We all know America is changing…
Over Christmas break I took my W.A.S.P (white anglo-saxon protestant) blond children to the local outlet mall in the east bay area of northern California. Besides my children, I think we counted about three blond heads in a room of about 300 people. This is in an area of the country where the average rental goes for about $3,000 per month, depending on family size.
America’s demographics are changing rapidly, not just in coastal areas, major cities, or big ports. They are changing where you live.
Aurora, CO is generally middle class suburbia. It has well over 350,000 now, many of which are non-white. I spent my high school years there in a mostly “white” little church while the government allocated scores of immigrants into the community where you will frequently see diversity rivaling a major city center. You’ll see Russian, Hispanic, African-American, Bhutanese, Chinese, Filipino – you name it. Over ninety languages are spoken in the public schools. Middle class suburban cities across America are now becoming globally cosmopolitan places.
Increasingly in our world, simply mentioning the word “immigration” causes blood pressure to rise. My purpose is not to address illegal immigrants or argue for increased citizenship standards. Rather, I want us to think broadly on the subject of race.
Let’s step back a moment. We know God loves people. All kinds of people. In Revelation chapter five a new song was sung about what Jesus accomplished for vastly different kinds of people; “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” The reality is, it’s hard to love people that are different than us. God’s diversity, revealed in His own trinitarian nature and His creation, is really too much for us to handle sometimes. He’s more creative than we are. God has made many, many very different types of people. God loves people.
We often resent change in our communities. We may not appreciate the lifestyle of those now living in “our” place, and we generally like people who are like us. For the first time many white people, depending on where they live, are actually experiencing what it’s like to be in the minority. This is where white folks will be tested. How will they handle their turn as the minority?
I am a principal of a school here in California. As part of our screening process for families applying to the school we call their references. I called one, a certain children’s minister at a church that had a slightly charismatic sounding name. In the process of conversation about the Korean American family applying for my school, I learned that their church was PCA affiliated. I inquired more. I came to learn that this was a Korean speaking church in the Presbyterian Church of America with at least 300, and multiple services. What?! There’s a PCA church in my backyard, and I haven’t heard about it? Why haven’t I heard of it? I am new to the community but it prompts a question that should be asked of all of us: Why don’t we notice what God is doing among non-white evangelicals? And guess who tends to host some of the largest conferences and assemblies in the PCA? A largely Korean American congregation in the Los Angeles area. Yes, the face of America is changing, including the evangelical face.
While many older, mostly white churches are slowly dying across America many ethnically different, non-white churches are flourishing.
What is our response? We should be disappointed that Christianity is lagging among some mostly white contexts. But we should also rejoice … and support those immigrant and second generation multi-ethnic congregations that are thriving. Even better, we should be intentional about mixing our lives with them. Churches that are ingrown and mono-race are never ideal, be they white, black, or Asian. I understand why churches tend to become this way. We tend to group together with people like ourselves. However, I would hope that we would strive for a church that is colorful and in order to get anywhere close to this, we must begin to study other people groups. How do you study people? We love – by personal investment.
Will we entertain a passive and latent racism towards these different neighbors? Will we adapt to what God is doing among us? Let’s be clear: racism is evil. The greatest amount of racism I’ve ever witnessed has actually been from non-whites. Racism is a deep contradiction of the gospel wherever it is found. The sword cuts both ways
In our cultural climate we face pressure to accept everyone–i.e., to approve of them, even if it’s a foolish lifestyle that has nothing to do with race. We’re tempted to be reactionary. It’s important to remember though, amidst the spin, that the Bible has a fair amount to say about the “immigrant,” or the stranger among us. Here are just two places:
“You shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Ex. 23:9).
“The people of the land have practiced oppression and committed robbery, and they have wronged the poor and needy and have oppressed the sojourner without justice” (Ez. 22:29).
I would encourage us to move towards people that are different. Place yourself in some community club or sport that reflects various “shades” and begin with talk and kindness. It’s not going to be easy. There are many forces at work and long bridges to cross for mutual understanding and common ground. Nevertheless, just simple conversations with the same people over time, a little here, a little there, can open up opportunities for feasting together, learning together, enjoying life together.
How will you roll with this new America? Remember, God loves diversity, of the biblical kind, we should too.