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Where the Nations Meet: The Church in a Multicultural World

by Stephen A. Rhodes

Buy the book: Stephen A. Rhodes. Where the Nations Meet: The Church in a Multicultural World

Release Date: May, 1998

Edition: Paperback


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Buy the book: Stephen A. Rhodes. Where the Nations Meet: The Church in a Multicultural World


Stephen Rhodes is to be commended on his contribution to the doctrine of the church. The church should have an open door policy to any person walking in looking for spiritual guidance. I recommend his book. That said, Pastor Rhodes needs to understand that there is a place for homogeneous churches. People can embrace and celebrate their own culture and use it as a means to reach out to those in their culture, or those interested, who are without Christ.

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Worthwhile, but too down on ethnically-focused churches

This is a good book, and I recommend it to all seeking a deeper understanding of the multicultural opportunities and challenges facing churches. Pastor Rhodes and Culmore United Methodist Church have been on a remarkable and inspiring journey, and their story is well told here.

However, one theme really bothered me: the quite negative portrayal of ethnically-focused churches (i.e., churches composed mostly of a single ethnic minority). I'm sure some such churches indeed exist out of a hostile rejection of the common culture (32-33); or out of a Balkanizing, defensive belief that their ethnic subculture is necessary, sufficient, and indeed superior (44-46, 76). I'm sure some such churches are engaged in conformity to a prepackaged cultural identity, closing themselves to the new identity in Christ that God wants to give them, including the non-negotiable call to racial reconciliation (32, 53, 112). But how can all ethnically-focused churches be painted with such a broad brush, and in a way that implies that only ethnic-minority churches are characteristically beset by such sins?

(The Michael Lind quote [32] especially bothers me. It's not as if only members of American racial minorities who embrace minority ethnic identities and worldviews are the ones trapped by cultural conformity. What about white [and non-white] Americans carried away by the American majority culture of nationalism/consumerism/capitalism? Or, what about anyone who embraces a politically-correct multiculturalism that embraces and affirms everything without subjecting any of it to the lordship of Christ? Lind singles out the subcultures of non-white immigrants as the locus of "abject conformity" and fails to see that same abject conformity in people pursuing "generic American identity" [meaning what? white American identity?].)

While Culmore is truly both multiracial and multicultural, it seems to nevertheless have certain cultural affinity strands: the experience of recent immigration for many (and in the context of the big expatriate population in the D.C. area), enough assimilation to worship mostly in English, and the ethnic affinity fellowships. Which is to say, it seems to me that EVERY church has a particular culture of some kind. Like good restaurants, churches need to welcome everyone--but also specialize in SOMETHING, and to be clear about what that something is.

Let's try it this way: imagine if Culmore had started off not as a mostly-white church but as one of its non-white ethnic affinity fellowships. Imagine further that the affinity was not based on an immigrant culture but rather the emergent, tensive, ambiguous, bicultural experience of 1.5-3.0 generation Asian-Americans. Imagine further that these folks don't yet have much of a grasp of their own identity or story, don't have a distinct "voice" with which to worship (no music, preaching style, or prayer tradition they can call their own), haven't yet worked through a Christian critique of their subculture, don't have a clear picture of what it would look like for people of their background to be fully committed disciples of Jesus, and don't have many church leaders who look like them. Imagine that you yourself have that same emergent, tensive, ambiguous, bicultural background, instead of the deeply and clearly felt sense of, say, being Appalachian that Pastor Rhodes has. And imagine that 95% or so of the larger population folks with this background in the surrounding community-upwards of 100,000 folks within driving distance--are non-Christians, with only a few scattered churches nearby making any special effort to reach them.

Don't you think that such a group might rightly need to concentrate on effectively cultivating their own distinct (sub)cultural flavor of spirituality, worship, and evangelism before they'd be ready to move on to become a cross-cultural community? In a sense, to work on racial reconciliation to THEMSELVES before their fully ready to be reconciled to anyone else? And all without any posturing about rejecting the common culture or being ultimately culturally self-sufficient, or selling out to the subculture without subjecting it to the Lordship of Christ? This is exactly where we see ourselves at my church (New Life Christian Fellowship, Castro Valley, California).

And so I appreciate Pastor Rhodes and the beautiful thing God is doing at Culmore; but I wish this book acknowledged other ways (including ways that are more monocultural for now) of contributing to the overall goal of "making disciples of all nations/peoples."

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