations and 28% of non-Christian congregations as multiracial.  By definition a multiracial church has an ethnic mix where no more than 80% of the congregation is of one dominant group.

It took government legislation to mandate integration under the penalty of temporal legal action. The Church, corporately and individually is under the mandates of Christ and as such is subject to the loss of eternal rewards.  It’s been 45 years since Dr. King made his often used comment that “at 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand and sing and Christ has no east or west, we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation.”  How much longer must we wait before it can be said that at 11:00 on Sunday morning we stand at the most integrated hour in this nation? The question is, “What are you doing to help make that happen?”

That’s my opinion I welcome yours.