Friday, August 18, 2006

The PCA: A Presbyterian Plantation?

I love the PCA. I really do. And having committed to it, I've committed to take on the problems inherent to it, whether theological (most notably) or sociological(less seen and/or acknowledged).

So I just gotta know if some non-Latino, non-black folks see it this way.

To show my hand (as if it wasn't clearly seen), the comments of this Latin PCA brother resonate with me but I want to check it against other perspectives. His conclusion is sober and pointed:

"Now if the PCA doesn't change this mindset the local PCA churches in global cities with high populations of blacks and Hispanics will fade away as is the case in Miami FL."

Professor Anthony Bradley of Covenant Seminary, discussing some of the reasons for this type of thinking, offers some provocative post comments:

"many 'white Christians' are asking questions like 'what can we do to get more Asians' in our church, instead of asking 'what can we do to get more involved in the lives of Asians and join their churches, and submit to Asian leadership.' It's the whole 'come to us' attitude 'cause it's better for you (Asians, Blacks, Hispanics, etc.) to be with us instead of the other way around."

Even if race issues make your eyes glaze over with apathy/disinterest, or if you're saying, 'here Mark goes again with race stuff', help a brotha out. I don't want to apply a hermeneutic of suspicion where a hermeneutic of trust should be applied.

(HT:Anthony Bradley)

10 comments:

Greg said...

Now here I can get right on board with you Mark. Not having an Hispanic Keynote speaker was porbably a huge oversight. Not only because of the perception that puts minorities in the 'mercy ministry' category, which is a valid complaint, but even moreso because it does not set the good example in a majority hispanic community like Miami, that leadership is something good to be aspired to by all men in the Church. Not having an Hispanic speaker to inspire those men was pretty short-sighted.

On the second half of your post, I can't really get on board with the comment you quoted from. The problem I have is should we really be asking "how can we get more Asians/Hispanics/Blacks/Mongolians in our church?" Should we not be asking how can we get more 'people' in our Church?
Of course there is a "join us" attitude - (i did not quote 'come to us' on purpose) - the gospel is about bringing others who are not IN the Church INTO the Church. It is not about taking Hispanics or Asains away from their Churches to join Anglo Churches, nor should it be about Anglos leaving their own fellowships to join others.
Christ still only sees two kinds of people in the world, and I'm still trying to figure out why we insist on seeing more.
We should make efforts to minister to everyone in our community. If our community is multi-ethnic, then asking how we can minister to and bring the gospel to particular group X and get them into the Church is a very VALID question to ask.

Mark Traphagen said...

The Bradley quote hits on something I've felt uncomfortable about for years, wondering if I'm inherently racist or if this is something I just shouldn't be worrying about.

I'll be honest and say that I've tried in the past to go to Black or Latino or Asian churches, but I know I could never feel at home there. The culture is just too different. Maybe it could only work if we de-emphasized music ministries in favor of very simple congregational singing and declamatory preaching styles in favor of teaching and sharing. Those two things seem to be the biggest culturally-tagged items in most worship services.

For now, in the real world, I think it's more important for churches from all the ethnic or cultural communities to strive to work together for the display of the gospel, rather than forcefeeding people into situations where they will always feel the outsider.

Mark Robinson said...

Thanks guys for your honest comments! I’m deeply appreciative. Most people seem to get scared by this type of discussion I think, let alone engage it authentically.

Let me offer some discursive ramblings in favor of considering the racial composition of a church, of thinking about ‘races’ and not just ‘persons’ if I may. This statement stings me: "90 percent of congregations are at least 90 percent one race". To my mind, this fact suggests that the Christian church, whatever else it is, is not less than racially/ethnically tribal. Empirically speaking, it says that race & ethnicity constitute as much a ground for inclusion in particular local churches as any other factor. We can look at that and say 'fine' I guess. But in light of increasing diversity in schools, neighborhoods, marriages, gov't, military etc., in the face of persistent monoethnicity in churches (still the most segregated hour of the week), many are provoked to ask, 'What's wrong with the church? If the 'mystery' of the gospel, (a la Eph 3:3, 9) is the bringing together into one body, Gentile and Jew (by extension gentile and gentile in our day) and the effect of the gospel mystery is to move us toward deep, self-donating one-anothering (regardless of race/class/gender), shall we be content to allow this mystery to play out at every level but the actual local church level? I’m inclined to answer in the negative. So, why talk about bringing other ‘races’ in to the church and not just ‘persons’? The working out of our new humanity within a new community demands a counter-cultural racial inclusion in the body. This inclusiveness, I would suggest, is more demonstrative within local assemblies than just between them. I am painfully aware of cultural clashing and can only say that patience, forbearance, and love have led to increasing oneness and unity with the racially ‘other’ in my life. I have a long way to go though. One can not be too prescriptive concerning exactly how this should look in every believer’s life of course. Callings are particular and varied. But at the global, north american ecclesiastical level - 90% of churches having 90% one race - is definitely not it wouldn’t you say? I don’t want to have an overly eschatological ecclesiology that insists on seeing the ‘not yet’ completely in the ‘already’. There are obviously limits and qualifications.

