Will Christians Lead or Follow on Questions of Diversity?

By Ryan Rodrick Beiler 10-07-2008

Even as I was reporting Bart Campolo's challenging questions on cross-cultural community last week, I had the beginnings of a response already drafted. It made sense to save it for a later post, and now that Jimmy McCarty-spontaneously and unsolicited-made one of my key points for me, I'm glad I waited a little. Hopefully other voices will add to the mix, regardless of their perspective and experience. We do want an honest conversation here.

To me, Jimmy's most compelling point is this:

It seems that Mr. Campolo is not speaking to the reality of many in America today. He assumes one has a "culture of origin" as if everyone has only one. For many in my generation, this is just not true. What do I identify as my culture of origin? Am I the child of an immigrant from Korea? The child of a white family with deep roots in the American south? Or both? Clearly these cultures are different, and yet I encompass both and more. My entire existence is an exercise in cross-cultural relationship, and I am comfortable in multiple cultural settings. This is increasingly becoming the reality for many in America. It is one more reality that complicates the "unrealistic-ness" of cross-cultural intimacy.

In my last post, I mentioned a church retreat that Bart led where we discussed these issues. Of the folks there that most strongly challenged Bart on the realism of cross-cultural intimacy, many-including my wife-had one thing in common: Like Jimmy, they were "third-culture kids"-children of parents from two different cultures, or even people who grew up as the only minority in a mostly homogenous community-people for whom the core group of people who share most of your cultural assumptions just hasn't existed. So my question then and now is: Does it just suck to be them, or can their lifelong struggle and relative success at forming cross-cultural relationships-including intimate friendships-set a precedent for those of us with the privilege of, in Jimmy's words, "cultures of comfort"?

Can the rest of us acknowledge that though life might be easier with homogenous friends, a homogenous church, a homogenous workplace, because we believe the Kingdom of God is wildly diverse, we will practice "inaugurated eschatology" (to borrow a term from N.T. Wright). Meaning, we'll begin now to inaugurate the divinely integrated worship described in Revelation 7:9. We'll begin now living in the "household of God" among former "aliens and strangers" (Ephesians 2:11-22). And at the risk of discomfort and even burnout, we'll refuse to accept the fallenness of dis-integrated institutions and communities-refusing to tolerate this aspect of "normal" broken humanity any more than we would, in the name of "realism," tolerate natural inclinations toward violence or sexual sin?

At this point, I think it's fair to emphasize that no one in this conversation is questioning the diversity of the body of Christ, or even our need for meaningful cross-cultural relationships. Often disagreements in conversations like this are more over degree and definition: The degree to which we attempt to realize biblical ideals in the present world. The degree to which we intentionally seek diversity in all aspects of our lives. The definition of words like "reconciliation," "diversity," "integration," "community," and "intimacy." The definition of how one body with many parts (1 Cor. 12:12-26) applies to our local churches and communities. Those differences of degree and definition have real implications for how we live our lives; what relationships we invest in, and how; and where we live, work, or worship.

My concern is that as the cross-cultural reality that Jimmy lives every day permeates our nation and world, that our churches and Christian communities are able to embrace and reflect that reality, and are not hindered by the inertia that sustains our "cultures of comfort." Additional factors such as class, education level, and entrenched attitudes of all kinds make this even more difficult. But my hope and prayer is that the church can be a leader and a light of hope to a divided society, and not a reluctant late-comer to the multicultural mosaic.

Ryan Rodrick Beiler is the web editor for Sojourners.

[Read all posts in this conversation on New Monastics and race.]

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