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Friday, May 2, 2014

How We Can Create Diversity In The Church

While the world rushed to judgment, and with some merit, over the words of Los Angeles Clippers' owner Donald Sterling, Reverend Leon Brown is determined to take a more deliberate approach. And in so doing, he showed that sometimes such haste covers a multitude of intentional failures. He does this in a blogpost published by Reformation 21 (click here). 

First, let's get to Sterling's comments. The comments were without a doubt racist. And an excellent point was made by Jon Stewart of The Daily Show when he say that most of us know that racism is horrible but struggle with knowing what racism is (click here for episode).

We could expand on that point by saying that knowing how wrong racism is just might prevent us from recognizing racism in ourselves. For admitting to having racists attitudes would be like announcing that one had leprosy in Jesus' day. Such an admission would be a self-ostracising statement. Thus, due to a conflict of interests, we are reluctant to recognize racist attitudes in ourselves. Thus, these attitudes will remain in us even if they have to live in a closet.

Though he introduces this blogpost with controversy swirling over Donald Sterling, Brown's first concern here is not racism, it is diversity in the Church. For he laments the continuing truth of Martin Luther King's claim that the hour of worship on Sunday is the most segregated hour in America. So Brown wants to undo some of this segregation. And in so doing, he gives us some ideas of how we can achieve greater diversity in our churches in terms of race as well as in terms of other factors such as economic class and culture.


Now Brown does everybody a favor by looking at our tendency to segregate in terms of our voluntary associations and friendships. It seems that we, both as individuals and as churches, prefer to flock with "birds of a feather." Thus, Brown reasons that as our collection of close friends go, so goes the demographics in our churches. But he also adds to our selection of friends and close associates the concept of  'intentionality.' That is there are deliberate choices being made when making friends. And, according to Brown, it is our intentionality that is the biggest factor in both the lack of diversity in our group of friends as well as the diversity in our churches.

Thus, the way to correct the lack of diversity in both of the above mentioned groups is to intentionally build relationships with those who are different from us. However, he cautions us from starting new friendships with those who are different just for the sake of building our friendship portfolio. Our friendships must be sincere. Once we have established friendships with different kinds of people, we can invite them to church and ask sensitive questions about any objections they might have to what is being preached or practiced.

Brown has an excellent point here. But we should add here is what is good for the individual can be good for the Church. In other words, if individuals can intentionally befriend those who are different, why can't churches? But of course how a church would befriend those who are different from the congregation members would be different from how an individual does, but it can be done. And one way by which churches could befriend those who are different is to minister to them. This ministering to the community is trait that seems shared by the few Southern Reformed Churches I know of. Of course, the churches I know of are also large enough to minister to the community. But here, by applying what Brown says about individuals to churches themselves, we see a promising way of increasing diversity in our churches.

We can even add more to that idea that diversity can also be enhanced if churches would intentionally venture out on joint ventures with unbelievers. For example, how many churches are both faithful to preaching Christ crucified and risen from the dead while publicly defending those who are oppressed? How many churches are joining those in the community who speak out for fairness and justice? Certainly fairness and justice are values shared by those who are in and out of the Church. And working for fairness and justice will be done from different perspectives by those who belong to the Church and those who belong in the world. But why should those different perspectives stop two groups from working together?

Brown has made some good observations here. First, he doesn't let anyone off the hook in terms of not having promoted diversity. This is an important point regarding sensitive topics because there is a tendency for our using a rush to judgment to camouflage our own sins and failures. Not only do some of our churches fail to enable diversity in their respective congregations, many of us individuals have failed at this too in terms of creating diversity in our circle of friends. And we should note how Brown presents this as being an understandable fact of life.

Second, our intentionality is a major cause for the lack of diversity and Brown describes how we can correct this as individuals. We can add to what Brown says here by showing how our churches can apply Brown's statements on intentionality, in their own way, in order to bring more diversity their congregations. Churches can deliberately go out of their way to minister to those who are different as well as become involved in joint ventures with those in the community where those projects involve at least partially shared values.

But there is a factor that is missing in Brown's post on building diversity in our churches. That factor is the content of the preaching. It isn't that we should preach Christ to one group and another message to other groups. It is that preaching Christ to those who are comfortable in the status quo should take a different form from preaching Christ to those who are suffering with the way things are. All too often, preaching Christ to those who are comfortable in life revolves around maintaining a comfort level despite the hardships of others. Such preaching helps further the distance between the haves and the have-nots.

At the same time, preaching to the downtrodden cannot forget the future comforts promised by the Gospel while crying for immediate relief. Should that occur, those listening can lose sight of the Gospel.

Thus, if the preaching in the church is going to contribute to the diversity of the congregation, as well as to the furthering of the spreading of truth, preaching must include more than what the local congregation finds acceptable. Preaching must enlighten those who are comfortable about the immediate plight of those who are vulnerable while giving eternal hope and immediate resources to those who are in dire straights.


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