Multiculturalism and Diversity
The crèche at Peace Presbyterian was made up of beautiful, ethnically diverse, wiggling, sometimes shy, images of the Christmas story. I sat, watching with my family, as the children performed their parts in this multicultural church on the southern outreaches of the Sacramento area. Here, there is no need to be concerned with a Christmas scene that denies ethnic possibilities or the diversity of that first Christmas story. Instead here diversity sings silent night, holy night.
Better still, in the church I was visiting that morning, the church of my daughter and her family, there is no need to be concerned with the truthfulness of the story told. The incarnation, God of very God, God coming in the unique human, Jesus Christ, is always the story told and lived.
I thought of this experience as I read the latest issue of Horizons, the Presbyterian Women’s magazine. This particular edition, January/February 2009, is entitled “Multiculturalism & Diversity.” And as I read “Multicultural Congregations: A Celebration of Diversity,” by Rita Boyer, I especially thought of my daughter’s church. The leading picture, Epiphany, with its various characters all of differing ethnic groups, reminded me of the children of Peace.
Evangelicals in the PC(USA)
There was another beautiful memory for me in this issue of Horizons. When my husband and I first became Presbyterians, two of our pastors were Tamara and Tom Letts. Tamara Letts has an article in this edition, “The Need for Evangelicals: Engaging the Gospel in Every Sphere of Human Life.” It is, hopefully, the receding of a tide that had washed away all signs of any evangelical witness among Presbyterian Women and their magazine.
As Letts puts it:
I also am an evangelical woman in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). In my experience, I have found that while many within our denomination insist on the importance of diversity, an understanding of diversity does not always include evangelicals. I believe that the essence of Reformed theology is powerfully displayed in the evangelical branch. Although I cannot speak for all evangelical women, I wonder why women like myself often feel estranged from their own denomination. (18)
Letts goes on to explain who evangelicals are. She uses some descriptors given by Associate Professor Scott Sunquist during a lecture at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. I found myself agreeing with all of the seven characteristics, including:
3. The conviction that we are called to a new life in Jesus Christ through a conversion experience. 4. The belief that the implication of living a converted life is an engagement in society.
Letts lifts up the importance of both social mission and the mission of proclamation of new life in Jesus Christ. And then fervently states, “I pray for a denomination that genuinely receives evangelicals and understands the importance of the deep heritage of Christian faith we contribute. This evangelical faith has the depth of all scripture, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the openness and desire to see all people profess Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.” I believe that we who are evangelical should thank both Letts and the Editors of Horizons for providing this much needed article.
Emmanuel and his multicultural diverse Church
Another article, which I felt was extremely helpful when thinking about multiculturalism and diversity, was “The Journey from Babel to Antioch: Growing in God’s vision for a Multicultural Church,” by Valerie Nagel Vogt. Vogt writes asking a lot of questions such as “How did we become so divided by race, music preferences, economics and age in the first place?” She also asks “How do we live into the reconciliation that God made possible through faith in Jesus Christ.?”
First, Vogt writes of our reconciliation to God through his Son:
Not only is he the Messiah, he is Emmanuel—“God with us.” Through Christ’s life, crucifixion and resurrection, we see God’s deep commitment to drawing together in worship people from every tribe and tongue. Christ died for all of humanity, so the hope of resurrection is for all people.
Next she connects humanity’s reconciliation to God with the reconciliation sisters and brothers must have with one another. This is partly due to Christ as the perfect model of one who reached out to the estranged. As Vogt, using Jesus’ engagement with the Samaritan woman, explains, “Jesus invited her, and all those to whom she gave her testimony, to share in the true life made possible through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus came to give life to all who would turn and follow him.” (5)
An important part of this article is the author’s own personal account of how she has tried to be reconciled with brothers and sisters. For instance she has taken a class on the black church in America, learning about its painful historical experiences of slavery and segregation. Vogt joined a group that explored racism on a very personal level, and she interned in an African American church.
