Challenging racial imbalances in the church

:A Little Less Vanilla, Please!
By Ronaldo SisonRonaldo Sison
New Wine, New Wineskins

God has given me a burden for Christ-centered ethnic diversity in the church and Christian institutions and organizations. The other day, I had the opportunity to discuss this topic with a leader in a Christian organization, and remarked how I have noticed that there is hardly any diversity in the leadership structure of her group and organization at any level.

“I noticed that for the past two years, the set of officers in your organization have been white Caucasian. There has been no ethnic diversity. Even with your incoming administration, every one is a white Caucasian. How do you suppose that affects the majority of the non-white people you represent?” She was candid, and honestly admitted how difficult it was to encourage other ethnicities, or those belonging to visible minorities, to run for office. I suggested that such encouragement must be deliberate, intentional and identity-driven.

Thus, we had an engaging conversation on how to really live out of the bubble that our churches, Christian institutions, and organizations often foster. We agreed that it was difficult for her to get into the world of the non-white Caucasians in her midst given that (1) they constitute less than 5% of the representative population (and therefore, I would add, are not beneficial to relate with as they are very few in number), (2) the staff in the organization has less than five non-white members (most of this staff’s exposure to multi-ethnicity would probably have been a feel-good two-week missionary visit to Africa,  Asia, South America, or anywhere not urban America).

Multi-ethnic involvement, not in a token condescension by the predominant white Caucasian race, but in a loving way of breaking down barriers between the modern-day Jew and Gentile divide of the Christian church, serves many purposes. First, it tells the world that the Jesus of the Gospel is not the white, blond blue-eyed, middle-aged, upper-middle class purveyor of Christianity. It further makes the statement that today’s Christocentric Church and Gospel are neither an adherent nor a promoter of the homogeneous unit principle of church growth. It tells us that today’s evangelicals have waged- and have won – the battle against the Balrogs of their existence.

When other ethnicities involved themselves in theo-political activities, such as taking on leadership positions, they demonstrate an integration of races and an acceptance, beyond token tolerance, of other cultures and ideas toward expressing the profound love of the Triune God. Such an integration of ethnicities forges a single, united church of God. Paul said that the undivided church, which includes the church being multiethnic, demonstrates and makes known to principalities, rulers and authorities “the manifold wisdom of God” (Eph. 3:10).

When other races, outside the predominant white (and now, black) race, are allowed to voice out their ideas, experiences and cultural differences within the purview of God’s love in the crucified and risen Christ, then this Jesus Gospel ceases to become a vanilla-flavored neo-colonization of the “barbarian” natives in Asian boondocks at the turn of the 20th century. It painfully addresses the evils of the Manifest Destiny annihilation of the true First Nations and natives of this land of the free, of this home of the brave.

Vanilla is said to be a bland flavor. It is supposedly tasteless and colorless, and provides for a racially and culturally neutral “background” color of our society. Or so, wrote one contributor to the Consuming Jesus blog. If it is so, then, we all must plead for a little less vanilla. A little less tastelessness, a little less colorlessness, because a little less neutrality in our society will take us quite far in the struggle for a more Christocentric engagement of theology in the culture of our day.

May we, with little less vanilla and more Dylan Thomas, not go silently into that good night. May we rather, in view of the compelling love of Jesus, rage, rage against the dying of the light!

MORITURI TE SALUTAMUS! (We, who are dying for Jesus, salute you!)

By Ronaldo SisonRonaldo Sison
New Wine, New Wineskins

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