I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.
On Bedloe’s Island in New York harbor the Statue of Liberty was unveiled on October 28, 1886. This huge work of art and engineering was a gift from the people of France to the people of the United States in commemoration of the alliance of 1778 between the two nations. On its base was inscribed these words:
GIVE ME YOUR TIRED, YOUR POOR, YOUR HUDDLED MASSES YEARNING TO BREATH FREE, THE WRETCHED REFUSE OF YOUR TEEMING SHORE, SEND THESE, THE HOMELESS, TEMPEST-TOSSED TO ME: I LIFT MY LAMP BESIDE THE GOLDEN DOOR.
Even though many refugees and immigrants seeking refuge in the United States have experienced something less than hospitality, the Statue of Liberty is a constant reminder that except for Native Americans, all of us are either immigrants or the descendants of immigrants. As someone said, “We may have come in different boats, but we’re in the same boat now.”
The fact is that this nation has been built by immigrants, originally both the involuntary African immigrants who soon became slaves and wave after wave of immigrants from Europe until the turn of the 20th century. With the new immigrants from Asia, the Hispanic world, the Caribbean and Africa, America is taking on a new face. The wealth, the freedom, the opportunities with which this nation is blessed is due in large part to the dreams and aspirations of people who from Colonial times to the present have come here from all over the world seeking the political and religious freedoms protected by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
We should be grateful for immigrants who have come to make this a better country even as they have sought a better life for themselves. We should be even more delighted that immigrants have found their way into the Church. Immigrants are renewing and reviving the Church. We want you recent immigrants to know that you are wanted, you are needed and you are included. You may not always feel that way but it is nevertheless true.
You are wanted because you are tangible evidence that the Church has been faithful to its mission as found in Matthew 28:19 - “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” Every year one million people from over 100 nations of the world come to the United States. To be a Great Commission Church we must include people from all the nations for whom America is home.
You are needed. Just as the wealth and prosperity of the nation has always been and continues to be dependent upon the contribution of immigrants, so the growth and vitality of the Church needs your passion and enthusiasm for the Gospel. Our mission is to reach the people from all nations for Christ. That can’t be done without your help.
You are included. I know that often immigrants are made to feel excluded, sometimes even in the church. Nevertheless, the “golden door” which welcomes you into the fellowship of the church is also open for your leadership. In the church there are no second-class citizens. The doors of the church are open for your full participation to develop the strategies and implement the plans to help the church achieve its mission to reach people from all the nations.
The motto of the United States is printed in Latin on all of our coins: “E Pluribus Unum”, which translates: out of many one. Historian Theodore White claimed that American is as much as an idea as it is a place.1 The idea of one new people out of many races, cultures and languages eventually was expressed as the American “melting pot”.
In an October 19, 1997, New York Magazine article, “New York’s Parallel Lives”, John Tierney wrote that: “The melting-pot metaphor has been around at least since 1782, when M.G. Jean de Crevecoeur, a naturalized New Yorker, declared, ‘Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men.’ In 1908, the metaphor became the title of a Broadway play in which a Russian deliriously happy to be in New York addresses a group of immigrants at Ellis Island: ‘A fig for your feuds and vendettas! German and Frenchman, Irishman and Englishman, Jews and Russians—into the crucible with you all.’ The play was an instant hit, but the reality outside the theater remains quite different. “The point about the melting pot is that it did not happen,” wrote Nathan Glazer and Daniel Patrick Moynihan in their classic 1963 study, ‘Beyond the Melting Pot.’”2
In the search for common ground, some have suggested that America is more like a stew pot, a salad bowl, a patchwork quilt or a rich mosaic in which each ethnic group retains its distinctiveness even while inter-connected to the larger society. Tierney claims that none of the metaphors work, at least not in New York where 100,000 immigrants come every year from over one hundred different countries further dividing and subdividing the country. Even though these different worlds may converge on the streets and in the work place, people who are virtual strangers to one another retreat into their separate worlds, living what Tierney describes as “parallel lives.” He could have been describing Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami or any number of other American neighborhoods and cities when he observed: “No other city has so many strangers from so many different worlds crowded into such a small space.”
Whatever our experience in America, we know of nothing—other than the unifying presence of “the God and Father of us all” as revealed in Jesus Christ our Lord—powerful enough to overcome our differences and make us one. The greatest threat to peace in our neighborhoods and around the world is the ethnic strife, much of it fueled by religious conflict. And yet we believe that the influence and presence of our faith can overcome those who use religious convictions to divide and conquer.
Our only hope of enjoying the American motto of a diverse people united into a new community is in the power of the Gospel. That leads me to another American ideal printed on all of our paper money: “In God We Trust”. What a strange place for such a claim. Most people trust in their money rather than God. Perhaps we are reminded whenever we spend a dollar that our life together can only be sustained if we trust in God.
To a diverse congregation of converts from all walks of life including religious Jews and pagan Gentiles, men and women, slaves and free people the Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:4ff, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.” In verse 4:3, these Ephesians, and we too are urged to bear “with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
However compelling the call for unity around the idea of the “United” States or the “United” Nations, there is little or no unity outside our faith in Christ. In our interracial congregation at the Community of Hope in Washington, D.C., I would often look over the African-Americans and whites in the congregation and realize that with all the racism and prejudice in American society that the only power strong enough to bring us and hold us together was our common faith in Christ.
We sometimes sing, testify and preach about “our God” or “my God”, as if God can be identified with our particular church or culture. But there is no white god, no black god, no American god or Hispanic god. There is no Nazarene god or Catholic or Jewish, or Islamic god. There is only “one God and Father of us all who is above all in through all and in all.” If we claim to be followers of Jesus then we are members of a family of faith with God as our Father.
I have a birth family and a belief or faith family. My birth family is quite small, parents, a brother and two sisters, children and grandchildren. But I also have a belief family, a family without boundaries. Through my belief family I am connected to brothers and sisters from every tribe and nation. We sing about this in the hymn, In Christ there is no East or West: “Join hands then brothers of the faith, whate’er your race may be; Who serves my Father as a son, is surely kin to me.”
The most exciting and fastest growing segment of the church is among minorities, especially immigrants. From boarder to boarder, coast to coast the Church includes more than English-speaking white congregations. You can now worship with Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanics, Haitians, Koreans, Filipinos, Samoans, Eritreans, Russians—all these and more.
We rejoice in and want to encourage the growth of all these different experiences in the Church and expressions of the Gospel. And yet our greatest witness will be that out of all these many cultures and languages we have become one. Not that we look alike, sound alike, think alike, or necessarily worship alike. In fact we come together to celebrate our differences and to share with one another how the Gospel resonates in our various cultures.
A Country of Strangers is the title of a recent book about blacks and whites in America.3 We are called upon to be more than a church of strangers. The Church now includes believers from more than 150 nations, with people from most of these nations in the United States. Out of many countries and cultures we are one in Christ.
by Tom Nees
1 Sam Roberts, Who We Are (New York: Time Books/Random House, 1994), 3.
2 John Tierney, “New York’s Parallel Lives”, The New York Times Magazine, October 19, 1997: p 53.
3 David Shipler, A Country of Strangers. (New York: Alfred A. Knoff, 1997)