“Your church is not biblical.”
I grew up as an English-speaking worshipper in a Chinese-American church. When I went away to college, I started attending Boston Chinese Evangelical Church. I also started going to different Christian campus groups. The group I most identified with, was the Asian-American fellowship. More on this group in another post.
During my freshman year, I also attended (when I could) a predominantly white campus fellowship. I also befriended some other Christian students who attended another campus fellowship which was predominantly white. For some of them, I was the Asian-American Christian that they knew the best.
Upon talking about race and ethnicity in God’s kingdom, I started to learn about some of my white friends’ view of ethnic-specific ministries. “Your church is not biblical. Your (Asian) fellowship goes against what God desires.” I remember them appealing to the diverse and uncountable multitude in Revelation 7, telling me that God desires that races worship together. I heard the term “voluntary segregation”—referring to people of minority groups purposely spending time together. They communicated to me that their groups and churches were more biblical, and more pleasing to God. “Come to my church! Come and experience diversity.”
Imagine how I felt when my family, the people I cared about the most, the place where I experienced most of my spiritual growth, was accused of being displeasing to God. I felt like it was more than a little self-righteous.
It offended me greatly. In telling me to leave my church and join theirs, I felt like they were just telling me to be white. I felt belittled. I saw their mostly-white fellowships and asked myself what made them think that their groups were more biblical than my mostly-Asian-American groups. Perhaps it was because the groups I attended contained the word “Chinese” or “Asian” in their names. Even so, it’s not as if we would’ve discouraged non-Asians to come. We would’ve welcomed them—or at least I would’ve.
I would venture to suggest that everyone has experienced being a minority at some point in their life—some situation where they were not like most of the people. With it comes feelings of discomfort and self-consciousness. The truth is, as an Asian-American, I experience this everyday. Everyday I am bombarded with reminders that I am different. People treat me differently because of the way I look. I speak the same language, I wear the same clothes, eat the same food—yet because of my skin tone, hair color, and facial features, I am treated differently.
It can be tiring. Sometimes I think about what it would be like to be white in America. I know it would be easier. Sometimes I felt shame about who I was—why couldn’t I just look like everyone else? I’m thankful that God has taken me on a journey to embrace myself and the way He’s made me.
But I am still different, and I am reminded every day as I interact with society. You want diversity? I experience it everyday. I’d like my white brothers and sisters to try being an minority for an extended amount of time, and feel what ethnic minorities feel all the time in America, before condemning our ethnic-specific ministries.
It’s a lot easier for a white person to be a minority for a short amount of time. Come to my church, experience being a minority for three hours in a week. It might be a novel thing for a white person to do. But that would speak much louder than telling Asian-Americans to go to white churches.
I realize that I appreciated the times I was with others who are like me, to fit in and just be myself. It’s in the environments where I am not distracted my minority appearance that I have encountered God and been able to worship Him freely. There are others who attended my church and fellowship who would’ve been completely uncomfortable opening up to others if the group was predominantly white.
When a racial/cultural barrier is gone, it creates an environment where people could more readily experience and grow in Christ. Missionaries understand this.
Please don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that groups that are ethnically diverse are not providing this environment. What I am saying is that I have had the majority of my spiritual growth happen in ethnic-specific ministries. I should not be condemned for that.
I believe that there should be and is diversity in the body of Christ. This goes beyond race—it’s culture, language, socioeconomic status. But the body of Christ is the entire church. We should be aiming for diversity and unity among THE body, not necessarily each INDIVIDUAL body.
Are people living God-pleasing lives? Are they loving God and loving others? Are they fulfilling the Great Commission? These are the questions we should be asking. There is already enough division within the Church. Condemning homogeneous groupings, no matter how well-meaning, adds to the division.
If you would like to worship with people of different races and others want to worship with you, that’s great! I am very pleased by that. There is definitely a prominent place for that in God’s kingdom. However, there is also a prominent place for people to worship with others like them.