Bart Campolo's Tough Questions on Cross-Cultural Community

By Ryan Rodrick Beiler 10-03-2008

Bart Campolo gave me a call recently about our ongoing blog conversation on New Monastics and race. I want to present his thoughts for response-even though I don't want to agree with all of what he said. Actually, it's his idea that I write this post instead of him, so I can stand as a mediating filter between his jaded and crusty cynicism and the relative idealism of the New Monastics and friends. I also have Bart's permission to call him a jaded and crusty cynic.

Two years ago, Bart led the fall retreat at the church where I was a member. The theme was building relationships across barriers (mostly racial/ethnic/cultural/economic), and Bart gave lots of practical advice from his experience in urban ministry and his current Walnut Hills Fellowship in Cincinnati. These conversations are never easy-but there was one point that generated the strongest reaction during and after the retreat: Bart asserted that while forming relationships across barriers is important-and a passionate focus of his life's work, just read his blog posts-it is utterly unrealistic to expect the kind of intimacy and understanding in those relationships that one might reasonably seek and enjoy in relationships within one's culture of origin.

Bart's point then and now is that, even as we reach out across racial and cultural barriers, we shouldn't feel guilty about staying rooted in mostly homogenous core communities, nor should we feel compelled to seek an essentially unnatural diversity within those core communities. While we shouldn't automatically exclude different people from our inner circles, we shouldn't feel obligated to change our group dynamics to suit them either. According to Bart, it is difficult, if not impossible, to build a core community that meets the deepest needs for intimacy and understanding of people with radically different backgrounds, and seeking to do so almost always results in painful divisions and burnout. (Bart does note the exception of cross-cultural marriages, where sexual intimacy enables people to overcome otherwise insurmountable barriers

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