As the nation heads toward a "majority minority" population, Soong-Chan Rah argues that the evangelical church will get there faster—and has a chance to be ahead of the curve in modeling a multicultural community. His new book, Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church, offers some thoughts about what a multi-ethnic church can look like.
At what point does a church deserve to be called a multi-ethnic church instead of a monocultural church with some outsider members?
I think the strict sociological definition is 80 percent of one culture or ethnicity and 20 percent of another. I think that tends to be a little bit too generous, because even with 20 percent of another ethnic group, the dominant culture can still be dictated by the 80 percent. That's what I'm trying to get at in the book, that it really is more about ethos, it really is more about the larger sense of what is happening in the church. If you have many different cultures but one culture dominates, I would hesitate to call that a multicultural church.
So it's more a matter of mentality than numbers.
Mentality, attitude, approach. Multiethnic congregations have the sense of, "We are a church that is not only numerically diverse or demographically diverse, but also culturally diverse. We know how to appreciate different cultures that are a part of our church rather than [having] one group that dominates how business is done, how meetings are conducted, how worship is conducted."
What are some ways that multiethnic congregations could defuse situations where factionalism has split the church along cultural lines?
The cultural mix is going to be different from place to place. If we have answers for a church that is half white/half black, and we apply those same principles to a church that is half white/half Asian, then we're probably going to end up with a different answer and equation altogether. That's why I'm really advocating for cultural intelligence, an ability to understand how multiple cultures operate in multiple cultural contexts. It is not so much [about] the specific ways we handle conflict. It really is understanding how one group understands it and the other understands it. How do all these different groups interact with one another? Because that's also a different dynamic on top of that.
Different cultures can place different emphases on certain sins. How does a multiethnic congregation deal with sins in the body if diverse cultural groups have different feelings regarding their relative gravity?
I don't think there's a relativism when it comes to sin. Whatever goes against the will of God is a sin. In a multicultural context, people are coming from different angles on this. It doesn't mean that one is more right or less right than the other. It just means that we are now given an opportunity to have an insight into areas of sin that our cultural blinders might not have allowed us to see. It's not to say, "You're right, I'm wrong; I'm right, you're wrong." It really is to say, "What are we learning from each other?" We have an understanding of who God is, the way he deals with sin, from these multicultural contexts, and that's actually very positive. That's a gift that God gives to us here in the United States. We're challenged to see things in ways that we have not been able to see them in the past.