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Race, Diversity, and the Church

RZIM’s most recent e-letter shared a link to Ask Away’s episode “Race, Diversity, and the Church.” This episode was from January 9, 2019, but its relevance is undiminished. Vince and Jo Vitale were joined by Lisa Fields, founder of the Jude 3 Project, to discuss the following questions:

  • Is Christianity a white man’s religion?
  • What did Jesus say about reconciliation?
  • How do racial conversations differ between the secular and the religious?
  • Does every church need to be multi-ethnic in order to celebrate diversity?

Jo Vitale also joined Lisa Fields twice on the Jude 3 Project podcast linked below.

What aspect of this podcast spoke to your heart? How can we pursue reconciliation in all our relationships–family, friends, and interracial relationships?

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You know this is such an timely conversation to have. I was in leadership in an interdenominational Bible study for years, and I remember looking out at our leadership and our class members and thinking, “This is what Heaven will look like.” It was ladies from all different neighborhoods, churches, ethnicity, even nations we all gathered to discuss the Bible. It remains one of my favorite places of all time. Seeing the Holy Spirit bring unity in diversity and knowing when we looked at each other that each beautiful one possesses the appointments the Lord has given us can be a reminder that we are called to bring Him glory in our appointments.

I think it’s so easy to condemn a lack of diversity in our local churches, but I really like Lisa’s point that our churches reflect our neighborhoods/communities. We could get caught up in denominational or cultural differences. But we should revel in the beauty and freedom we’ve been given to express our worship and our community in God while remaining faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Whether I worship in Anytown, USA or a remote village in Mongolia, the Lord remains the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. His gospel and commitment to His creation and the value of all humankind is never diminished.

We see so much real life expressed in the Bible, and it’s all there for us to use it as a mirror. Even Jesus dealt with bigotry:

Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.

“Come and see,” said Philip. John 1:45-46

Philip has the perfect answer, “Come and see.”

Indeed, I pray we all “come and see” how good the Lord is and how valuable and precious each is through His eyes.

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April, that’s a wonderful perspective. Thank you for picturing for us the beautiful work God is doing in the church. Sometimes we get so weighed down by the evil around us that we miss the good God is doing

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As you and Lisa point out, it is indeed true that our churches reflect or neighborhoods/communities. Unfortunately, I’m sure most of can share a story that we’ve either read about or personally experienced where a person from one racial/ethnic community attempts to join a church in another racial/ethnic community, only to be told directly–or shown indirectly–that they would be happier/more fulfilled/more comfortable, etc. if they would worship in a congregation with like members. Is it perhaps the informality of a Bible study that makes it easier for diverse Christians to meet together? If so, then perhaps it’s time for the Sunday service to take its worship cues from Wednesday evening!

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Deborah, it breaks my heart when churches behave so sinfully. I am sorry.

Your comment about making the Sunday service more like Wednesday night is giving me a lot to think about. Do you think the entertainment culture we have embraced on Sunday mornings is killing our churches? If we try to draw people in with a perfect praise band and fun activities for the kids, we nurture an attitude of loving ourselves more than God. Are we not loving our brothers and sisters well because we haven’t first loved God (Matthew 22:36-39)?

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Deborah,

Is it perhaps the informality of a Bible study that makes it easier for diverse Christians to meet together?

This is such a good question! Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
So I have to ask: What changes from informal Bible study to church building/body?
(I felt rather unwelcomed when I attended a funeral in a church that was primarily another race.)

How powerful is it when we keep our eyes on the Word rather than the label?

I think this is where we need to have dialog and conversations because this does not necessarily have one solution. There is no denying that the church has failed to be all the Lord called it to. I had a conversation with a class member once and she happened to tell me she drove a great distance to attend an AME church, and it didn’t occur to me to ask and listen to what motivated her to go to such length to attend a small, distant church. At the time I assumed she was like the rest of us who are prone to seeking our comfort zone.