Vogt ends her article referring to Revelation 7:9, a verse that speaks of the whole universal Church, “A great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb ….”
The Belhar Confession, Unity over Lordship:
Teresa Chávez Sauceda writes about the Belhar Confession in her article, “Confessing Our Faith in the Twenty-first Century.” The 218th General Assembly voted to “begin the process … to consider amending the confessional documents of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to include the Belhar Confession.”
The Belhar Confession is a confession adopted during the awful time of apartheid in South Africa. The various branches of the Dutch Reformed Church in that nation were divided along absolutized racial lines. The situation was truly sinful and called for a confessional remedy. The Belhar Confession was the answer to apartheid in the church in South Africa. However, there are some problems with the PC(USA) adopting this particular confession. But first, I will make some clarifications concerning the reasons listed for using this confession.
Chávez Sauceda states that Belhar would be the first confession in our Book of Confessions “originating outside of the United States or Europe,” but this is not true. In fact all confessional churches who uphold the ecumenical creeds of Christendom subscribe to creeds and confessions written or developed in Africa and the Middle East.
The Nicene Creed was first agreed to in Nicaea in Bithynia which is now Turkey. It was later expanded and revised in Constantinople, also in modern Turkey. The Apostle’s Creed was further developed from several originals during the Donatist controversy in Northern Africa.
In The Second Helvetic Confession in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Book of Confessions four synods are mentioned and affirmed. Not only are the Nicaea and Constantinople synods listed but also Ephesus and Chalcedon. The Definition of Chalcedon was formulated in Turkey.
Chávez Sauceda suggests that adopting this Confession “would be a powerful witness to our ecumenical ties to the global church at a time when the center of Christianity has shifted to the global south.” However, as current events show, the witness called for by the global church is for the western church to faithfully live out its faith. The unfaithfulness of some churches in the west in sexual matters is of far more concern to the Southern Cone than Reformed Churches adopting Belhar.
Chávez Sauceda states that “more than any other confession, the Belhar focuses on the life of the church itself.” She then goes on to point toward the racism that was a “historical” crisis for the church in South Africa,” and to equate that crisis to racism in the United States. But, while there was a racial crisis in South Africa and there was a racial crisis in the United States during the sixties, in the United States, in the present, there is a far greater crisis looming for the church. That crisis circles around sexuality and faithfulness within the church. And this is just where Belhar is not helpful.
The whole issue in the South African churches was separation because of race and the lack of church unity this caused. Therefore the emphasis was on unity and the sinfulness of the absolutizing of “natural diversity” and the “separation of people.” Anything “which explicitly or implicitly” maintained “ that descent or any other human or social factor should be a consideration in determining membership of the Church” was rejected in the Belhar Confession. (Emphasis mine)
Any such consideration was rejected on the grounds that the church must be in unity in Christ. However, although supposedly aligned with the Declaration of Barmen, Belhar only at the end states that Jesus Christ is Lord. Unlike Barmen, the Belhar Confession is grounded, not in the Lordship of Christ, but in Christian unity. But unity only exists because of the church’s obedience to Christ as Lord; therefore, Belhar falls flat with the present crisis in the mainline denominations in the United States.
With Belhar the church would listen to the voices of those in their church community rather than the voice of Christ. Therefore “all” absolutizing might be denied on the grounds of Christian unity. In the American mainline churches when the argument for the ordination of self-affirming gays and lesbians is based on an understanding that heterosexuality is an absolutizing of sexual standards the Belhar Confession is unacceptable and incomplete.
And in fact just recently one of the fathers of the Belhar Confession attempted to use it to gain acceptance of the ordination of practicing gays and lesbians. The Banner  , the magazine published by the Christian Reformed Church in North America, reports that “Allan Boesak, a church leader and former anti-apartheid activist, presented a lengthy report on homosexual members to his church, the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa, at its general synod Oct. 2 (2008). He dramatically insisted that the church’s Belhar Confession demands the defense of the full rights of gay members.”
