Churches Pursuing Ethnic Diversity
Pastor John recently led a Q&A with the students of Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia. Here’s a question from one student: “What are some struggles and hurdles that you feel the new Calvinist movement still needs to overcome in terms of racial harmony? Perhaps there are some struggles and hurdles that maybe aren’t being addressed yet or maybe aren’t being addressed aggressively enough? What are some of those struggles and hurdles that we need to move forward on?”
That is a good question. The new Calvinism — if it doesn’t have any borders to it in terms of separation from the old — is filled with people at every level of maturity. This means it is filled with people who are incredibly sensitive and discerning to the dynamics of racial relationships, and people who are stupid — absolutely ignorant and naïve and bumblers. We all can grow in our maturity in talking with other human beings like us and different from us.
So, there is room there to grow in the authentic, natural discernment of what makes another person feel honored in talking to you, not a project or a specimen. Right? “You are an Asian specimen” — I should know not to say that, right? I should not make you feel, “I know why he is talking to me in the dining hall. I am his project. I am his specimen.” Mature people will know how not to do that. And there are not easily definable features about a personality and about a strategy that make that happen. It is not like you are going to say, “Learn these five things, and you won’t ever make that mistake again and make people feel like projects.” That is a big deal.
Theology of Race
I would say we have a long way to go in a developing a pervasive theology of why race exists. Is interracial marriage biblical? Does God want various ethnicities in the same worshipping congregation, or is he okay with homogenous units? We are not all thinking about the theological, theoretical foundations of those questions, and we are not all up to speed on their answers.
One of my rationales for talking about it this morning was, as I said, “It is not spoken about too often in our churches.” Well, that is an understatement. I think this topic is not spoken about very much in the average evangelical church. No matter where you minister, it should figure pretty regularly into your preaching because it is one of those inalienable implications of the gospel whether you are in Dalbo, Minnesota surrounded for thirty miles on every side by Scandinavians or not. It doesn’t matter. These people should be global Scandinavians being taught a theology of multi-ethnicity and why the Bible has it in it. So, there is room to grow there.
The last thing I will mention is I think pastors should probably be more persuaded across the board and helped more than they are to be aggressively intentional in pursuing racial diversity and harmony. There are a lot of people who feel like if pastors become intentional, they are into artificiality and quotas. And you are certainly running that risk of that criticism. If you say, for example, “We need some color on this staff,” you may run into this question: “Okay, so you are going to give preference to color over white? Right now, you are into preferences?”
We have two African Americans on Bethlehem’s pastoral staff. And I got that very question because I wrote an article on why Bethlehem was pursuing racial diversity in its leadership. It was very controversial. Think about it: You are going to post a position and because of your network, 90 percent of them are going to be like you, 99 percent will be like you, maybe even 100 percent of them will be like you. Is that okay? That is all we have. Or are you going to go looking? Are you going to press? Are you going to work? Go outside your little zone here of a few million people? As soon as you do that, you are in trouble with some of your elders and with people who are saying, “This is so artificial. This is just absolutely phony. This is just so politically correct. This is just off the charts.”
So I wrote that article, and Kempton Turner, a young black youth leader in Texas, read it and was blown away positively by Bethlehem’s pursuit of racial diversity in its leadership. He made a connection with David Michael, who is in our family discipleship ministry and was in Texas on another issue. And they clicked so well that within about a year, Kempton was being interviewed for the youth position at Bethlehem. That happened because of intentionality. I wrote an article. This is why we are doing it and what we are doing. He happened to read that article, and now he is on staff and has been at Bethlehem for seven years. I love him to death. He is so unbelievably full of the Bible, full of the Holy Spirit.
I just love this quote to give you a flavor of how Kempton can communicate with these kids, 90 percent of whom are white. He was addressing the issue in a Baptist church — but it would be the same, I suppose, in an infant baptist church, or whatever you call it — that our kids are growing up — covenant kids — and they get saved at six, eight, ten years old and in our tradition, they get baptized at eleven, twelve, thirteen years old, and they never were on drugs, and they never were sleeping around, and so they think, “I don’t have any testimony.”
And Kempton said, “There are no boring resurrections from the dead.” And, of course, they don’t know what he is talking about. You have all been raised from the dead. And then he has to unpack a reformed view of regeneration. That is true. There are no boring resurrections from the dead. If a kid knows how he got saved, whether at three, five, or whatever, he has got a stunning story to tell about being raised from the dead. I am just saying that because I thank God for Kempton Turner, who happens to be a little bit of color on our staff because of some intentionality.
So my point there is this: We need to help pastors believe in mature, sensitive, wise, biblically-grounded, intentional pursuit of diversity.