Race, Diversity, Jesus, and You
Before I get serious, I said that I would share what I learned about shindigs.
Thanks to Google, I discovered that besides being a “large, lively party, especially one celebrating something” (Oxford Languages), it has its roots in a Scottish game like hockey called, “shinty” (etymonline.com). There might not be much to celebrate right now when it comes to the Kraken, but there is plenty to celebrate when it comes to just being together.
So, grab your mask and come make new friends… catch up with old ones… and let’s have some boot scootin’ fun!
I also learned that ‘merrymaking’ happens at shindigs… I’m not sure what that all will entail - but it sounds like a whole lot of fun!
Alright, onto the rest of this week’s post.
In honor of MLK Day 2022 coupled with my conviction that racial diversity is close to God’s heart, I want to share some of my thoughts about how we as a church can become more racially diverse (like our local community). At the end of the post, I will offer a few ways for each of us to help shatter the status quo and better engage our neighbors and new ways of living.
Here’s the truth: we live in an increasingly racially diverse community.
According to US News and World Report, the student body served by Franklin Pierce School District is 31% White, 30.5% Hispanic/Latino, 15.8% multi-racial, 13% Asian or Asian/Pacific Islander, American Indian, or Alaska Native, and 9.7% Black. Now, those stats are from 2017 or so, but I'm guessing we're just as diverse - if not more, today.
I’ve often thought about how can a larger church like Our Savior be so homogeneous while immersed in such a beautiful multi-racial community. If you're interested to hear where I'm at with this, I’m happy to grab lunch or coffee with you sometime. My treat.
At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what I think. Regardless of how we got here, there are ways we can work together to become more racially diverse like our local community.
Thought #1: Becoming a more racially diverse church is about Jesus, not politics.
Considering today’s talking points on the right and left sides of the aisle, it’s easy to hold racial diversity hostage in the prison of politics. Simply put, politics divide people. And because race and diversity has been in the political hopper for quite some time, I understand how the lines get blurred.
We must remember that for a Jesus follower, racial diversity is a matter of the heart and mission of Jesus. Jesus’ heart is for all people. Jesus’ mission is to go into all of the world (Mark 16:15) and to every nation (Matthew 28:19-20) to be and share the good news of freedom and salvation. The mission of God has always been and will always be for every culture, class, and race. The gospel, which is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16-17), is the hope of the world - not politics. And, as Jesus’ partners on His mission to gather all people back to His heart, we desire to see a racially diverse church.
If our practice of pursuing racial diversity (or not) as a church becomes more about a political alignment than about Jesus, we have lost the gospel.
Bottom Line: Keep Jesus in the center of “why” we want to become more racially diverse as a church. . . and let the news networks fight about the politics of race.
Keep Jesus in the center of “why” we want to become more racially diverse as a church. . . and let the news networks fight about the politics of race.
Thought #2: We can grow in our racial diversity by considering racial distinctions.
Sometimes… okay, maybe most of the time, how we do church is tied to our stories.
Jack Miezrow in his capstone book, Transformative Dimensions of Adult Learning says that we are all caught up in our own histories. This is true as both individuals and institutions. As a person, what I find valuable in my past is what I continue to do in the present and plan to continue doing in the future. The same is true with a church.
Historically, much of Lutheran tradition goes through Germany or Scandinavia (Norway or Sweden). It's not bad. . . it just does. I mean, after all, Martin Luther was European. It wasn't like he had a choice in choosing his race or ethnicity.
At the same time, racial identity and idolized ethnic pride has caused some tensions over the years - especially in the land of the free and home of the brave. For example, in 1911, Lutheran churches divided over whether to begin worshiping in English which gave rise to the “English District”. In the midwest, several churches celebrate Oktoberfest, a German fall festival featuring beer while their neighbors spoke Spanish, Hindi, and Mandarin. In communities rooted in Nordic traditions, Lutherans continue to share Lutefisk dinners around the Christmas holiday while Somolians, Ethiopians, and Afgans became the dominant population.
My point is that tradition is often times grounded in racial and ethnic distinctions. And while tradition is certainly not a bad thing, it's easy to forget that in a multi-racial community, one people group doesn't own the block on tradition. The goal must become creating equity and promoting equality when it comes to understanding and celebrating cultural traditions and dare enough to create new traditions together where all races and ethnicities can embrace something new and different, yet intrinsically familiar to everybody... which takes hard work, a lot of faux pas, a ton of vulnerability, and a whole lot of time. This doesn't happen in a year or two... it happens over decades and generations.
Reflecting on our own traditions makes me think about the role tradition plays in the ministry of Jesus. It seems to me that tradition for tradition's sake is not helpful; however, tradition that helps people see less of us and more of Jesus is much more valuable.
I remember hearing about a church who wanted to reach their growing Latinx community. So, they decided to post flyers around the neighborhood inviting their neighbors to an Oktoberfest complete with beer, brats, a polka band, and the chicken dance.
They wondered why nobody showed up.
Christmas (an entire season of tradition!) reminds us that Jesus came and "tabernacled" among us. Jesus surrendered his heavenly home to step into a foreign and different way of life. He learned what it meant to be human and at the cross and empty tomb, Jesus brings equity and equality between God and His creation.
Philippians 2 describes the Jesus way as one of surrendering our way or traditions and lifting up others’ for the sake of our shared unity with God through Jesus.
Reflection Question: What traditions does our community celebrate that may not look like ours? How can we learn about and be present with them in their celebrations?
What traditions does our community celebrate that may not look like ours? How can we learn about and be present with them in their celebrations?
Thought #3: Increasing racial diversity begins outside of the worship service.
I used to think the ultimate expression of racial diversity and unity was a worship service.
You may have had similar thoughts of every race, class, and language in the same room singing the same songs worshiping the same God in the same ways.
Then in 2012, I was introduced to a new principle (which is really an ancient one):
What happens in the home is celebrated in the worship gathering and what is celebrated in the worship gathering happens in the home.
That is to say that if we want to grow in our home prayer life, model it in church. If we want people to grow in praying with others in church/public, then grow our personal prayer lives at home.
I believe the same principle is true when it comes to racial diversity. If we want to see a more racially diverse worshiping body, then let’s become more racially diverse in our weekly lives outside of worship. And if we want to become more racially diverse where we live, work, and play, let’s find a place where we can gather with other people groups at least once a week.
Think About This: Where can you go in your local community that is already racially diverse?
Where can you go in your local community that is already racially diverse?
And now, as promised, here are three ways you can help shatter the status quo and better engage our neighbors and new ways of living.
How else can you engage your racially diverse community? Drop me an email and let me know.
Meet Pastor Tim
Tim Bayer has served as Our Savior's Lead Pastor since September 2019. He also serves as an Adjunct Instructor at Concordia University - Irvine, a National Leadership Facilitator and Resource, and a Community Mental Health First Aid Instructor. Tim studied sociology, psychology, and theology prior to earning his M.Div at Concordia Seminary - St. Louis. He has also is a candidate for an Ed.D (ABD) in Transformational Leadership. He is married to Beth and they have three young children. Together, they enjoy exploring the outdoors, experiencing culture, and pizza and movie nights.