The Banner further reported that “Presenting this report to the synod, Boesak told delegates that the Belhar Confession demands that they move in this way. The Belhar, he said, was never meant to be just an anti-apartheid document, but a document against discrimination of all kinds.” While the synod in Africa rejected the committee’s report, it is unclear how the Confession would be understood among those in the PC(USA) who are pushing for the ordination of self-affirming gays and lesbians. The Declaration of Barmen is a much stronger and more faithful confession for the PC(USA).
FOG & missional ecclesiology
The article “Toward a Missional Polity: The PC(USA) as a Multicultural Denomination”, by Sharon Youngs, makes some good points about the church and its need to reach out to all cultures in the United States. Youngs’ article offers thoughts about ‘missional’ and multicultural polity. Her thoughts about multicultural churches are both practical and definitive.
For instance, Youngs quotes anthropologist Wade Davis’ description of ‘multicultural’: “The world in which you were born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you; they are unique manifestations of the human spirit.” Youngs, using a quote by Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the PC(USA), looks at practical ways of doing ministry to all cultures within the United States. That includes “welcoming them,” “celebrating their gifts,” and dealing with “difficult issues such as immigration policies and accessibility to education, employment, health care, and language.”
But this article is also about ‘missional polity’ and its connection to multiculturalism. Young lists some of the items that the PC(USA) is looking at that deals with multiculturalism. And this is where she connects missional polity with multiculturalism. Under ‘polity’ Youngs writes about the development of “a revised Form of Government.” She states that it is “to be more flexible in addressing realities of the twenty-first-century church, which includes immigrant pastors and fellowships.”
This leads to some thoughts and questions.
As I return home from my Presbyterian church I always pass the huge Salvation Army church and multi-purpose building. In this area of town and among those entering that building I see ethnic groups of every shade. I also see newer cars as well as people pushing grocery carts with all of their belongings inside. This is both diversity and multiculturalism. Both are natural to the Salvation Army for two reasons: They have never ceased to preach the good news of Jesus Christ’s redemptive death on the cross. They have never ceased to help the poor. It has nothing to do with the flexibility of a constitution; it has everything to do with mission as both proclamation and social outreach.
Missional polity is connected to multiculturalism because of evangelism and social outreach. But the needs of a multicultural church as well as the needs for a multicultural church hardly have any connection to FOG. Those churches both within our denomination and without that are reaching the immigrant communities have found their focus in the serious call of scripture to proclaim the saving work of Jesus Christ. Those churches which are growing by leaps and bounds in the Southern hemisphere are the ones lifting up the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
All members of the PC(USA) need to read and ask some serious questions about what we might be letting go of in the revised Form of Government. A serious question Sylvia Dooling, president of Voices of Orthodox Women, asks is, “Should our Constitution be so radically changed that it leads us to forget our past, and the ‘blood that’s on every page?’ She also wonders if we should, “for the sake of attempting to be a multicultural denomination, change everything to adapt to a vision rather than a reality?
In 1990 as I worked writing about various new religions and social cults, I kept seeing various racist items popping up in conservative religious articles and magazines. The editors and writers did not seem to know that they were using or referring to material produced by racists groups. So I began to do research on various racists hate groups in order to help those writing from a conservative view understand where such material was coming from. In 1992 “Identity A ‘Christian’ religion for white racists  ,” was published by Christian Research Journal.
As I finished up that article, I found, as did Vogt in her article above, that the picture in the book of Revelation of the multitude about the throne and before the lamb was a beautiful picture of what the church is and will be. From my article:
“Jesus Christ is God’s answer to racism. Paul admonishes the Galatians that they are to make no distinctions among those belonging to Christ; they are to be as one: “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:27-28). In the Book of Revelation, where Christ is pictured as both “the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah” and “a Lamb standing, as if slain,” the 24 Elders sing to His glory: “For Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. And thou hast made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth” (Rev. 5:9-10)”.