It’s a very complex problem because each individual is held accountable for his/her heart issue, and the church should be the first place to shut down any attitudes of segregation by race or culture while still maintaining dignity and expression of the race and culture. But I have observed significant disdain between denominations too. I suppose it’s because the church is filled with broken people because that is who we are.

I think a starting point of conquering this issue is on an individual level. Examining ourselves for biases, as members of the Lord’s church, and using the greatest offensive weapons God has given His people: Prayer, forgiveness and grace.

I have also in the last few years begun to identify my own attitudes that allow me to assume and then criticize another person’s motives or their thoughts. This self examination takes daily practice, and is not something I’ve perfected! Praise God I am not able to read minds and thereby know motives! I’m glad because this causes me to try to have conversation and discover the person behind the action. We are such complicated beings…If they don’t want to engage, still practice prayer, forgiveness and grace!

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Colossians 1:19-20

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Speaking of " every church " as being perfect spiritually undefiled vessels, and thus the perfect platforms for exhibiting " diversity" is a false premise to begin with and falls short in taking into account that the scripture clearly points out that some churches qualify as being the " Synagogue of Satan “.
Recognizing this biblical fact first is useful in that it illustrates that the promotion of such false presumptions is part and parcel what got us to this point to begin with .
For me much more useful in the promotion of " Diversity” is instead of numbering the varying chromatic makeup of the bodies inside any one church is counting the increasing number of shuttered up and abandoned churches with no bodies in them of whatever color, along with the dwindling number of bodies in the churches currently barely hanging on .
I consider the increasing throwing off of God by society to be much more directly related to the increasing issues of " diversity “.
The trendy focus of breaking down the " diversity " within the dwindling & dying churches to be a superficial bait and switch at the heart of which is the desire to please the world rather than God .
" The church in thy house…” ( Phm 1:2 )

Michael, was this implied in the podcast, or is it a view that you’re encountering with friends and colleagues? I’ve listened to many things on this topic lately, so I can’t recall exactly what was said in this podcast.

Thank You Jennifer,
I was answering according to implied nature of " every church " in one of the OP questions :

" Does every church need to be multi-ethnic in order to celebrate diversity "

: It is a pretty common theme so I assumed that it was included in the podcast .
I will look at it in it’s entirety and get back with you .
I will say that at just a glance I have already discovered another common false narrative that I have debunked through historical legislative documents on another thread just a couple of weeks ago , this notion that slaves were instructed in the written word concerning biblical instructions pertaining to them.
This would actually have been a crime on behalf of the slave owner to read from a written book, the bible, to slaves thereby promoting their curiosity in reading and writing further.
Let alone looking into the writings of God who has promised to make all who come to Him, even slaves, FREE indeed .
And whose promises cannot fail .
I will read the rest of the pod cast and get back to your question.
God Bless+ Mike

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Jennifer
I have read the entire transcript .
I believe that true diversity can only come from looking inward at the heart .
The heart of every person is the same color, and God looks at our hearts not our skin.
For me I am made uncomfortable by the obsession over the outward person , the color of their skin .
This obsessive looking at the skin and identifying, classifying people according to color what percentages of color can be recruited is an anti-biblical perspective that led to the form of slavery we had in this country in the first place .
Reading the various themes in the podcast I began thinking what was it about some of these themes of emphasizing inclusiveness according to skin color within a church that made me uncomfortable and then it hit me .
I was 16 years old in 1978 and clearly remember almost in the way people remember where they were when President Kennedy was shot, sitting in my grandfathers car in stunned sorrow at the news being broadcast of the mass suicide of Jim Jones Jonestown, almost pleading with my grandfather to explain how such horror could happen.
He really had no answer for me .
As a teenager I became intensely interested in finding out how such a horrific thing could happen .
That is how I found out that Jim Jones chief snare for establishing what at it’s beginnings was featured in major news outlets as being the most " racially diversified " church in the United States :
In a bragging way no less

