I laid sleepless in my bed many times throughout my childhood and adult life, thinking of all the things I should have said out loud and done in moments of crisis the previous day. I’m often frozen when I need my words the most. Words have never come fast or easy for me, but mostly, they have rarely come on time.
Those sleepless nights were the result of abuse and trauma. However, I allowed the Lord to use those things to help me grow in understanding of the deeper, harder things in life. Although I am of European American descent, one of those most important things God has caused me to be involved in speaking to racial arrogance, especially in the Church.
What my European American family or ethnic culture didn’t teach me, my lived experiences as a military kid living abroad began to teach me at an early age. I experienced the goodness of people from all over the world. I learned their stories, their lives, their cultural ways . . . and because they were good, and kind, and loved Jesus too, I believed and loved them. This was a very fundamental foundation, a divine intervention that began equipping me for the Godly direction of the rest of my life.
As I was able to make my escape from the abuses that seemed to be my destiny, God made an opportunity for me to learn at deeper, more complex, more informed levels about myself and my neighbors around the world. But my childlike trust and love for people who didn’t look or live like my family simply was not enough to make much difference. I needed to grow up, learn, and be willing to overcome my own fears and discomfort to be faithful to God.
Many Christians insist upon staying in the childish simplicities of love and faith in Christ, or perhaps even in the childish understanding of our traumas. If we get our needs met, or we feel comfortable, we reciprocate with affection and name the other “friend.” If we get triggered or feel uncomfortable, we often blame it on the other person rather than our lack of maturity or recovery. We often hear it said, “let’s be united,” while the same people and organizations snuff out the voices of people who are telling us about the wedge between us. Anyone who has had a sustained healthy mature relationship understands that to love well, we must move beyond the simplicities of attraction and getting our own needs met to deeper, more skilled ways of loving beyond ourselves.
A mature person can accept and even appreciate the differences and gifts in another person, even if they are not our ways or gifts. A mature church is a diverse church. Diverse churches become culturally inclusive churches by appreciating and honoring more than one culture and its people. Cultures and the people within them reflect our Creator God. When God said, “Let us make humans in our own image” He put something divine of himself within each person who is an image-bearer. God expresses Himself through us all, His creation. This divine “image” given to every human is known in scripture as the Imago Dei (Latin for Image of God).
After the Tower of Babel, groups of people formed cultures based upon where on this earth they migrated and what was necessary to survive and thrive in that place. If we claim to love God, and if we seek to honor God, we must learn how to love and honor the people of all the diverse places and cultures of the world . . . but especially those in our own community. Jesus told the disciples to make disciples in all the world, but first in Jerusalem (their area), then to Judea (the circumference) . . . and so on. If we are to be faithful to the great commission, we must first learn to love and serve our diverse neighbors in our hometown.
A culturally homogenous church is immature, ignorant, and only able to speak to the needs of the people “like us.” An effective, Godly church has leaders of all the type of people represented in its demographic. Manipulators will try to silence our brothers and sisters of color when we hear them crying out for our concern and care. Manipulation is not of God. God is not a manipulator, nor should we be. We need to mature and be transformed into the image of Christ as he changes our childish, selfish ways of “like” into mature love that is effective and meaningful for others.
There is no room for arrogance, ethnocentricity, Eurocentricity, or other types of disregard for others in God’s kingdom. Plugging our ears is not Godly; it is childish. Let us grow up and be able to both listen then speak of our pressing concerns with true, mature deep, Godly love. We cannot be silent.