At the annual Christian Community Development Association conference in Minneapolis last week, Chris Rice told the story of a meeting he helped to facilitate between African American and Latino pastors. As they sought racial reconciliation, they kept hitting a stumbling block: the pastors represented groups who simply had different interests. Many of the Latino pastors, for example, cited immigration issues as one of the most dramatic problems faced by their community. One African American pastor pushed back: immigration was not an issue, he said, for “our people.”
Scripture challenges our societal push to identify within a group defined by ethnicity, gender, socio-economic class, political ideology, or even geography. For those within the Church, “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for [we] are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Our primary identity is found in Christ, which means, as Chris argues, that “we don’t get to choose who ‘our people’ are. God expands our ‘we.’”
Because the Bible teaches that the Church is composed of “one Body,” with diverse, interdependent, and indispensable members (1 Corinthians 12:20), the issues that affect one part of the body ought to affect every part. Immigration policy affects me—though I’m not an immigrant—because many of my Latino, African, European and Asian brothers and sisters are suffering in the midst of a dysfunctional immigration system, and “if one part suffers, every part suffers with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). That also means that the Korean American believer in a great suburban private school needs to be concerned with her African American brother who, on account of the zip code in which he lives, is doomed to attend a failing public school where his odds of ever graduating from high school are dismal. It means that we all must be concerned for the realities of our Native American brothers and sisters, whose voices are so often excluded from the conversation altogether. “There should be no division in the body… its parts should have equal concern for each other” (1 Corinthians 12:25).
Our society pushes us against this unity. If we’re honest, our local churches do, too: 11:00 on Sunday morning is still, as Martin Luther King observed a half century ago, “the most segregated hour” of the week. Social psychologist Christena Cleveland explains (based on research studies) that, because we worship separately, “the people who belong to our homogeneous church group… (our ‘us’) are the people with whom we most closely associate the term ‘Christian.’”
One of my favorite elements of the Christian Community Development Association’s conference last week was the chance to worship Jesus alongside brothers and sisters from so many different backgrounds. Ultimately, that is how we—God’s people—worship: the book of Revelation foretells a time when countless multitudes, “from every nation, tribe, people and language” will join in the song of the Lamb (Revelation 7:9-10). Theologian Justo Gonzalez notes, “Our music and our worship must be multicultural, not simply because our society is multicultural, but because the future from which God is calling us is multicultural. We must be multicultural, not just so that those from other cultures may feel at home among us, but also so that we may feel at home in God’s future.”
When we do learn to worship together, to pray together, to minister together, and simply to know each other, it transforms the way that we respond to the larger challenges faced by our society. The African American pastor Chris Rice described, who had no interest in immigration reform (since it was not a particularly pressing issue for the African Americans in his local church) went on to form a multi-ethnic coalition of pastors in Houston to seek immigration reform after forming reconciled relationships with his Latino brothers and sisters. When the Church operates as God intends for us—in unity—we’re a dramatic force for good, and a watching world will see us functioning as God wants for us and, as a result, will know Jesus and his love (John 17:23). Our call is to do the hard work of reconciliation to make Jesus’ prayer for unity a reality.
Matthew Soerens is the co-author of Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate (InterVarsity Press, 2009) and the US Church Training Specialist at World Relief. His blogs appear here on Mondays.
Please note that the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of everyone associated with G92, or any institutions with which the blogger may be affiliated.
We’re always looking for new guest bloggers; please check out our Guest Blog Submission Guidelines if you’re interested.