Catching a new vision of multiculturalism

Three competing views of multiethnicity in the U.S. vie for our attention, and all of them fall short of the goal. But there is another way.

Rev. Dr. James Choung

In the U.S., I think we have three different visions of multiethnicity.

The ideal many people embrace—particularly in majority culture—is of the “great American melting pot,” where we downplay our ethnic identity. We’re all American. If we just downplay our ethnic identity, and express our common identity instead, then we could be united.

Sometimes, this view seeps into our churches. If we stop bringing up our differences, and emphasize our unity in Jesus, then we’ll be fine. Let’s all just get along. But we’re not just getting along.

Then, there’s the “separate but equal” vision of multiethnicity. That’s where we emphasize diversity, downplay unity, and say: Just give us the same access, rights and privileges, but let us do our own thing. We don’t need to be in the same spaces; we just want to have equal standing. It’s what they’ve tried in Canada and Europe under a multicultural banner, but that’s struggling, too.

This is God’s kingdom: every ethnicity, nation, tribe and people present at the throne. And because they are in heaven, culture and ethnicity must be good and intended. They should not be erased but affirmed.

In recent times a third view has arisen: “Make America great again.” For many ethnic minorities, the idea again is problematic: When was America great for us?

With three competing versions, which should the church embrace? We might ask: But isn’t God colorblind? Doesn’t he say in Galatians 3:28 that there is “neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female” (NIV)?

But in Revelation 7:9, heaven contains a multitude from every nation, tribe, people and tongue. Here, the word “nation” comes from the Greek ethnos, where we get the word “ethnicity.” This is God’s kingdom: every ethnicity, nation, tribe and people present at the throne. And because they are in heaven, culture and ethnicity must be good and intended. They should not be erased but affirmed.

Still, our primary identity is in Christ. As 2 Corinthians 5:17 teaches, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. Because of this, reconciliation is possible. Galatians 3:28 is there to remind us that, although we have a diversity of ethnic identities, we are still one in Christ Jesus.

Given this, let’s avoid these three competing visions for multiculturalism. What if we looked at ourselves as a “world-class symphony,” where every part is valued and encouraged, where we work together instead of each doing our own thing? Where we are encouraged to succeed and grow. Where we have many parts—but still, together, make beautiful music.

This article is adapted from Rev. Dr. James Choung’s message during the Foursquare cabinet meetings last spring.

is vice president of strategy and innovation at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA.
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