I suspect that the monolithic landscape is less a result of intentional exclusion (‘blacks are not welcome here!’) than the unintentional persistence of deeply formed patterns of social relating which we seldomly, self-consciously disrupt in the interest of inviting in the racially ‘other’. In fact, I rather suspect that most churches would welcome greater diversity, say they even want it, but do relatively little in the way of self-denying, discomforting social re-arrangement (again, in the interest of making room for the ‘other’) which might pave the way for inclusion. Would it look noticeably different within most churches if they were intentionally exclusive? 90% is A- grade de facto segregation (B+ at WTS ;-). So many things to say/discuss but I must get to bed. Please feel free to challenge this vigorously.

Greg said...

I dunno Mark. On the one hand I want to agree whole heartedly, that in order to achieve the mystery of the gospel, to bear it out, in a meaningful and practical way, then we should be actively trying to get every nation into our church.
On the other hand it smacks of a certain inauthenticity. Like I am checking off my race box when I "profile" (to use a culturally loaded term) someone in order to make a point to witness or invite or minister to.
I think that our churches should reflect the cultural and ethnic make-up of our communities, and if we are teaching our people to minister to the people in their neighborhood (sing Mr. Rogers here) - the people that they meet each day - then our churches should, at least marginally, reflect that make-up. And if the community is 90% one race, then its ok if the church is too. Of course, if the church is not reflecting the community, we have to ask why, and seek to rectify it - not to reach some kind of eschatological quota, but in the interest of having a true community and not a club or clique.
That being said - the situation where you have two or three reformed bodies of believers in the same "neighborhood" that are made up of different ethnic people should be avoided and repaired. A Black church and a white church on opposite sides of the street (insert any ethinicity of course) would actually be an affront to the gospel the two bodies claim to uphold.

Does my response seem like I am reading you correctly? (just want to be sure we are talking about the same things)

Mark Robinson said...

GREG: "Does my response seem like I am reading you correctly?"

MER: Largely, yes! writing being what it is, we are probably emphasizing/underemphasizing different things though.


GREG: "I dunno Mark. On the one hand I want to agree whole heartedly, that in order to achieve the mystery of the gospel, to bear it out, in a meaningful and practical way, then we should be actively trying to get every nation into our church.
On the other hand it smacks of a certain inauthenticity. Like I am checking off my race box when I "profile" (to use a culturally loaded term) someone in order to make a point to witness or invite or minister to."

MER: Race consciousness (or profiling :-) is not formulaic. to your own master you stand or fall on this matter. the church welcomes all and excludes none (intentionally or unintentionally). How you work this out will look differently in every place I suspect.

GREG: "I think that our churches should reflect the cultural and ethnic make-up of our communities, and if we are teaching our people to minister to the people in their neighborhood (sing Mr. Rogers here) - the people that they meet each day - then our churches should, at least marginally, reflect that make-up. And if the community is 90% one race, then its ok if the church is too."

MER: I couldn't agree more but aren't you 'profiling' at some level in taking note of the ethnic composition of the community vs. your church? Isn't this somewhat similar what missionaries do who target certain people groups?

GREG: "Of course, if the church is not reflecting the community, we have to ask why, and seek to rectify it - not to reach some kind of eschatological quota, but in the interest of having a true community and not a club or clique."

MER: Agreed. Churches should not be/are not ethnic tribes within culturally diverse communities.

GREG: "That being said - the situation where you have two or three reformed bodies of believers in the same "neighborhood" that are made up of different ethnic people should be avoided and repaired."

MER: at the risk of contradicting myself, I would suggest that language barriers may be a valid reason for temporary 'separate but equal' churches, especially in the absence of translators. no steadfast rules here. anywhere we draw the line of inclusion will will exclude someone. Perhaps direction (of the church) and perfection (absolute standard of racial makeup)is a good perspective to maintiain.

GREG: "A Black church and a white church on opposite sides of the street (insert any ethinicity of course) would actually be an affront to the gospel the two bodies claim to uphold."

MER: let the people of God say, "amen and amen!"

Melissa said...

Hi, I found your blog through The Foolish Sage.

Funny, I have been grappling with this issue in my own personal life. After becoming a mixed race family via adoption, we began to realize how "white" our little world was. A community as a whole may be diverse, with people working and doing business together, however the circles within that community are more segregated. We tend to hang out with people like ourselves. It takes a concious effort to break out of that. That is where we are, now. But we're finding it difficult to find the diversity we seek in our place of worship. It is difficult to balance the spiritual needs against these more social needs. We hope it's out there somewhere - a theologically strong church (reformed theology and a high view of scripture) that is also racially diverse.

Mark Robinson said...

Hi Melissa, Thanks for stopping by. If you tell me where you are looking for a church, maybe I can recommend something or get you in touch with someone who can. blessings, Mark

Melissa said...

Thanks Mark. My husband is attending a military academy at Ft. Bliss (El Paso) currently and we'll only be here about 10 months. Perhaps I'll check in with you when we know where we'll move next.
Melissa :-)

Mark Traphagen said...

Just wanted to break in here to say hi to our dear friends Melissa and Glen! We were in the same church in Charlottesville for several years. We'll be praying for you to find that church!

Melissa said...

Hi Mark T, and thanks for the prayers. We've found a place for where we are now - a Sovereign Grace church. The diversity pretty much matches up with the community, which has a very small percentage of African Americans (around 5%, I think).