I usually encourage others to be more specific when they use the term “multi-cultural.” Very often, people usually use this term interchangeably with “multi-racial.” If they look at a room with people of different skin colors, sometimes they say that it’s a “multi-cultural” grouping. This is especially the case when we discuss churches. Here are a few reasons why I help people understand the distinction.

multicultural is not multiracial

  1. Simply because people look similarly doesn’t mean they have the same culture. This really should go without saying, but it’s not the case in many conversations I have. An Asian-American who has never set foot outside the USA has a vastly different culture than a recent immigrant. We can’t equate race with culture.
  2. Culture goes beyond race.
    Culture has to do with shared customs and values within a community. My wife and I both identify as Chinese-American. However, we come from different cultures because we come from different families. We both come into marriage with different expectations, habits, rules, and values that we brought from our families.
  3. Every church is mono-cultural. 
    I hope that got your attention. Every church has a distinct culture. In fact, every cohesive group has an overarching culture. There are shared customs, shared values, shared preferences. Every group has one culture. Even if your church is a church of many cultures, it is has one overarching culture. Even if your church is a group that likes to have people of different cultures, that in itself is a single culture. One can therefore say that a multi-racial church is mono-cultural.
  4. Every church is multi-cultural.
    That’s right. Every church–every cohesive group–has people from different cultures. Just like my marriage is multi-cultural (see above), everyone comes with different customs, different habits, and different preferences. We learn from each other, challenge each other, and grow together.

So, please don’t use “multi-cultural” when you really mean “multi-racial.” They’re two very different terms.

Related Posts:

“Multi-Ethnic, Mostly Asian”
Defining a “multi-ethnic” grouping.
“Your church is not biblical.” Why Ethnic-Specific Ministries Exist in America, Part 2.
Why Ethnic-Specific Ministries Exist in America, part 1.