In his book Seven Deadly Spirits: The Message of Revelation’s Letters for Today’s Church, Pastor Scott Daniels observes that by 2050, only half of the American population will be Caucasian. He then laments that “there are many in the Church who find the increasing diversity of the culture to be an insurmountable threat to the growth and vitality of the Church. It is painful to confess that the Church in North America remains the nation’s main segregated institution.”
Indeed, the lack of diversity is very visible across churches in the U.S. It is not only true of Caucasian and English-speaking churches, but it is true of most churches speaking other languages. Most of the Asian churches I know are homogenous. I used to argue that homogenous churches are necessary and essential for reaching out to the immigrant communities. Most immigrant communities struggle to assimilate with the mainstream due to challenges in understanding a new language and culture. Immigrants are easily lost in the sea of change, as they move from their home countries to their new adopted homes; while their school age children pick up the language and culture of their adopted country at a much faster pace. This tension is scary for many. The immigrants had built up their social network and sphere of influence at home, but when they moved to the new adopted country, they gave up all of that. Even if they left a war-torn or poverty stricken country for the comfort, security, and opportunities of a country like the U.S., the barriers they have to overcome and the humiliation they suffer are sometimes beyond description.
Consequently, the Church and other ethnic associations provide a much needed reprieve for these immigrants. They can reminisce about the good and not so good, old days in a very familiar environment. Unfortunately, many ethnic churches become a citadel to guard against cultural assimilation. However, they are a safe haven for immigrants to fend off the apparent, inevitable onslaught of the new culture.
The advantage we have as a Church to reach immigrant populations with the gospel, often becomes a stumbling block for the followers of Jesus, as they are challenged to demonstrate how the love of Christ can help us transcend our cultural and language differences.
In cities like Los Angeles where the minorities have become the majority, English-speaking churches also provide an enclave where we only have to face the familiar: from people, language, music, to worship style. On Sunday morning, we do not have to worry about repeating the experience when we walk into a shop where the store clerk does not speak English or sells products we have not seen.
German sociologist Ulrich Beck coined the term “world risk society” to describe how societies mitigate the change as they face modernity. The Church should be in the risk-taking business for the sake of the Kingdom, reaching across cultural and racial aisles. Pastor Daniels continues in his book, “The church will have the choice to retrench in a spirit of fear or view these challenges … as open doors and opportunities to move in new and unique ways.”
The Church should open her door to people of all races, languages, and background. As Pastor Daniels argues, “Not only because it is a pragmatic method for survival, but also because it is an amazing opportunity to truly become the Pentecostal church.” This Church should be characterized not by the differences in nationalities, social position or sex, but by their distance from God and degree of response to Him.
As PazNaz continues to serve Pasadena, the San Gabriel Valley, and the Los Angeles Basin, it also remembers that God has called the Church to go to the nations, even as the nations have landed in our neighborhood. The Church serves an impartial God. The challenge to all congregations is to step out of their comfort zone to demonstrate to the community that in Christ, there is “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female” (Gal. 3:28).
PazNaz has been providing the platform for this to happen. Easter is a good example. The joint baptismal service reminds the attendees that the Church is for everyone. Eggstravaganza provides opportunities for members of all congregations to come and share. It is a very good starting point. Let’s continue to come together to celebrate our unity in diversity.