Racial / Ethnic Exclusion Continued

This is a continuation of this post

McLaren and others have been writing recently on colonialism, which is perhaps the greatest barrier for embrace and inclusion in the church. By this, these authors describe the “us and them” mentality that so pervades Western Christianity, especially as regards the missionary impulse. Our models of proclaiming the kingdom of God were so infiltrated by our need to promote our culture as well that we historically have suggested that Western culture is part and parcel of Christianity. The dichotomy that occurs in focusing on our particularity leads to targeted missions to “them” which somehow feel separate from “our” expressions of faith.

An example has been the United Methodist mode of ministry in the Hispanic community in Middle Tennessee. The growth of this community is huge (my own neighborhood is between 10 and 15 percent Hispanic). For the most part these persons struggle with English, so our approach to mission with “them” has been to plant language specific congregations. The impulse behind this isn’t bad — after all we believe that these immigrants to our community need the ability to worship in their own language. But, what this has done is to basically absolve us of our responsibility in including and embracing Hispanics into our community. It’s not unlike what we do with the poor, referring them to the Rescue Mission to get their needs met since we don’t really know how (or maybe even want to) help them. Again, I’m not saying that the language specific congregations are bad — they do great work and we partner with them. Yet, do we assume that all Hispanic folks want a Spanish language service? Could it be possible that these folks want and need an English experience as they work at being immersed in a new culture? And who says that “our” worship has to be English only, and why aren’t we investing in translation technology that might allow for dual language services?

One of the ways that congregations in our area minister to the Hispanic community is to offer free “English as a Second Language” (ESL) classes. These classes are a great service for those immigrants who are trying to integrate into an English speaking culture (especially here in the South where WE often speak English as a second language!) and I encourage these practices to continue. Yet, I’ve wondered for many years if we also should be offering “Spanish as a Second Language” classes as a symbol of our desire to embrace our new neighbors. What would it say about the church if we were to say that we are willing to invest our time in learning how to speak a new language?

We have just purchased a couple of new banners for my congregation which sit on either side of the front doors. Both signs are identical with one exception — one is in English and one is in Spanish. When I proposed creating the Spanish sign, a couple of folks wondered if we weren’t setting up false expectations that we had a Hispanic ministry. Others thought that the independent charismatic Hispanic congregation that rents space from us shouldn’t help to pay for the banner. My argument was that we need to welcome and embrace, even if we don’t have all the details worked out. As it turns out, I do have a couple of regular attenders who do speak Spanish and I have been in touch with them about translating if we have non-English speaking guests, but regardless of the language barrier, folks need to know that they are welcome in the church.

Racial / Ethnic exclusion continues to be a difficult place for the church, but there is hope. Conversations on multi-cultural churches continue on. I pray that in my lifetime the issues of exclusion along racial lines will become a distant memory.

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