,https://www.aaihs.org/black-women-and-the-peoples-temple-in-jonestown/

This obsession with the outward person was Jones’s # 1 method for recruitment into his " Christian " church.
it may be just me and the experience of Jonestown, but for me, & not just in this podcast, but in these most recent times in general how many of these themes of correcting racial issues are the exact same the ones utilized by someone obviously controlled by the demonic , in conjunction with God’s Word .
I just don’t believe we can ever produce God’s Blessing by means of looking upon the image of skin color and improved spiritual status to it .
For me it detracts from God alone, and it has become almost idolatry today .
The only color I can Identify in scripture that God instructed people to look upon is " bronze "
God Bless+ Mike

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I agree that the notion of ‘diversity’ can be a red herring, but does this mean you see any noticing or prioritising of racial diversity as indicative of someone being ‘controlled by the demonic’? I believe racial diversity can be a legitimate goal in some instances, and would be curious to hear more of what you think. :slight_smile:

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Thank You Kathleen ,
I agree that diversity is a good thing, but for me it is about a means to an end .
Would you agree that the world’s method for achieving diversity is quite different from God’s method ?
Dr. Martin Luther King certainly spoke out about people of all races living together , yet he spoke
of achieving this not by being transfixed upon " the image ", what shade or color each person was but by esteeming the content of each individuals " character ".
In this age we have so obsessively prioritized & idolatrized “the image”, the color rather than the character that a black person can now be publicly called out as not being a black person if their character does not comport to the way they have been told they should believe .
The world’s greater desire & ultimate goal being to lay claim to the "image to be looked upon " the person’s color, not their character .
This is the way of the world , not the way of the house of God .
Have you ever attended a church service featuring Ravi Zacharias ?
I had the privilege of attending one of the last services Ravi gave in the United States before he left
on what turned out to be his last trip overseas .
The church where I heard him contained an audience of every race of people you could imagine, some who drove from great distances to hear him.
And yet in the couple of decades I have been listening to Ravi I never once have heard him urge people to try and recruit people of other races and cultures to attend .
Or heard Ravi lament the fact that there was not enough diversity in his audience .
And yet there they were all around me as I listened to Ravi speak .
How do you think Ravi was able to achieve this great racial diversity of people by the hundreds gathered to hear him without using the world’s method of prioritizing the image of their color ?
God Bless+ Mike

@ConsecratedLife I too recall the sorrow and shock of the Jim Jones crisis. It was an event propagated by deception, and a vie for power that has been going on since the beginning of time resulting in division and destruction. Jones could call it whatever he would, but it was a cult that preyed on vulnerable people who desired noble things. And he should have been held accountable for significant criminal activity long before that horrible day.

It is also a very costly example of biblical illiteracy. When it comes to identifying the work of the Holy Spirit we need to engage the Word of God because they will always be in agreement.

Your reference to the “synagogues of Satan” from Revelation is a good example of the cult deception. In that reference those posing as Jews, but are not of true Israel, commit blaspheme and slander (Revelation 2:9 and 3:9). Just as false Jews are present in the end, so do we have false representatives of the church.

But here I don’t think we’re advocating forced diversity, or “recruiting” races of people. It’s about allowing it, and possibly to even expect it in a true biblical sense.

As members of the Lord’s church we should guard against anything that prevents a seeker or fellow believer from experiencing the reality of Jesus Christ in our fellowship. I believe that’s really what this dialogue is about.

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,”you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. James 2:8-9

Like you, I have attended a church where Ravi was guest speaking. And like your experience there were many races and people of all sorts, and some who had driven great distances.

What brought us all to this place and hour to hear Ravi?

In my opinion it is the universal search for truth and love that deep down we realize we cannot find apart from Jesus Christ. But we do expect to experience these things in His church where His Word is truth.

What is the greatest thing we have in common?

Jesus said to him, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through Me. John 14:6

Praise God! I hope that, like that day Ravi spoke, all who seek the Lord in His church can be welcome and enjoy the communion of believers in joy and expectation of eternal fellowship in the Presence of the One Who created each of us in His image.

In the end, as noted in Revelation, the Lord will judge the church and sort the faithful from the impostors. He will clean up this messy world.

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Michael, thanks for taking time to read the transcript. I appreciate your thoughtful response and your concerns. I’ve been struggling with this issue a lot lately.

Our culture in the U.S. isn’t uniform. Racism is a bigger problem in some areas than others. Diversity has become idolatry in some places. Where I live, the “diversity is idolatry” problem seems much more significant than the racism.

Connect gives me the opportunity to listen to people who live with racism, and I’ve opened my heart to that.

But I also recognize the dangers of focusing on this topic–I feel them in my soul. Since diversity is emphasized in my social circles, it’s easy to pursue it for the approval of men rather than for the love of God. It’s easy to get distracted by the visible world and miss the unseen and eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18). It’s easy to busy ourselves with a noble cause and let our hearts drift from God.

So I’m seeking God’s heart. Ephesians is a beautiful book for refocusing on God’s definition of unity. I also love Micah 6:8 (ESV).

He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

I pray that will always be the heartbeat of my life.

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Hi, @ConsecratedLife !
Thanks for expanding on your thoughts. :slight_smile:

I do agree that God’s economy is rather different than the economy of mankind. I believe that the methods of human measurements and value judgements quite often do not reflect God’s heart for his creation. :smile:

To me, this seems to be not an idolisation of color but of a particular definition of what it means to be a certain color. Those are cultural narratives that need to be challenged in all communities. I do believe that God sees what shade of color a person is and finds it beautiful. He makes no value judgement other than ‘good’. I do see color; it is a part of our human story. But I pray that any cultural assumptions (and subsequent value judgements) that I make based on what I see will be exposed to me, that I may be able to see both my humanity and the humanity of the one in front of me.

Furthermore, I also agree that, for the church, diversity needs to be a by-product, not a goal…as if by reaching a certain ‘image’ (as you’ve put it) on the outside, one attains reward from God. Diversity is not a tick box, but it is a fruit…and, as you’ve pointed out, it is a fruit that Ravi’s ministry bore and continues to bear. I have been so blessed by the diversity I have encountered in and through this organisation!

On the other hand, I do believe that there are certain circumstances where diversity maybe should be a goal. One example that comes to mind off-hand is board rooms. In a very general sense, it could be beneficial for board rooms to diversify…to open the floor to a wider range of experience and perspective in order to inform the direction of the business or charity. So, I do believe believe that it’s important to note that there are times when ‘diversification’ ought to be considered and implemented.

KMac,
I agree wholeheartedly that there is no color, race that God has made which is not beautiful.
One thing we can be sure of is that everything that is happening is happening that God’s purpose is fulfilled .
Thank you for your thoughtful considerations & God Bless+

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Jennifer,

For sure, the increasingly entertainment-fueled services so many people experience devalue our worship. Unfortunately, these types of services are common across all church racial groups, so in and of themselves I don’t see how they can be blamed for the church’s racial climate. The roots go much deeper, and frankly I believe that unless we become a nation where every serious Christian is willing to interact across racial lines at every level (personal, business, community, worship), every day, year end and year out, it appears that we are just going to have to fumble our way through where ever and whenever our racial interactions and relationships occur, following the Holy Spirit’s lead, step by step, until Christ returns.

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Maybe God is not pleased with our “worship services”. I wonder if churches being shut down is God’s judgment. Churches are being unduly limited in comparison to other institutions. I just heard that in Nevada, the limit is 50% capacity for casinos, bars and restaurants but 50 people period for churches regardless of size and the Supreme Court upheld it. In addition, churches have been labeled non-essential.

Instead of seeing these things as unfairness coming from man, maybe we should see these things as wake-up calls from God. We were called to be salt and light in the world. Do we look/live just like the world?

I hope that when we can get back into our churches and freely fellowship in worship, we will pray to be convicted of what, if anything, He wants us to change for our services to be pleasing to Him, not unto ourselves. And be ready to repent for whatever He convicts us of.

He said that He would spew the church of Laodicea out of His mouth. Revelation 3:16 It may be time to tremble and get on our knees, crying out to Him, because we are in trouble.

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